Monthly Archives: March 2012

When a Restaurant Has a Bad Night

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Have you ever been to one of your favorite restaurants and the experience just isn’t as stellar as usual?

You’re disappointed. You’ve been there often, but this time the food doesn’t meet your expectations. You know what your favorite dish should taste like. You’ve had it a dozen times. But something’s off.

Or maybe… You talk up the place. Of course you do, it’s one of your favorites. Then you bring some friends there. They might even be visiting from out of town. And nothing seems right. No one is really impressed with their food. The service is slow, too. Nothing is like what you remember. You are completely disheartened.

There have been a few occasions when this has happened to us. We’ve even said that if it were the first time we’d been there, we’d never have been back. However, we know the restaurant’s potential. They must be having a bad night – short-staffed, the cook is new, ingredients didn’t arrive. Whatever it may be, we still return.

So it makes me think: How many times have we been to a restaurant for the first time when they were just having a bad night? We blow off the place because we aren’t impressed and then don’t return. They should probably deserve a second chance, shouldn’t they? However, in all reality, every restaurant has just one shot to woo new guests.

Still, when your favorite restaurant is having an off night, do you let them know?

You could think of this two different ways. Either you cut them some slack because you know it’s a great place, or you let them know so that they can minimize the chance of it happening again.

Furthermore, what should we expect when a restaurant does have a bad night?

Our friend “The Sheriff” gave us a new perspective the other night. He ordered a burger medium rare with onion rings. Service was slow that evening and when his burger finally came out, it came with fries. He let the staff know of the error. They took the plate back and brought him a new burger with onion rings. He ate those first. By the time he got to the burger, he realized after two bites that the burger was well done.

When he finally flagged the manager down, we were just about ready to go. The manager asked him if he wanted a new burger. We didn’t have time. Even if we did, who’d want to wait that much longer? The manager said he’d take the burger off his bill.

Normally, Rob and I would be satisfied with that, but “The Sheriff” brought up a good point to us later: That’s all you’re going to do? Not make me pay for a burger that you got wrong and I didn’t eat?” Excellent point!

It reminded me of a time we went to see a show in downtown Minneapolis. We made reservations for dinner beforehand. However, the restaurant was very busy that night and we had to wait at least 30 minutes past our reservation time before we were seated. Then, once we were seated, service was scarce. Our food arrived about 15 minutes before the show was about to start. We still had to eat, pay, and make our way over to the show.

Somehow, we got a manager over to our table. She understood completely. She knew they were slammed and having a completely off night. We could only have a few bites of our food to make it to our show in time and couldn’t take the leftovers with us. She apologized and comped our entire meal – including our $45 bottle of wine that we emptied while waiting. She knew this didn’t make up for the fact that we barely had dinner before the show; but wanted us to know that we didn’t have to pay for food we barely ate.

Have you ever been to a favorite restaurant on an “off” night?

What do you think diners should expect when your order is incorrect or service is sub-par?

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Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

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It’s funny how big a celebration St. Patrick’s Day is in the U.S., even for those of us who aren’t Irish.

I happily participate as if I am!

In fact, years ago, I read in a Lonely Planet guidebook of Chicago that St. Patrick’s Day is the chance for Americans to celebrate the Irish that’s in their blood… or those who’d just like to celebrate with Irish beer in their blood. Or something to that effect. It made me laugh.

What’s even funnier is that we Americans celebrate in some ways that the Irish do not. For example:

  • Green Beer
  • Corned Beef and Cabbage

There are other things things that Americans think of as “Irish”, but are really things that evolved in the U.S. and have come to be celebrated by Irish Americans. I absolutely love the song by Gaelic Storm on their album Cabbage, “Raised on Black and Tans” that comically pokes at how we in the U.S. celebrate, take pride in, and relate to our Irish heritage:

I was raised on Black & Tans,
Ronnie Drew and ‘Van the Man’
I go to mass on Sunday
And then it’s back to the pub on Monday
I’ve got a sister Meghan
With a Celtic cross tattoo
I’ll tell you a few stories
And every one of them is true

Chorus:
My mother’s, brother’s, sister’s, cousin’s, auntie’s,
Uncle Barney’s, father’s, brother had a cousin from Killarney

My great-granddad and his mates
They tried to make it to the States
His uncle, he was a failure
He got deported off to Australia
So they stowed upon a steamer
On the famous White Star Line
I was raised upon these stories
Since I was the age of nine…

More of the song here.

