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the rare and the uncooked

How rare is too rare? Went to a very well thought of restaurant tonight, had the tasting menu, and two items (foie gras and veal chop) were discernably cool in the center. I mean not just rare, but well below room temp. I generally don't balk at bloody meat and certainly not raw fish, but in a restaurant of repute I couldn't bring myself to send these dishes back. Should I have? I'm thinking of calling them tomorrow and offering a little constructive criticism, saying, you know, FYI, maybe you're being a little quick off the fire sometimes....

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  1. this exact thing happened to me. i had a really nice veal chop and it was really too rare in the center (and i like my meat pretty rare). anyway, i ate it (though in retrospect i would have been happier with just a minute more on the heat) but afterwards i decided to say something. so i told the waiter everything was delicious, but the veal was a little too rare, it was kind of under done, so you might just want to tell the chef. i was really polite and the waiter sort of snapped at me and said that is the way it is supposed to be prepared, and the chef did it that way on purpose. it was slightly taken aback, and though i really enjoyed almost everything i ate i didn't go back. i just didn't know how to react to being argued with. i wish i hadn't eaten it, so i could have shown the waiter the inside and then maybe he would not have snapped. anyway, this is why though i don't like to send things back, sometimes it becomes uncomfortable, but i have to remember, i'm paying and maybe the waiter was just having a tough day.

    1. By all means let them know. If a dish is prepared outside of usual restaurant-goers' expectations, it should so state on the menu. Maybe you'll get a comp. If not, the place has an undeserved reputation.

      And I don't know that your criticism has to be all that constructive. After all, for good money you should get a professionally prepared meal. (I wouldn't have caused a scene, either, but I have complained by mail in egregious cases and gotten a free meal.)

      1. Always send back food immediately if it is not to your liking, otherwise the kitchen staff will never know when it is making a mistake. The more famous or expensive the restaurant is, the more this rule should be used very strongly.

        Specifically, your food could have been properly prepared earlier in the day and re-heated (insufficiently); or it could have started out raw and cooked a la minute incorrectly. Either way, it speaks of a line cook who was not paying attention and should be appropriately criticized.

        1. Rare actually means cold/room temp. in the center. Medium rare means warm. If you asked for rare, you got rare. Most places will be happy to cook the meat more to your liking, but understand the definition.

          Also you must allow that restaurants have to keep their meat refrigerated until cooked ;). So it's going on the fire cold.

          17 Replies
          1. re: bryan

            one man's rare is another man's medium etc. This is a very difficult area for anyone to get 'right', unless you are cooking your own steak and know exactly how you like it, it will depend on thickness of the cut and personal preference.

            I like my meat cremated, so difficult for restaurants to get 'right' for me so I hardly ever order a steak out as I know I will be sending it back at least twice spoiling the meal for everyone at the table.

            1. re: smartie

              I agree.

              I'm under the impression that cool in the middle is "Blue", "Cool Blue" or "Chicago Blue" with rare being still very pink but at room temperature.


              1. re: Davwud

                I think your definition is close to being correct. Being a once-in-a-while substitute line cook, steak lovers please take note (of course, I am on the left coast, and I understand that these things are regional). When I order steak, I always order it 'black and blue', that is, charred and burned on the outside but still chilly and raw in the middle, because I like eating raw beef. For me, heaven is a restaurant that deals in high quality beef and handles it correctly, and I can order steak tartare. 'Rare' means an internal temp of 120 degrees, more or less; it will still be red and bloody in the middle, but slightly warm, way warmer than 'room temperature'. If you like your meat still more raw, an extended discusion with your waiter and a few back-and-forth trips between you and the line cook is in order. I am more than happy to cook steak to a customer's liking, assuming he/she can describe accurately. However, if you get one of these bloody, semi-raw steaks and you did not order it that way, now is the time to speak up; the line cook will not learn otherwise.

                1. re: jerry i h

                  I agree- I like my steak rare, too. I was cooking steak on the grill this weekend, and one of my brothers tole me to just " wave it over the flame." Funny- I just bought an automatic meat thermometer, as I wanted to be able cook chickenn on the grill. The outside cover of the thermometer lists temps and donesness for meat. It lists beef at medium rare at 145! If I l eft the beef on the grill to 145, it would surely be well done by the time it rested for a few minutes.

