Don’t we all just love fine dining? The starched white table cloths, the soft colour scheme, the Champagne on ice and hovering floor staff, serving the most exquisite, aspirational, and delicious food.
And of course, the ‘chef special’, the signature dish only the restaurant or head chef is known for.
While we look forward to the masterpiece that is the chef special, it is also important to note that sometimes what is called a ‘special’ might in fact not be a special at all.
Specifically, some restaurants reconfigure the day’s surplus food into the next day’s specials, so knowing how to distinguish a good special from a bad one can make the difference between an appetizing meal and one less worthy of its “special” title.
In most cases, the dishes on the specials menu can often be made out of food chefs need to get rid of fast; such as old vegetables.
Customers need to watch out for an expensive item used in a way that’s minimizing its flavour, for example, pasta, stews, and soups containing expensive meats are suspect.
Any kind of protein that has been cut, braised and put into dishes as “supporting players” is also very suspect.
Sauces and gravy are often used as cover-ups, so think twice about meals that are heavily saturated with either.
If there are too many specials to count, it’s best to avoid them. “Specials are there to disappear throughout the evening,” Chef Gordon Ramsay (favourite chef by the way) told Cosmopolitan. “When they list ten specials, that’s not special.”
It’s also best to avoid any dishes that have crazy names. Ramsay does not approve of labelling a dish “wicked,” “famous,” or “the best.”
Little tip: you know that bread basket that always looks better than it is?
So you arrive at the restaurant starving, and suddenly that incredible-looking bread basket makes its way to your table. You dig in, unable to resist. Unfortunately, that bread may have just been on your neighbour’s table.
It’s not uncommon for uneaten bread to make its way to multiple tables.
However, if the chef is skilled, he/she can mask the not-so-fresh ingredients but the tricks used to minimize less-than-fresh flavours probably aren’t what you think about when you see the specials of the day.
Chefs do place legitimate items on the specials menu that they want to test as a trial dish ahead of a menu change or expansion.
Chefs use specials to showcase their flair and creativity and can take pride in demonstrating their skills.
Asking the server for a recommendation is a good practice as they frequently sample the range of dishes (including specials) on the menu. Your server can offer insight into what the chef has added or frequently ordered dishes.
So, if your preference is to experience something unique with fresh seasonal products or unusual combinations and you like to try new things to eat when you go to a restaurant: then go ahead, be adventurous.
If you do decide to order the special the chances are you will be pleasantly surprised. You may discover a new favourite, or you know, wish you didn’t order it in the first place.
Either way, its all about the experience.