It’s all in good fun.

But some stuff just isn’t funny. My husband sent me this article yesterday about Nike naming a new sneaker the “Black and Tan” in order to “honor the country leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.” If someone at Nike would just have used our good friend The Google to look up “Black & Tans”, they would have learned that this was a term used in the 1920s for a suppressive British military group known for its violence against Irish natives.

And while here in the U.S., we usually concoct a “Black and Tan” by mixing a stout (black) with a pale ale (tan); these are not commonly consumed in Ireland. And when they are, they are not ordered as a “Black and Tan”. To do so would be considered disrespectful. Gaelic Storm playfully created ” Raised on Black and Tans” to illustrate that the passion for the Irish heritage in the U.S. is the genuine, even if the symbols are not quite accurate. {By the way, they are a fun concert to a attend. We see them every time they are in town!}

Black and Tan

I have a feeling St. Patrick’s Day will be crazy this year due to it being on Saturday. {But really, nothing’s stopping anyone from celebrating the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day. So, I’m sure it’s crazy every year.} I’m just not one to flock with mass crowds for these types of events.

You won’t find me:

  • in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day
  • in New Orleans for Mardi Gras
  • in New York City on New Year’s Eve.

You won’t even find me at the Target Center or Xcel Energy Center for a concert. I prefer a smaller venue. {Okay, so I will attend the Irish Fair in St. Paul in the summer. It’s summer, it’s outdoors, and it’s free! And Gaelic Storm will be a headliner this year!}

What I would like to do next year is the Minneapolis-St. Paul Get Lucky 7K. This just looks like so much fun! Anyone want to join me? And since I’m not Irish, with my luck, we probably won’t have the crazy good weather next year that we have this year. It’s going to be in the 70s this weekend!

Also, I’m going to take a shot at making my first ever corned beef and cabbage for my honey using this recipe. Although there is another great recipe over at Skinny Taste that intrigues me, too.

What are you doing for St. Patrick’s Day?

Do you celebrate? And if so, what are some of your traditions?

Technique at Le Cordon Bleu – Mendota Heights {Closed}

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Where can you get a three or four course meal for $10 – $15?

Technique Restaurant!

Students training to become culinary professionals through Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School have the opportunity to practice the techniques they’ve learned in a hands-on environment known as Technique Restaurant. Diners have the opportunity to try high quality, gourmet meals for a fraction of the price!

The Minneapolis (Mendota Heights) location of Technique Restaurant is usually open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday, depending on what is planned for each class. It is recommended to go online to Open Table to make a reservation to make sure that they’ll be open when you want to dine. Special occasions and groups are welcome!

While there is a sample menu online, the actual menu is determined by the students when they receive the ingredients. I love this! This means that the ingredients are fresh and that the chefs get to use a little of their own creativity in preparing the meal.

Still, for this reason, I decided not to go to Technique with my husband on my first visit due to his allergies to fins and feathers. Instead, I went with my friend Jared this past February.

Everything about the experience was utterly perfect.

From the ambiance, to the service, to the wine, to the perfectly portioned, cooked and seasoned food, everything was wonderful. So wonderful that, when we returned in March, I was disappointed. Jared reminded me that we were at a restaurant where the chefs and servers were students in training and we needed to cut them some slack. Besides, neither the food nor the experience was bad at all. It just wasn’t perfect. How often do we really get that dining out anywhere anyway? And for the price, nothing in the Twin Cities can top what you get at Technique.

My only regret now…

That I didn’t take pictures of the menu to accurately describe what was prepared!

The Wine

I cannot believe how affordable bottles on the wine list are! No bottle was over $40 and I can’t even remember for sure that anything was over $35. Wines were also offered by the glass.

