Ask Dave: The Art of Eating Out

Posted on August 4, 2012 by


Dear Dave,

I love to eat at restaurants but I am concerned about what my coach calls ‘sneaky’ ingredients.  What is the danger of eating out and how can I do it safely?

 Brian, Saint Paul

Dear Brian,

Eating at a restaurant is like signing an unseen contract between you and people that  prepare your food.  By ordering your food you are agreeing to pay the amount on the check.  The server, as the representative of the cooks,  agrees to bring you what you ask for.  This arrangement leaves a lot to trust – nothing prevents you from skipping out on the check, and nothing prevents the cooks from serving you food that is not up to par.

In this light eating out sounds rather scary…this is not my intention!  I want to shed light on the fact that eating out involves some risk but steps can be taken to minimize this.

WHAT IS A SNEAKY INGREDIENT?  A sneaky ingredient is anything that you did not expect to be in there…remember that many chefs LOVE ‘secret ingredients.’  Your best defense:  Rather than ask the server what is IN the food, have them ask the chef for assurance of what you DON’T want in there.

  1. SKIP THE SAUCE…Sauces are all about flavor – a great place for a secret ingredient or several!  Almost all sauces that I know of have plenty of salt, oils/fats, and frequently a grain-based thickener.  Ask for no sauce – or if you must have a taste – on the side.
  2. CHOOSE YOUR CHEF WISELY!  There are a growing number of ‘FARM TO TABLE’ restaurants, also known as ‘SLOW FOOD’ kitchens.  These places focus on fresh, local ingredients whenever possible.  Many slow food chefs prepare all their dishes from scratch and can substitute or eliminate ingredients that don’t work for you.
  3. LET THEM KNOW!  Feedback is the only way to really let then kitchen know how the meal was.  I also use ‘YELP,’ a review-driven website which chefs read as much as patrons do.

Oh – and DON’T trust this guy…way too much salt and I think a few feathers?!?       Dave

Posted in: Ask Dave