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Have it your way? Not so much

Posted Jun 15 2010 12:00am
Remember that great scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where Meg Ryan creates a disturbance in a restaurant? No, not that scene. I’m talking about the one in which she orders dessert from an incredulous waitress: “I’ll have apple pie a la mode, but I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top -- I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla, if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.”

Waitress: “Not even the pie?”

Sally: “No, I want the pie, but then not heated.”

Okay, Sally’s a little high-maintenance (as Billy Crystal calls her), but secretly, I’ve always respected her determination to have her food served just the way she wants it. After all, when you go out to eat, you’re paying someone to prepare your meal, right? That’s one reason why dining in a restaurant is many orders of magnitude more expensive than cooking similar food at home.

That’s not the way chefs see it. An article in last week’s New York Post reports that restaurants are becoming increasingly disdainful of special requests by diners.

Prefer your salad dressing on the side? Your steak a little more well done? Parmesan on your pasta? Too bad. Chefs get “testy,” explains chef/author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain, when patrons ask them to “ruin” what they view as their best efforts. For instance, when David Chang, the chef at the renowned Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan, received too many requests for vegetarian options, he allegedly rewrote the menu to include pork in every dish.

Guess what, celebrity chefs? More people are starting to care about what goes into their food and how it's prepared. Get used to it. Also, the last time I checked, there was a recession on. I don’t know about you, but I’m not wild about paying huge amounts of money only to have no control over what winds up on my plate.

Someone has to watch out for your health, and as Bourdain’s own book revealed, the chef isn’t about to do it. Anyone who’s spent time behind the scenes in the restaurant industry knows that even high-end establishments have no qualms about using poor-quality ingredients and masking them with liberal amounts of grease and salt. I guess they figure what we don’t know won’t hurt us.

Does that fly with you? Me neither.

The next time a waiter or chef gives you grief when you ask them to accommodate your dietary preferences, my suggestion is to take your hard-earned cash somewhere else. Or better yet, cook at home, where you always have a say over what happens in the kitchen.

Have you ever requested a modification to a restaurant dish? Did you feel you were being “high-maintenance”?

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