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entree altruism: plate-swapping...

Hello... Sometimes while ordering at a sit-down restaurant, I'll watch the process unfold as my wife will hone in on an entree choice that I'm reasonably certain she will ultimately not enjoy. Despite subtle alternative recommendations from myself or gentle dissuations from a helpful server, the wife will (2 times out of every 10) order a plate full of food that will not suit her. The look on her face, as the ill-chosen entree is set before her, is classic: a co-mingling of fear and shock and regret/remorse. It is a touchingly poignant moment to see her proceed to cheer herself up and make the very best of her selection by eating what she can, with a very brave face. Not wanting to make things worse, I might try to offer large tastings/sharings of my own entree. Be even well before this occurs, while still mulling over our respective orders, I'll find myself in the following mindset: I'll scan the entire menu and try to find an entree (ostensibly for myself) that, once my wife realizes the folly of her own choice, might appeal to her as a substitution. I actually want the pork cheeks braised in mustard. But I'll go ahead and get the trusty roasted half-chicken with garlic mashed potatoes as a pre-emptive way to offer a plate-switch, once her own selection bursts the anticipatory bubble. And I'll take on her own selection since, well, I'm much more easily pleased and will eat just about anything. Sometimes this is a win-win situation, but just as often it's an unspoken compromise frought with longings for a happier ending. I cannot and will not foist my (at times) more informed opinions on her like a chowish brute, prior to reception of the grub. But afterward, I wonder if i am just a culinary enabler. Is it wrong for me to not follow my own appetite and put my own inclinations first? Is it bordering on the ridiculous to try to side-step menu minefields, by looking out for the best interests of one's dining companion in so serpentine a manner? Do YOU ever order something for yourself, because it will ultimately end up upon your companion's fork? Has the world gone mad, or merely the world within my skull?

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  1. My SO and I usually decide on our entrees together, knowing we'll want to share--and that he doesn't want to get something I'll be allergic to, like clams. By the end of every meal, we usually announce a "winner" of the evening, whether it's mine or his.

    6 Replies
    1. re: MuppetGrrl

      We're like you, but once in awhile my brain goes crazy on me and I think I want something really strange. Sometimes SO will feel crazy enough to go for it, other times he'll tell me I'm nuts and whether I wouldn't rather have X. When the latter happens, I usually frown at him, try to rationalize why I want it, but decide better of it when the server reappears (or not). He's usually right.

      It happens the other way around too. Sometimes he wants something that I think sounds absolutely horrible, and we have to just see who wants his/her way more.

      1. re: Pei

        Yeah, we usually consult each other before ordering to make sure that we aren't ordering the same thing or need help deciding between two choices. But we never feel obligated not to order anything we know he won't like (He has texture issues, I have strong taste issues, so our yuk list is very conflicting). But even if he orders Lamb, or I order the Calamari, both our chowish tendencies will lead us just to take 'a bite' :)

        --Dommy!

      2. re: MuppetGrrl

        We do this as well. People think it's some kind of sappy romantic thing, but really it's just about trying more options. We tend to have very similar tastes, so our top two are often the same, but he is more of a red meat person than I am. Usually, if there is some disagreement, it is decided in favor of the more unusual choice (that is, if one option is a special, it automatically "wins." Or, I can get a shrimp dish more often than he can get, say, beef cheeks.) It works out well, so I rarely notice the compromises I make. I figure it more than evens out in the end.

        1. re: meg944

          We consult one another before ordering as well, but no one would confused it for "sappy and romantic" when they hear my husband say "if you order that salmon you won't be getting any of my calamari."

        2. re: MuppetGrrl

          We're the same as well, and although it's not about being sappy and romantic, we are that too! ;-)

          1. re: Katie Nell

            Well, OK, it’s true that we can also send people into sugar shock! :) But that is honestly not the reason for the plate-swapping.

        3. I feel for you. My situation is not identical, but the similarities are there: the constant dining companion with the hesitant palate, the unasked-for concessions that lead inevitably (and unfairly!) to resentment, however short-lived...

          My boyfriend was born in northern coastal Russia and has the classic flavour-tolerance profile of the Baltic peoples, i.e. herrings, potatoes, boiled meat and dill. While decades in America have broadened his palate a little bit, this is basically what he wants to eat.

          I, on the other hand, am from Hong Kong. Which means that I (a)will eat anything; and (b)eat a lot of family-style shared Asian meals. I can no longer keep track of the number of times I have gotten excited about some Chinese restaurant, arrived for the eagerly-anticipated meal, and then ordered a bunch of mild gloop so as not to horrify him with braised unidentified glands or snouts or something else that doesn't fit into the meat+potato school of dinner thought.

          The sad thing is that he would probably be more than happy to try whatever traditional Chinese oddity it is that I've been craving, but I've silently made the decision to "accommodate" his palate before he's even had a chance to offer to accommodate mine! Later, as I feel frustrated that I haven't eaten whatever it was that I came to eat, I realise that it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me.

