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Nov 1, 2006 08:33 PM

How Do You Order a Meal?

When going to restaurants we can order prix fixe dinners with wine pairings, and at sushi bars we can just say, “omakase”.

When you are on your own, what kinds of thoughts do you put into ordering a complete meal? Different cuisines require different approaches: To order at a sushi bar, you may consider a sequence that progresses from light and subtle to heavier taste, cleanse your palate, and start another sequence. To order a Chinese family meal, you may consider a combination of dishes that are complementary in taste, texture, color, and smell.

Your approach? Please post your success stories at

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  1. I'm not a picky eater, so if I'm going to a restaurant I know to be good, I just tell my server to surpise me and let the kitchen cook whatever they want. Of course I tell them I'm a chef first, as to avoid them just cooking up whatever is easiest for them. The courses I order depend on my company - if I'm dining with my girlfriend and she just orders two courses, I'll ask the server to bring my any salad/app and any entree.

    I think one logical progression is light -> heavy, although I am not too particular about it. I have no problem eating a foie app followed by a fish entree. I'll be happy as long as the whole meal isn't exclusively light or exclusively heavy.

    I find palate cleansers unnecessary. If you're eating something like large chunks of raw onion or garlic, heavy spices, or strong cheese, then fine - serve me some crappy lemon sorbet (although I beleive all of those ingredients should be served with enough moderation to avoid palate cleansing). Other than that, nothing you eat should have a significant impact on the next course, assuming you have a couple sips of water and a few minutes between courses. If it's something creative and interesting like a peach honey foam then kudos to you.

    My one recommendation that makes eating more enjoyable for you, your company, and the kitchen is this: the whole party at your table should all order the same number of courses. By this, I mean that if your three friends all want to order just one app and one entree each, you should not order the five course prix fixe. A six top should not have one five course prix fixe, one 9 course tasting, and the rest various a la carte. Dining is much more enjoyable when you all receive an equal number of courses at the same time.

    2 Replies
    1. re: wax311

      I don't know of any restos that would even let you do that. Normally it states on the menu that tasting menus require the participation of the entire table. Ditto prix-fixes. Pacing the progression of a meal would be impossible otherwise.

      1. re: diropstim

        It's very rare, but there was one time I remember seeing a table where one person ordered a 5 course tasting menu and the other just 3 courses -- the chef sent amuse bouches to the person with fewer courses to even out the pace of dinner. Very classy.

    2. Having an enjoyable dinner can also mean that you may not always be able to order the prix fixe or everything your heart desires if the price is ridiculous and you are someone who enjoys going out more than once in a while- as someone already stated- company easily trumps the food.

      1. The first thing I look at are the entrees to see if anything is a must have. Then I play menu ping-pong between app and entree to get the right balance. Do I want two heavies, two lights or one and one.

        1. First off, if there's something that the restaurant is best-known for, then I will order that.

          But most of the time, I take a very Gladwellian approach, where I read the menu very quickly once, close it, and then watch my friends as they ponder their choices. When the server comes, I open the menu and make a split-second decision. No fore-thought, pure instinct.

          1 Reply
          1. re: SauceSupreme

            You're so brave! I've gotta try that. I'm a big non-decider a lot of the time, going back and forth till I'm sure I've picked the thing I feel most like. I like your approach, but I dunno if it'd work for me. I think I'll give it a go, though.

          2. When ordering Japanese where the food may be good but the staff don't necessarily know how the food should be served (e.g., in Manila), I specify the serving order, what dishes should come separately, and which should come together, and how much time should be allowed between courses.