What is so fun about Dining “Out”?

Most people love restaurants and more often than I’d like, I find myself in one. Seldom by choice. I hate the restaurant experience. In this blog, I will leave out fast food places and just refer to the slow food places. I also will mostly leave out ethnic places, which at least serve things you expect to get when you walk in the door. I love Chinese food. I love Turkish food. But I don’t like dining out. The only advantage I can see to having a meal away from home is not having to cook or clean up afterwards. (Although my style of cooking doesn’t involve much of either.) FYI, I do not eat beef or pork or chicken. Still, this leaves a lot of leeway. You’d think. But my objections are not just about the food. Read on.

First consider these typical dining environments. The tables are spaced too close together and invariably have legs or pedestals that make it impossible for anyone over five feet in height to put their legs in a comfortable position. Chairs are either hard as planks or cushioned thrones designed for 300 pound behemoths (ignoring the fact these same creatures need to have incredibly short legs). The center of these cushions are inevitably well used and feature a treacherous crater in their center. The cushions should have a short safety disclaimer on them: Do not attempt to extricate your bottom from this seat without proper supervision. In the event of an emergency, this cushion can be used as a slide, a flotation device or a pup tent.

There are other things to consider. Restaurant walls tend to exhibit what is laughingly called art, or sometimes they are festooned with memorabilia, found objects and cute signs intended to tell you where you are. I’m generally not swayed by these stylistic efforts, mainly because I’m too busy squirming in my chair to notice. In the case of Chinese restaurants, there’s also the likelihood of a large tank of murky water filled with fish or lobsters who are frantically attempting to breach the walls. Some restaurants have glass fronted counters filled with pastries. I guess they’re supposed to make you feel hungry. Did you ever wonder how many years the cakes have been in there? However, they have their use. The little screaming brat from the adjacent table can run over and smear whatever food item he was playing with all over the front glass. If you are really lucky, the place will have an outside dining area where you can freeze/roast and inhale toxic fumes while sitting on a chair that’s even more uncomfortable than those inside.

Enough about the environment. Let’s talk about the food.

I mean, seriously, do people LIKE the food on offer at today’s popular restaurants? I refer to the common mixture of American, Mediterranean and “world” food styles. What’s with all the Bistros? Does anyone know what a bistro even is? And why does almost everything come with cheese? I fear there’s a secret cabal of cheese makers in play here. For example, let’s have a nice bowl of onion soup. Surprise! On top of the soup lies at least half a pound of cheese. I am not exaggerating. If I want cheese, I would order cheese. In order to reach the soup, this layer has to be negotiated. Naturally, it is the sort of cheese that devolves into long, unbreakable strings. Perfect for demonstrating one’s grasp of table etiquette! I won’t list all the other menu choices that have a default setting of CHEESE, but I’m sure you can think of many.

And speaking of secret organizations, what about all the olive oil? I remember when the only Olive Oil I knew appeared in a Popeye cartoon. Now it’s everywhere. And often as not, it’s got something “balsamic” with it, or on it, or in it. The very word balsamic makes me think of a fluid used to clean paint brushes. Get ready for little dishes of oil placed in the center of the table, vegetables served positively floating in it, salmon steaks grilled with and leaking the fluid from every pore. Someone needs to invent lip blotters–just stick them to your lips before eating to avoid that glassy, slick residue. I’m sure they’d be a huge hit. But I digress.

And you need an interpreter to figure out what you’re ordering. Your friendly—often overly friendly—server will be only too glad to tell you. For ten minutes. Because you can’t just get a potato, for instance, without it being enhanced. Every item must be garnished or mixed with rare seeds, fruits or alien sea creatures who either have intrinsically odd names or have been renamed to sound more exotic. Which takes me to another point. Restaurants can be disgustingly pretentious.

Not long ago, I had the misfortune of being invited along to an expensive French place in Manhattan. There were about eight others in the party, most of whom wanted to be there. Since they were paying the bill, this was a good thing. The waiter, an elderly man with his nose in the air, was visibly annoyed with me for requesting my food come without sauce. He said, “People who come here do so because they appreciate the food.” The tone of his voice was, “How did a peasant like you get in the door?”

After a two hour ordeal which included appetizers and main course, the waiter brought around a wheeled tray which displayed a variety of fancy desserts. I’d been waiting for a chance to do some sociological research. I innocently asked, “Could I just have a dish of plain vanilla ice cream?” The man’s back stiffened like he’d gotten an electric shock. He whirled around and hurried away to where another waiter was standing. The two of them exchanged whispers after which waiter number two flung a horrified glance in my direction and walked away. A few minutes later, he brought me the dish of ice cream, setting it in front of me with a sneer. Later, he had the chutzpah (I don’t know the French word for this) to ask me how I liked the ice cream. After a warning look from my nearest and dearest, I said it was just fine. In reality, the ice cream had proved to be vastly inferior, but at least it wasn’t coated with a layer of caviar, chocolate fluff and olive oil.

Then, finally, there’s the time factor. In the French restaurant the meal timed at three hours. Normally, I don’t frequent places like that, but still, I have better things to do than sit in a chair (see above) at a table that’s likely bouncing on uneven legs (see above) for one or two hours.

I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. If you want to treat me, do it somewhere else. Please.

Visit my website www.mickeyhoffman.com and check out my mystery novels.






~ by mickeyhoffman on June 15, 2014.

One Response to “What is so fun about Dining “Out”?”

  1. What? No cheese sauce on your ice cream?

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