On both occasions, we started off with a little bubbly rosé. The first time, it was served in a flute. This was how it was served on the second visit.

While the wine list was limited, it included excellent selections to pair with the main entrées. I was highly impressed that a value-priced White Burgundy matched perfectly with our salmon on our first visit. The crisp minerality, yet roundness of this Chardonnay couldn’t have been beat. And a Portuguese red blend? How many restaurants have you been to with one of those on the menu?!

The Food

You’ll be served a basket of French bread with a composed butter. I believe we received a sweeter butter the first time around. However, it was difficult not to eat piece after piece of bread our second time:

Mmmm… Herb & Chive Butter with French Bread. Did we really need that much?!

Jared and I tried our best to order different items since there were two to four items in each course category. That way, we could try many different flavors. Still, both times we each started with the soup. I loved the size of our soup bowl on our first visit – the leek soup was enough to whet the palate with just a few spoonfuls and was quite enjoyable. And while I absolutely loved the flavor of the soup on Visit #2, it was a huge portion and very heavy!

Creamy Potato Soup with Bacon

I didn’t stop myself before my tummy started to hurt. I don’t know if it was because I did a really long run that day or if I just ate too much. I’m sure the two pieces of bread with butter prior didn’t help. However, my tummy continued to tell me that it was not happy, making it difficult to fully enjoy the rest of the meal that night. 😦

The Starters

The Caesar Salad and Thai Flatbread we had on Visit #1 were uber-flavorful! The Caesar was topped with perfectly-cooked shrimp and a crispy parmesan garnish – both nice little touches. And how I wish we could have ordered that incredible Thai flatbread again! Those two starters blew the doors off of what we ordered on Visit #2.

Caprese Salad

So, the Caprese Salad had a yellow tomato. Not my favorite, but a nice culinary touch. The mozzarella slice on top of the tomato was fried. What was strange about that was that it wasn’t warm. It was cold. Like the salad. I think the contrasting temperatures would have worked much more nicely. The flatbread we tried on Visit #2 isn’t even worth talking about. We missed the Thai Flatbread!

The Entrées

The entrées we had on both visits were divine and perfectly portioned! (Quality over Quantity!) Everything was perfect about the Salmon on Visit #1. So much so that I wish I would have been taking pictures and notes then! We both ordered the filet mignon on Visit #2:

Filet Mignon with a tomato coulis, thin asparagus spears and the perfect number of fries! (No, I hadn’t touched them yet!)

Cooked closer to medium than medium rare, but an excellent cut of meat. I thought the tomato coulis would just be fancy ketchup, but it was a sauce to die for! I don’t know if I’ll ever find/taste something like that again.
The Desserts

These two desserts I could normally “take or leave”, but they were decadent and lovely – and just the right size. Still, I brought leftovers of the cheesecake home to my husband, who declared it “one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had.” Or maybe I said that.

Strawberry Cheesecake

Fresh Berry Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream

Even if you have a less than stellar experience at Technique, it’s going to be better than any other restaurant where you’d pay $15 for an entire meal! And as Jared commented: It can give diners even greater joy knowing “you are helping the community and helping train the next generation of great chefs!”

Need a cheap, but impressive date night or a place to take out of town guests? Give Technique a try! You won’t regret it.

Cheers~
Carrie

Wines for Easter – A Simple List

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This Wine Wednesday: Best Wines to Accompany Easter Meals

Brunch (Egg Dishes)

  • Sparkling Wine
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonany (unoaked or lightly oaked)
  • Chenin Blanc

Ham

  • Riesling
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Chardonnay (lightly oaked)
  • Rosé (dry)
  • Pinot Noir
  • Sparkling Wine

Turkey

  • Chardonnay (lightly or unoaked)
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Rosé (dry)
  • Beaujolais
  • Pinot Noir

Lamb

  • Syrah/Shiraz
  • Rhone blends
  • Tempranillo
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet
  • Malbec
  • Zinfandel

While these are just suggestions, remember that it’s not really the meat with which you need to pair, but the sauce.

