Good dishes to test a restaurant's quality?

I’ve yet to try this place but friends rave about it. I’m in the area frequently (it’s between me and City News Stand at Irving/Cicero) but I’ve never stopped in.

True, but if it is good, that doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the rest of the menu. It may be the only thing they do well. So maybe the house special is the best bet if you’re pretty sure you’re not coming back anyway, but a poor way to test a restaurant for ongoing patronage.

Oh, and I forgot the most important bit: they have real barbecued chicken, there. I’ll be honest: the first time I visited Smoque, I wasn’t wowed, but every time I’ve been there since, it’s been spot-on and is turning out perhaps the most consistent barbecue in the city.

That’s true. Then again, probably 85% of the restaurants I go to regularly I go for one or possibly two specific menu items, anyway. (And some of these restaurants barely have more than a couple menu items, too.)

I look at their menu. If their menu is the size of a phone book, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to get crappy food. YMMV.

When I want to compare Italian restaurants, I get chicken piccata. It’s not tomato-based, and the balance between lemon, butter, and caper flavors gives a sense of their skill.

In Chinse restaurants, I get the kung pao chicken, since practically everyone makes it. Or, if it’s avauilable, Szechuan shredded beef.

For Mexican restaurants, order whatever you want, but look at the rice to determine their quality of cooking.

The reasoning is that they typically re-heat the entire plate after “assembling” the food so the rice ends up kinda dry and lousy/ stuck together if they’re being too careless about it.

Why plates are hot at Mexican Restaurants?

Learned this about a decade ago from my chef ex-wife, it’s a great barometer for an unfamiliar restaurant.

Pubs: burger and fries. You might be surprised how badly those two simple things can be fucked up.

Italian: carbonara. Made right, it’s wondrous. Otherwise, it’s nearly inedible. If that’s not on the menu, then risotto. Barring that, lasagna.

Vietnamese: pho

Indian: rogan josh or vindaloo. Risti (lamb meatballs in a reduction sauce), if they have it.

Diners: biscuits and gravy, but I’ve given up on ever getting a decent plate. Chicken-fried steak: pretty much a ditto. Pot pie comes in third.

Never order anything called “chef’s surprise”.

My wife and I always go by the steak tartare; it’s extremely simple (in the sense of “elegant”, rather than “easy”) and speaks pretty directly to (a) the quality of the ingredients and (b) the chef’s palate/philosophy.

If it’s that kind of a place, that is; this dish is more effective in sorting superstar restaurants from merely adequate restaurants, rather than good restaurants from bad restaurants–obviously, not something to be attempted where you suspect you may be at a BAD restaurant, where the food is not fresh…

The steak or the roast. Also how they make up for the long wait.

Make up your mind! :wink:

The way I read this is that there is somewhere in the Midwest (that is NOT Chicago) that has a completely bizarre definition of barbecue in conflict with the rest of the known world. Because regardless of your first quote - “a method of cooking involving smoke” is EXACTLY the definition of barbecue in those places that are most famous for it.

One of my favorite Frank & Ernest cartoons is the boys looking at a sign in a restaurant that says **Chef’s Surprise - $4.95 - (based on a short story by Stephen King.)**The caption: “Not a good sign.”

No, he’s exactly right. In the Midwest (which is NOT one of “…those places that are most famous for it,”) “Barbecue” means grilling if it’s done at home, and smoked stuff if you’re going out. Roghly.

“Hey? Wanna come over this Saturday? We’re doing a little barbecue,” means you should expect to see burgers and hot dogs and maybe bratwurst and chicken grilled over charcoal or propane on the backyard grill. You might see ribs, but probably not. Usually, for home cooking, we’d say, “Wanna come over this Saturday? We’re doing ribs,” if we were doing ribs.

Consider it a homophone for the definition used in the second quote, which is indeed the more widespread and more precise usage: low and slow cooking of slabs of pork or beef, generally involving smoke as a flavoring technique. “Barbecue” in this sense is generally something people go out for, although home smoking has always had a niche in Chicago cuisine, especially among Black families.

If I ask if you want to go out for barbeque, expect ribs and hot links, and maybe pulled pork and brisket and other stuff, too. If I ask if you want to come over for BBQ, expect grilling.

More specifically, if I invite you to *A *barbecue, it is grilled meat; if I invite you *FOR *barbecue, it is slow-smoked ribs or pulled pork.

That’s what I had started to write, then I looked at a couple of old evites, and it appears people don’t always make that distinction in real usage. It does work in my head, though.

Yeah, and some people have devolved to that here…with regard to home cooking (ie, saying barbecue when they mean grilled). However, per the OP we’re talking about restaurants and any restaurant that tried to advertise barbecue and serve grilled would quickly close or learn to advertise honestly.

I tend to barbecue purism. But most people not from the South–and I include a good portion of Chicago in this–has a much more liberal definition of “barbecue.” I don’t like it, but there it is. I mean, we’ve had this discussion countless times on this board if memory serves me right.

And people and restaurants will sometimes refer to oven cooked pork served with barbecue sauce as “barbecue pork.” Just google a recipe for Crockpot barbecue. Or oven baked BBQ ribs. It’s extremely common.

Outside the South, in my experience, that is not “dishonest” in any way, as the definition for barbecue is quite broad. This is why I ask, but usually it’s pretty obvious if a restaurant is actually smoking meat or not.

For Chinese restaurants, the hot and sour soup is our benchmark.