Anyone else use "benchmark dishes" for a new restaurant?

Whenever I try out a new Chinese place I either order Szechuan Chicken or Chicken Lo Mein, and sometimes Kung Pao chicken. I then gauge them based on how well they hold up to previous favorites. I tend to order either of the first two without veggies, not because I don’t like veggies, but because I never know what they will serve, and I like a common basis for comparison.

If it’s a deli or grill, I’ll try a Reuben. Those are usually good, but you can easily tell a place that knows what it’s doing from one that does not using that as a test.

How do you get a feel for a new place by testing them on a dish you know really well? Or am I not being adventurous enough by using benchmark foods?

For Italian places, it’s their lasagna. If you can’t pull off lasagna, then you don’t need to call yourself an Italian restaurant. Anybody can sling sauce and cheese on a crust and call it pizza, but I’ve been very disappointed at how some restaurants can have decent pasta or pizza, but just can’t figure out lasagna.

Reported for forum change.

That said, oh yeah. I always order chili relleno at a new Mexican place. If they make that right, chances are they’ll do most everything else right. Also a good sign is menudo on the weekend. I won’t eat it, but I like seeing it on the menu.

I agree completely. A masterful lasagna shows a time-tested recipe, as does a really good Tiramisu IMHO. I don’t have the palate to gauge a really good linguine with clams from the next, but it’s as often awesome as it is kinda off-putting sometimes. When the Alfredo sauce is made according to the original recipe, that is awesome. Also, you will likely have to see your doctor the next day, but it may be worth it.

I only do it to places in my neighborhood to see if it’s worth going back.

In an Italian place I try the spaghetti and meatballs. I’ll go no further if you can’t get that right.
In a French place I’ll try the steak frites - again it’s so simple but so many places screw it up.
As a general rule if roast chicken is on the menu I’ll try that. It’s dead simple but requires just a bit of attention to detail to nail.

[Mod Hat]

This one’s more appropriate for Cafe Society, I think.

Moved from IMHO -> CS.

  • Gukumatz,
    IMHO Mod

Absolutely. For Thai places, especially - if their barbecued pork or duck larb isn’t up to scratch, I don’t care about how good their crying tiger or jungle curry is, because I don’t order that every time I’m there.

Chinese places have to have a good salt-and-pepper pork, Indian restaurants need to be up to speed on their rogan josh.

Fry Indicator: French fries are a good indicator. If they are perfect, crisp, clean and hot they have a clean kitchen and expedite their orders well.

View Indicator: View is a great indicator. The better the view the worse the food. Food and service is especially good if the view is blocked by a famous view type place. Fell free to order anything.

Radicle fried indicator: If more than 20% of the menu is filled with fried or “extreme” food all of it sucks.

Buffet indicator: Chinese restaurants without a buffet are usually good.

Deli Case indicator: If there is a deli case close to the front of the building it is a good indicator in quality and freshness. Deli cases are very expensice and usually the rest of the kitchen equipment will be of good qulity and that will resonate throughout the place.

Burger indicator: For a simple food there is much to judge a place by. Is the lettuce crisp? Tomatoes flavorful? Bun warm and fresh? Burger cooked properly? Will they cook it rare?

Chalk Board indicator. A good chalk board is a great sign, Usually…

I agree with lasagna. Come on if you cant make a good one there are serious problems.

Specials Indicator. More than 4 special is a sign of a place that is overcompensating for something. Order off the menu. To much juggling.

Restaurant review indicator: Don’t go to places ranked on the first three in the general category unless they service has max stars. 3-20+ should do a great job. Cuisine specific rating should be okay in the top position but you are better of with 2-5 depending on the size of the city.

Those are a few of my indicators. I have plenty more but decided to stop, especially since I am not addressing the OP’s question exactly.

Couldent agree more.

Your post was exactly the kind I was looking for! List as many as you want.

I like to get the menudo at Mexican places; if they don’t even have it, that’s a strike against them, because a place that Americanized is unlikely to be very good. After that, if the menudo’s bad, I won’t trust them with anything that’s actually hard to make.