For example, a turkey breast with citrus and herbs would pair better with a Sauvignon Blanc; whereas a turkey with barbeque sauce would match much more nicely with a Shiraz or Zinfandel.

So here’s a tip:

If you are looking to pair a sauce with a wine, just go to your good friend The Google and type: sauce name + wine pairing. For example: barbecue sauce + wine pairing. This will yield numerous suggestions and even recipes that include the wine with which you are pairing!

And lastly, here are the best Traveling Vineyard Wines to pair with your Easter Meal. You can find them on my website:

Doesn't this label just scream, "SPRING!"?

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~The addition of the Marsanne grape balances this wine perfectly so that it doesn't have that harsh "over-oaked" flavor you find in some Chardonnays.

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This is the red wine for white wine lovers who *think* they don't like red. It's light & fruity. In addition, the unique caramel notes of this Pinot Noir will marry well with the popular brown sugar-glazed hams!

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This Rhone Valley red is a great blend of Grenache & Syrah that is quite versatile when it comes to almost all meats.

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A small percentage of Tempranillo was added to this Cabernet Sauvignon to mellow it out and give it character.

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Everyone's a FAN of this red wine! A nice peppery finish. If you are looking for White Zin, this is not for you!

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Bubbly and lightly sweet. Great for brunch or as dessert itself. Pairs well with fruit, fruity desserts, light cakes, cheesecake & cream puffs.

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Put all of these wines together and you’ve got the perfect six-pack for your Easter brunch, lunch, or dinner with a little something that will suit every taste. Or mix and match your favorites! They can be found online here. Please allow up to two weeks for delivery. Happy Easter!

What is your favorite wine pairing?

Scusi – St. Paul {Closed}

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I’ve been to Scusi a few times before.

My first experience was about a year ago when a friend of mine was in town and we had just enough of a window of time to meet for brunch. She brought a couple of in-laws with her. It was perfect because Scusi is known for its “family style” and dishes are meant to share. Plates are on the table when you arrive.

The plates are on the table when you arrive, but not the wine!

Once you put your order in, dishes come out as they are ready, not all at once. This part is more tapas-style than family-style. I like it. If you don’t like to share, this place is not for you. But I think it’s more fun to get a taste of several different items than just one entrée. I remember loving just about everything we ordered for brunch that day (including the bottomless mimosas!) However, one particular item stands out in my mind – the Smoked Gouda Hash Browns. {Picture the heavens parting here.} I’m not a huge fan of smoked cheeses, but something about those pieces of potato-and-cheesy goodness made them a thing of beauty.

Unfortunately, Scusi is no longer open for brunch. 😦

Somehow, Scusi needs to find a way to make those Smoked Gouda Hash Browns part of their main menu!

Pretty please?

Since then, Rob and I have been there on several occasions during the evening. The first time, we had reservations, but still had to wait – maybe we arrived too early? My memory is failing me on that part. We made our way in to the packed, narrow bar area to select from the wide array of wines by the glass. {More on that in a bit.} That night, we ordered a nice salumi platter (the sopressata was my favorite!) and some olives. I’m sure that was also the night I had to try the San Marzano Pasta with Meatballs. Sure, I said that I’m not a fan of spaghetti and meatballs, but Scusi’s menu had me at San Marzano. Rob and I originally experienced these delightful tomatoes on our Honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Now I eat them at every possible opportunity.

Of course, we washed our meal down with a good bottle of Italian wine.

The Wine

Scusi has a unique mix of Italian wines and Cal-Itals (California wines made in an Italian style or with Italian grape varietals.) Many of the wines are offered by the glass because they are “on tap”. The “tap” is a wine dispenser system that also helps preserve the wine remaining in any opened bottles. Having so many offerings by the glass gives diners the opportunity to try different wines rather than share a bottle or order a taste of a more expensive wine that would normally be offered by the bottle only.

