Quality over Quantity

Standard

I know a few people who’ve complained about portion sizes restaurants.

I’m talking about those who say that portion sizes are too small.

THE COMPLAINTS

Sometimes the complaint is paying $15 – $20 for an entrée when all that was served was a “small” piece of meat over some vegetables or something. Other times it’s that a particular casual restaurant has scaled back on the gargantuan portion sizes, but not the prices. Either way, these people feel cheated.

But we all know that restaurant portion sizes in the U.S. are way over the top. It’s a very rare occasion when anyone eats a low-calorie meal when dining out. In fact, most restaurant portions are enough for two, three, even four servings! Even when I’m practicing eating well out at a restaurant, I know that I’ll still go over the number of calories I allot for any regular self-prepared meal. So I plan for it. I make sure I have lower-calorie, high fiber foods that day to keep me full enough that I don’t feel “starving”, but to still allow me a little wiggle room when dining.

For me, I prefer Quality over Quantity.

PORTION SIZES

I really do like the higher-end restaurants where the portion sizes for each course may seem small, but I never feel stuffed when leaving. The food may be more expensive; but in these places, the ingredients are often fresh, high-quality ones instead of those out of a can or from the freezer. The chef takes extra special care to season them, concocting a dish from scratch into perfection. I can take time to savor each bite of the food. To me, that’s worth the money.

Sure, you can always take leftovers home; but some things just do not taste good when reheated. Still, some of us just keep eating because it’s there; eating until it’s gone – leaving no leftovers on the plate. A tip I’ve heard is to have your server box up half the food before it’s brought to the table. It’s a great idea, but I’m all about the visual experience as well. So how would the plating look? Am I taking away some of the chef’s creativity? That’s something I’d never do in France! As a Francophile, I know that would offend the chef. Besides, I rarely get a portion size in France that’s so big that I need to box it up. I don’t even know if regular restaurants in France have what we once called “doggie bags”. {And think about that. What were the leftovers originally meant for?!}

But really, who needs a 15-ounce steak? Is it really necessary for me to consume a baked potato the size of my head? I’d rather have smaller-sized dishes than a big slop of something mounding my plate, making me *think* I’m getting a deal. But is it a really a deal if I mindlessly eat most (or all) of it just because it’s there? I guess the extra money I’m paying for restaurants with smaller portions is actually payment for their service in helping me with portion control!

This is not to say that just because you go to an upscale restaurant that serves smaller portions means, it means that the food is going to be great. Any restaurant can fail with improper execution or a blah menu. We’ve found that some restaurants under season their meat, or don’t season it at all. SEASON IT ALREADY! Others overcook their pasta. And sometimes, flavors are just not to our liking. But that can happen anywhere.

PASTA

Let’s discuss pasta because I’m picky about my Italian restaurants! Part of it may be that I’ve been to Italy and I know what good Italian food should taste like. In the U.S., so many places overcook their pasta. It should be al dente (to the bite). The primary theory detailing why pasta is best served al dente is so that we are forced to chew it more. If it’s cooked soft, we chew it less and just swallow it. It’s easier to eat more; therefore, we make the stomach do more work trying to digest it. That big lead ball you may sometimes feel in your stomach after eating pasta? It could be that the pasta was cooked too soft and you ate it too fast. {Or you just had too much.} In addition, pasta that is cooked al dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft.

Here’s the other thing: Pasta is a cheap ingredient. Many restaurants take the easy way out by just putting a pile of pasta on a plate or in a bowl and calling it your meal. You think you are getting a good deal with such a large portion. But in Italy, it is a course of its own – a little bit of pasta before the meat entrée. Instead of a pile of noodles on my plate, I’d rather the chef add some good high-quality spicy sausage, some San Marzano tomatoes, some fresh seafood. I stay away from the Italian restaurants that have offer only run-of-the-mill dishes on their menus: spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, fettuccine alfredo. Blech.

DESSERTS

I like my desserts to be almost bite-sized, or consumable in just a few bites. By the end of the meal, I’m no longer hungry and just want a little sweet treat on my palate. Not too long ago, I ordered a piece of chocolate cake in a nice restaurant. I guess I was picturing a small, short slice of cake that I could have a couple of bites of and be satisfied. Instead, out came a I’m-gonna-out-do-the-other-chain-restaurant piece of cake that could only “wow” someone by sheer size. It tasted horrible.

I would honestly rather have a dessert that is just a few bites… or one scoop of ice cream. Something that will satisfy that end-of-the-meal sweetness craving. And it’s always a good idea to share. But even a huge tasteless cake isn’t worth sharing. I want high-quality ingredients and flavor! Forget how big it is!

WINE

Okay, so I’ll save this for a post of its own. 🙂 But after my recent post on calories in wine, let’s just say that if I’m going to spend my calories on wine, I want it to be worth every drop.

So, for anyone who argues that “you don’t get very much for the money” when receiving smaller portions, you can bet that I do! I get high quality ingredients, a chef that actually cared what (s)he was preparing, flavors I can savor, and portion control. {The lack of stuffed stomach that can last several uncomfortable hours into the evening doesn’t hurt either.}

Instead, remember the real reasons you are dining out:

  • to fuel your body
  • to taste the food
  • to enjoy the company and good conversation

Quality over quantity will make a difference every time.

Cheers~
Carrie

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31 responses »

  1. What a great post, Carrie! I totally agree with all of your thoughts, even though I really have to work on transitioning my own thinking in this arena. Your descriptions are making me VERY hungry to get out for a meal and some wine with you. That is something I have missed dearly with being out of the area, so expect me to be scheduling a “date night” with you for sooner rather than later this spring!

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