(Menudo is just a beef tripe stew. The catch here is the tripe: It isn’t exactly common in Anglo cuisine, and a number of Anglos have a rather visceral reaction to it, meaning that it’s something you have to, one, know you should seek out (it isn’t on the menu at Taco John’s for a reason) and, two, expect enough Mexican cuisine lovers to bother. If either of those are not true for your restaurant, your food might be good but it’s unlikely to be very Mexican.)

That, and I like menudo. :slight_smile:

(A catch: A number of Mexican restaurants in New Mexico (State motto: “Red or Green?”) don’t have it. They’re as authentic as you’re likely to get in this country, but they focus on other things. In Montana, however, the menudo test makes more sense.)

Of course.

For an Italian wood-fired style pizza place, it’s the pizza marghareta. For a Chicago thin-crust style pizza place, it’s a plain sausage pizza. Actually, the same for a deep dish place.

I don’t don’t much straight-ahead Italian, but if I do, I like a simple risotto milanese or spaghetti carbonara (or bucatini all’amatriciana if they got it.) The pasta needs to come al dente, it shouldn’t be drowning in sauce, it shouldn’t be made with smoked bacon (pancetta or guanciale, please) and the carbonara had better not have cream or, God forbid, peas in it. I’m not saying that it’s not okay to like that kind of carbonara, but if it comes with any of those, it’s not going to be the style of Italian that I prefer.

For barbecue places, I like getting whatever meat seems to be their specialty, with the sauce on the side, so I could judge the barbecue itself when it’s not drowning in sauce. Barbecue should be good on its own.

In general, though, I try to look for what that restaurant’s specialities seem to be and order that. For example, there’s plenty of Mexican restaurants here that have subpar chile rellenos (hell, a lot don’t even offer them), but excel in, say, tacos al pastor or cochinita pibil, or whatnot. And there’s places that have great chile rellenos, but everything else is just so-so.

I don’t. I order what sounds good at the time. If the kung pao is good it doesn’t really matter to me if the lasagna isn’t (though I probably wouldn’t often go to a restaurant that sells both).

Mine is subgum wonton; if they don’t have it, it’s vegetable chow mein, which most places load up with celery because it’s cheap and serve it bland as hell because they figure if you’re eating vegetables, you must not eat any flavor. If I get plenty of fresh mushrooms and pea pods and a nice garlic sauce, it’s a winner.

I think there are far better options on the menu, but I think that pad thai is a great indicator of a good Thai restaurant. In fact, a few years ago I spent a week having dinner at a different thai restaurant every day, ordering chicken pad thai (medium heat) each time. Oddly enough, I wasn’t sick of pad thai by the end of it. Whenever I encounter a new thai place, I’ll get the pad thai - even though I far prefer either the panang or masaman curries (depending on the weather). You can tell a lot from just one order of pad thai - are there extras (spring rolls, soup, etc.)? Are the bean sprouts fresh? Is the lime fresh or wilted? Do they chop the cilantro, or just throw a sprig on there? Are the peanuts incorporated into the sauce, or are they just thrown on as a garnish (likely out of a giant bag of crushed peanuts)?

I don’t have specific benchmark dishes. I just order the more basic dishes that would seem difficult to screw up. They don’t have to be the best version of the dish I’ve ever eaten, but if they screw up the simple ones I don’t expect the others to be any better.

I guess I will be the lone dissenter here, but only because my usage of restaurants is totally different from all the posters above. I don’t eat out enough (at anywhere other than the lunch options around where I work, in a mall) to really care how well a restaurant does on the basics. I can’t afford to try a place a few times, eating the same thing I get everywhere else, before trying something new and different. While I’m not a truly adventurous eater, I go to a restaurant to eat something new or something I can’t prepare well or easily. If I were eating out five to seven nights a week, I might want to try to compare who makes the best lasagne. But eating out is a “special occasion” thing for me. And yes, sometimes the special occasion is “It’s Payday and I’m Too Tired to Cook”!

So that would be “No, I don’t use a benchmark dish to judge a new restaurant”

I don’t really have benchmark dishes either, but the closest thing I have to one would be fish tacos. If the fish tacos come in flour tortillas with cheese and sour cream, odds are the restaurant doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing.

My father always says that if you go to a restaurant and they have chicken-fried steak on the menu, you might as well order it. It may not be any good, but nothing else will be any better.

This is what I was going to say. When I’m at a new Thai restaurant, I order the pad thai.