At Scusi, the smallest size glass a guest can order is a quartino. This is equivalent to about a glass and a half or about a third of a bottle. The wine is served in a mini carafe so that the guest can top off the wine at his or her leisure. Wines can be ordered by the mezzo (half-bottle) or the bottiglia (bottle), as well.

We’ve found that when we’ve ordered red wines by the glass at Scusi, they’ve been a little too cold for our liking. While there is a misconception that red wine should be served warm or room temperature {it should be more like cellar or basement temperature}, our red wines seemed like they had just been taken out of the fridge. We felt that the temperature really masked the flavors these wines had to offer.

On our third visit, we sat at the bar again, but decided to order a bottle due to our experience with the temperature of wines by the glass. As she opened our bottle of Super Tuscan, our bartender said, “We just got a new system, so you may need to let it warm up a bit.”. Um yeah – like a good half hour. I’m sure not going to wait around that long to drink wine at a restaurant. They must have kept the bottles in a cooler as well? Our glasses immediately fogged up from the cold wine when it hit the glass. We had to hold both hands around our glasses to try to bring the wine down to a desirable temperature.

The Food

We’ve ordered different dishes on each visit. In no specific order, here are our thoughts on some of them:

  • Shrimp Oreganata – I was looking for something a little healthier when I ordered this, but it was unimpressive. I expected more flavor.
  • San Marzano Pasta with Veal Meatballs – Savor every bite! It’s worth it!
  • Pizza – Rob ordered pizza and while I thought it was good, I remember that he thought the crust hadn’t much flavor. However, when I asked him recently to comment, he couldn’t. He just said that it wasn’t very memorable.
  • Short Ribs – Rob said they were nothing special, but fairly priced.
  • Truffled Mushroom Lasagne – I think this was the best dish we’ve ever had a Scusi! It was the featured special of the day, so you won’t find it on their regular menu. 😦 I did notice; however, that it was one of the specials during Restaurant Week.
  • Chocolate Cake – This was the cake I talked about in my Quality over Quantity post. I wanted a bite of rich dark chocolate and I got a humongous piece of not-so-great cake.
  • Izzy’s Graham Cracker Ice Cream An absolute highlight! You are going to be surprised by how good this is!
  • See below for detailed info on our food from our most recent visit…

Our Most Recent Visit:

We made reservations and sat in the restaurant. We couldn’t decide on a wine and eventually ordered a Cal-Ital recommended by our server. Although still slightly chilled, it came to our table at a much more acceptable temperature than on our previous visits.

Once again, we started with the Salumi Platter:

The sopressata remains my favorite!

Rob’s pasta:

Tortellini with Sausage Ragout

Rob was not impressed: “While the tortellini were packed with cheese and cooked nicedly, the dish overall was very bland and the sauce was essentially red water.” I tried the dish. He was right. It was lacking flavor. Neither the sausage nor the sauce had it.

My pasta:

Shrimp Ravioli with Vodka-Rose Sauce

This dish was so flavorful that it would be what Rob calls “ridiculous!” or “just silly.” I love it when he uses that to describe food he really loves! Since he wasn’t able to taste this pasta due to his seafood allergies, I described my dish to him as such. While the sauce made it somewhat rich, I’d get this again in a heartbeat.

Dessert:

Izzy’s Graham Cracker Ice Cream (alongside a scoop of vanilla)

When we found out that they were again offering Izzy’s Graham Cracker Ice Cream, Rob said he wouldn’t share! I had to get my own. When I asked him to tell our blog readers his thoughts, he said, “Nothing tastes better in Minnesota than this ice cream. Enjoy in moderation…no more than 6 bowls.” While he says that for emphasis, he could barely finish his two scoops and I most certainly did not finish mine! I guess this is a rare occasion when you get quality and quantity.

While we love the wine bar concept of Scusi, we find the restaurant to be a little inconsistent in both its wine and food. The next time we go, I’d like to try the cheese plate and give the wines by the glass another shot. We’ll just have to get there early to get a seat at the bar. And if the Truffled Mushroom Lasagne or Smoked Gouda Hash Browns find their way onto the menu, those just might be ordered, too. 🙂

Have you been to Scusi? If so, what did you like about it? Do you have a favorite Italian Restaurant or Wine Bar?