          Follow your appetite!

          1. I have several responsibilities when look and order time arrives. First I need to choose my first choice and my back-up entree. Then I help my DW in her choice. We go through which item i think she would like, a few other items that she may like and then await for her final decision. If I think there's a chance that hers just won't work, I go with my back-up, which incidentally is one of those i thought she would like. Only a couple of times we needed the actual swap of entrees, but heh, DW more important than any entree I can think about. And besides I travel a bunch and can basically order whatever I want on these occassions.

            1. Once I ordered goat in a Mexican restaurant, partly to prove what a chowhound I am. As soon as it arrived, I realized that I could NOT eat it. My SO had sensibly ordered shrimp and when he saw the look on my face, offered to switch with me. That is love. I was so grateful. However, as I said, I've only done that once.

              1. Cute post, and it gave me a surge of gratitude that my SO and I don't have such issues (we both eat practically anything, with gusto). Here's my Two Cents:

                If you order what you think you'll like, and your wife orders what she thinks she'll like, it's a gamble regardless. Sometimes it's fabulous, sometimes it stinks.

                My advice is to order what you want to order (don't even think about your backup plans) and encourage your wife to do the same. You're both taking the same gamble; and if anyone is disappointed, you two can make the best of it.

                If she is repeatedly disappointed in her choices of entree, it will help educate her about her taste and palate. Plus, if she's hungry enough she might try those pork cheeks and realize how delicious they are! You'll be doing her a favor, really.

                Anyway, please remember that food should be about simple pleasure, not pre-emptive ordering! Life's too short to eat roast chicken all the time (not that roast chicken isn't delicious...)

                7 Replies
                1. re: Absonot

                  You said it perfectly.

                  The OP, while a loving husband, is a culinary enabler. He should order what he loves, and encourage his wife to order things he knows she will like. ("Remember last time, honey, when you didn't care for raw oysters?") If she gets somethign she doesnt' like, she'll learn, she's an adult.

                  1. re: Covert Ops

                    Hi, OP here. Yeah, tuff love, I like it. She (the wife) WILL learn, but she's also stubborn and a redhead to boot (to quote Barry Fitzgerald, speaking of Maureen O' Sullivan, from 'The Quiet Man': " That red head's no lie!". But I'm not the only enabler, by a long chaulk. Notice that dessert-for-one with two forks at so many tables?? Just who started that romantic runaway juggernaught? I usually don't want dessert in a restaurant; but when I do, I'm usually up for the whole thing. But if I never have to go round and round over who should finish the last spoon of the pumpkin creme brulee, that shall not be soon enough! :-)

                    1. re: silence9

                      Yes, there are downsides to sharing. My husband is more the culprit than me, though – I can’t tell you how often he has said, “Here, let me help you with that,” (whether I want help or not.) Or if I protest, he pulls out the always successful, “Well, it looks like Team Ourlastname has excess dessert/sparkling wine/cheese/etc.” Luckily for him, he is about twice my size, so I am generally happy to cede 2/3 of both our meals to him.

                      p.s. And I am a redhead as well, but apparently just not quite as fiery!

                      1. re: meg944

                        Hey! I'm a redhead with a husband twice my size as well.

                        Generally, though, I get the lion's share of the dessert. Plus I'm the only one who drinks wine. I think I account for about 2/3 of the bill. Quite frankly, anyone watching us would be confused as to how he can outweigh me by about 120 pounds when I appear to out-eat him!

                      2. re: silence9

                        We always share desserts because we simply don't have room for one dessert each--and then, generally, I get to decide. :)

                        1. re: MuppetGrrl

                          We are couple soul mates! :-) I always get to decide the dessert!! And I always get the tip of the pie, cake, whatever... it's my favorite part!

                        2. re: silence9

                          Yes, I think you're an enabler. I feel your pain. Everyone should be entitled to his/her own dessert. If someone is too full to eat a whole portion of dessert, they can have the waiter pack 1/2 of it to go. Or just leave the uneaten portion. My husband knows that I will not share dessert (maybe one forkful to taste...), but I am generous with other things.

                          RE the entree... Are you willing to order a third entree? If your wife doesn't like her order, ask the waiter to bring an order of roast chicken.

                          I hope I'm not being presumptuous, but I suspect your wife orders what she considers nutritious or non-fattening, rather than what might be tasty. If so, she might request a simple grilled fish with vegetables. Any restaurant can serve that.

                    2. I'm the foodie in the family but if my husband chooses something I'm fairly sure he will dislike, that's his business. He's an adult and makes his own decisions. I would deeply resent anyone telling me what I should order because they know my tastes better than I do. This is a relationship issue, not a food issue.

