Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Trash Salad's Unnecessarily Complex Menu Selection Methodology

The scene: you're in a restaurant you've never been to before that you don't know anything about.  You take a quick glance at the menu and pick a beer.  Several minutes later after laughing and chit-chatting with your friends, the server comes to take your order.  "Can we have a few minutes?" you ask.  Survey the table.  You have no idea.  So many things look good! "Start there and get to me last," you say.  PANIC.

This is a very common scenario if you're someone like me who likes to eat everything, yet doesn't go out to eat very often and rarely goes to the same place twice.  It was pointed out to me recently that I have a predictable and systematic approach to foreign menus, so I decided to flesh it out for myself to see if this was true.  The result is kind of a Choose Your Own Adventure approach to eating which should come in handy almost all the time and help you avoid the indecisive fluster.

The real key to forming your own game plan like this is figuring out your eating priorities.  These things most affect my judgement when forming dining decisions:

  • Level of hunger/availability of others' food.  To get own food?  Or to depend on the kindness of others?
  • Assessment of eating establishment.  Also known as the Never Order Pasta in a Bar rule.  Ask me about the time I ordered fish tacos at a chinese takeaway.  Potstickers from TGI Fridays? You live and learn.  Goat cheese, on the other hand, is generally a good bet wherever you are.
  • The alcohol factor.  Hangover food as its own special subclass.  Edible garnishes should not be overlooked.
  • General environment.  How are you feeling?  Fat? Rushed? In the mood for beef?  Important considerations.

From there it's a matter of separating your favorite main ingredients into tiers of deliciousness.  I did this primarily based on things I love but am too cheap/lazy/just generally bad at cooking a particular ingredient to make dishes at home.

Now I've realized this is limiting in the sense that if you go to a sushi restaurant, you will be steered toward sushi and that is not particularly helpful.  But try this the next time you find yourself at a Cheesecake Factory (or other restaurant with a 35 page menu) and it won't let you down.