Spring Renewal & Poor Man’s Caprese

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What a beautiful weekend!

We’ve had a mild winter here in Minnesota this year. In fact, I don’t ever remember a winter as mild in the Midwest in my entire life. However, after 90 inches of snow during last year’s what-seemed-to-be-never-ending winter, I feel mother nature owed us to be gentle this year. Still, I’ve lived in Minnesota for ten years now and I don’t ever remember such gorgeous weather in mid-March as what we had this weekend:

60s and sunny

Spring brings with it a sense of renewal. Rob opened up the house to let the fresh air in and we began our spring cleaning. While not 100% complete, there is something to be said about the feeling of so many things being clean, fresh, and organized! I feel as if I’m turning over a new leaf by tossing all the paper I’ve been hoarding for far too long.

I began running outside this past week to start preparing myself for my 5k in April. It was difficult. I’m not used to the inclines. {And by no means is our neighborhood hilly!} On one “hill”, I felt like my speed was near walking pace with how slow I was going, but I looked down at my heart rate monitor and found I was still in a Zone 5.

On Saturday, I finished a mile at “race pace” in 11:21. From what I’ve recorded, I believe this is my fastest! I’m trying to keep track of my times so that I can get an idea where I’m at and can compete with myself.

Sunday was a cross-train day, but I still wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather. So, I decided to take little Sophie Jean on an hour-long walk. {I didn’t bring Benny Bear because he’s an old man dog with arthritis.}

Benny Bear loves walks, but wouldn't make it an hour... 😦

I strapped on my heart-rate monitor because I wanted to see if I could get my heart rate up walking a little shih poo who likes to stop about every five seconds. {There’s nothing wrong with stopping to smell the roses, right?! We could learn a thing or two from dogs.}. I did get to a Zone 3 about half the time. To compare, I’m usually in Zone 4 or Zone 5 when I’m running.

I have a confession to make.

While I’ve stated that I’ll be running my first 5k in April, I have actually participated in a 5k before: The Dog Day 5k in 2010. But I didn’t run it. Some friends invited me a couple weekends before and I decided to go and bring Sophie.

Sophie Jean pre-race at the Dog Day 5k - 2010

Some people were going to run; others were going to walk. Somehow, Sophie and I split off from the others. That year, I had been running intervals on the treadmill, so I decided to give it a try since I was on my own. Sophie and I finished the 5k in a little over 48 minutes. Sophie wasn’t feeling so hot at the end. I knew this because she wouldn’t drink any water nor take any treats. She ended up fine, though. She could have just been nervous with all of the other pooches around. I am hoping to do it again this year; but I’m not sure if I’ll bring Sophie or not. She’ll have to go through a bit of “training”, too, if I do. 😉

Since it’s fun to compare… here are my 5k times:

  • June 2010 – Dog Day 5k with Sophie: 48 min & some-odd seconds (run-walk)
  • Jan 2012 – Treadmilll: 40:30 (first time running a complete 5k)
  • March 11, 2012 – 5k walk with Sophie: 55:34 (walk)

Spring also has me thinking about salads.

One of my favorites is a traditional Caprese Salad:

Caprese Salad: fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar

While tomatoes aren’t in season here in Minnesota, I still picked up some great ones at Costo and have been munching on them all week:

In fact, I created my own version of a Caprese Salad that I call a “Poor Man’s Caprese”:

Carrie's Poor Man's Caprese

Here are the simple ingredients:

  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

It’s only between 175 – 250 calories depending on the type of cottage cheese you use and size of your tomato!

Optional ingredients {in case you want to season it up a bit more!}:

  • drizzle good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh basil
  • or my favorite: the Pampered Chef Rosemary & Herb Seasoning {I almost always add this!}

I love tomatoes and cottage cheese, so I just can’t get enough of this!

What do you do to prepare for spring? Do you have a favorite salad or spring dish?

Cheers~
Carrie

Quality over Quantity

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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