                      We usually consult about what each of us will order so we get maximum choice of everything, but we never impose on the other person. Of course if he asks me my opinion, I'm more than happy to give it to him whether he follows my advice or not.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: cheryl_h

                        Hi.. I guess you missed the part of my original post, where i stated " I cannot and will not foist my (at times) more informed opinions on her like a chowish brute..". I don't tell anyone what to order, and if/when they clearly prefer what's on my plate, I share... As to this not being a food issue, I thought so too, which is why I posted the topic on this Not About Food board...

                      2. I am glad to say I love my DW waaaaaaaay more than anything the best chef in the world can create. If I can make my DW a little happier and the meal a little more relaxed and enjoyable, at the expense of some food, so be it. IT'S JUST A MEAL!!!

                        I feel so sorry for those who think that they need to teach their spouse or SO "a lesson" by letting them order a meal they may not like or have to suffer through a bad dish (not the chef's fault) or not eat at all. In absolute worst case, the good dish slides between the two of us and we share.

                        It's not sappy, dopey, silly, or any other adjective. It's called maturity, respect and love.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jfood

                          In considering this post I've realized that my husband sits quietly when I occasionally order something I ultimately will not want (not because it's exotic but because it will bore me usually), lets me order, orders something I'll like and then switches with me before I even touch my plate. Usually with an eye-roll and the words, 'I know you don't want that!'

                          We usually consult on our orders and this good guy always lets me have the best entree if we were inclined to order the same thing and if there are two items that sound good to me he'll order my second choice for his entree. We share them, of course!

                          I hope that this is all because of loving maturity rather than an indication that I'm a spoiled brat! : )

                        2. As an ex-pshrink I feel that you should probably talk to your wife about this. Not when you are at dinner, but at some quiet time. Calmly tell her that you have observed this and that you have been ordering meals that aren't your first choice so that you can please her. Then tell her that you aren't going to do this anymore and offer to help guide her choices when you go out to eat, all she has to do is ask, but don't offer or try to persuade her either. Then stick to it.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: JMF

                            Tell her? Heck, she already knows from reading this thread! LOL, she's a Chowhound lurker and I'm already in the doghouse for the dessert remarks. Still, thank you for the sage (with browned butter) advice :-).

                            1. re: silence9

                              So, what does she say then regarding the plate swapping situation?

                              1. re: Katie Nell

                                Well, despite that fiery red-head and matching temperament, she's a good egg (better than I deserve) and wants me to order what I want and eat what I order. Now, if I can just get her to not send the server (taking our order) away more than once (while she decides). One that server takes that long stroll away from the table, they might as well have been swept up in the Rapture !

                                1. re: silence9

                                  Well, I can't help you there! I am extremely indecisive when it comes to ordering... my mom used to get so irritated with me, but luckily my husband is very patient it with me... he realizes that it's my hobby and just smiles!

                                  1. re: silence9

                                    I'm sorry, but I had to laugh when I read your comments. Good luck and great meals to the both of you.

                            2. We have somewhat of the opposite situation - my husband often misses things on the menu that I know he'd love, and so I usually point them out so that he can order them, even though they are usually things I don't like (ie, organ meats).

                              Best of luck sorting this out - life's too short to go through it eating things you don't like - though love is more important, of course (brings to mind going along with having red wine and a steak dinner at an Argentine steakhouse on a sweltering August NYC evening when their A/C was out - all I really wanted was a very chilled white and some delicate fish!)

                              1. Here's a solution. . . conjure memories of previous disasters.
                                When she tells you what she's going to order and you know the result will be disastrous, compare it to the last poor choice she made. Example "Honey, I think I'll have the X." your response, (sarcastically) "Good choice dear, you should enjoy that as much as you did the(insert last bad dish here).

                                I don't know, just a thought, but it should get her thinking more realistically, or at the very least open the subject to conversation.

                                So you go from being a chowish brute to a sarcastic heel. . . at least your palate will be happy.

                                Personally, I am a huge fan of the 1/2 and 1/2 as I like to call it. Something my friends and I used to do when ordering deli sandwiches. I have now extended it to all meals, it's like a two for one.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Porkchop Express

                                  I'd be way more pissed off if my SO mocked me than if he told me, straight up and politely, that I should think more about what I want to order.

                                  1. re: MuppetGrrl

                                    Exactly - sarcasm is rarely, if ever, a good ingredient in a relationship.

                                2. We just order different things with different sides and try a little bit of everything. Very little surprises me these days and if I'm in doubt, I'll ask, and then ask again before ordering just to make sure nothing strange shows up.

                                  TT

                                  1. I try to coordinate what we order, because I like to share. And I would never want to order the same thing- we have very similar tastes and often seem to feel like eating the same things at the same time.

                                    My SO will put his menu down and I'll immediately ask, "What are you getting?!" He'll roll his eyes at me and used to withhold the information, but now he'll divulge his order as soon as he closes the menu.