                2. re: Davwud

                  Rare = cool red center
                  Med Rare = warm red center
                  Med = Warm pink w/touch of red in the center
                  Med Well = Warm brown touch of pink in the center
                  Well = Warm brown thoughout

                  I have worked in a variety of restaurants and these are the guidelines each of the restaurants used. I agree every restaurant has their own specifications as do the patrons. So if something is too Rare send it back ask them to Cook it a little more. Most restaurants and chefs would rather have you enjoy what your eating!!

                  1. re: chrystaldawn

                    That's great in the ideal world. I've read the descriptions in lots of steakhouse menus. But I've ordered medium rare only once to find a trace of red, it's almost always pink all the way through. And medium is typically brown with sometimes the faintest touch of pink. You can say it's wrong all you like, but that's what typically comes out. People are more likely to order from experience rather than what the menu states. I guess it's like ordering level of spiciness at Indian or Thai places. I like heat, but I don't want to challenge the kitchen so that I can't taste the flavors.

                    1. re: thinks too much

                      My experience is that restaurants will typically under cook rather than over cook. When I've ordered medium rare I often get a cold red center and a warm red with medium. Makes sense that the kitchen would err on this side so they can cook it a little more if needed rather than throw it away and start over.

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        Sure that makes sense, if they calculate that all diners will send back their meat if it's not done to their liking. If they are calcualting that diners order meat rarer than they really like, they'll cook it more. (People do have a sense of bravado, especially ordering meat.) And if diners are more likely to send back underdone meat than overdone meat, they'll also cook it more when in a busy kitchen. From a time management standpoint, that is, rather than a food excellence standpoint. Being a business, kitchens have to consider both.

              2. re: bryan

                how can rare mean both cold and room temperature, unless you live in alaska without central heating?

                1. re: alex8alot

                  Actually I meant to type "cool", rather than cold. My bad.

                2. re: bryan

                  NO _ IT _ DOES _ NOT!

                  In some alternate universe of "seared ahi" & "grill-crusted steak tartare" food is served cold /room temperature , but for the rest of the sane population RARE means 140 degrees which is way hotter than any room that anyone could ever breath in!

                  I do understand the definitions. I never will order a burger less done than MEDIUM, because I do believe the FDA --

                  In fact if I've been served burgers WAY under cooked and I respectfully ASK FOR A NEW ONE, and have even asked that the cook PLEASE check it with a THERMOMETER. Frankly any restaurant that does not have a Thermopen or similar commercial certified thermometer is risking too much -- not every burger needs to be checked, but as you suggest, they do pull the meat from a fridge and sometimes that fridge is too cold and the cooking times need to be lengthened.

                  When I've done in a nice way the cook is generally appreciative, because NO ONE wants to get a health department violation of sued by a sick dinner...

                  1. re: renov8r

                    If you're using safe, high quality meat, meat that does not come from a factory farm full of diseased cattle, covered in feces, and littered with E Coli bacteria, then there is no reason to cook your burger to a tasteless, charred brick.

                    I like my burgers seared. I only get them from reputable restaurants that use clean meat, and I've never gotten sick. As far as I'm concerned, a medium burger belongs in the garbage can.

                    1. re: renov8r

                      I see you feel strongly about this but I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. I will agree with your definition of "grill-crusted steak tartare", but a true steak tartar never even says hi to a flame. If someone wants a steak bloody, that's their choice. Kansas City style is what we call it here in Chicago - that would be just seared and cold in the center. Rare is "cool" in the center. So I erred in my definition.

                      As far as getting sued by someone getting sick - there is so much wiggle room in there it's amazing. Most law suits regarding food get thrown out because it could have been the chicken salad you had for lunch - you just don't know. Now, if we're talking E-Coli, that's a different matter. Also it's more likely to get a health code violation for the temperature of your fridge, rather than the temperature of the meat your cooking. I worked in restaurants for years and I never, ever saw an inspector examine cooked meat. Nor did I ever see a grill chef use a thermopen or thermometer. They would touch the meat to tell the doneness.

                      1. re: bryan

                        Not to mention that piercing a burger or steak with anything, even a thermometer, while on the grill is considered a no-no. The juices will escape, leaving the diner with dry meat. Every cook/chef with whom I've ever worked knew the doneness by touch.

                      2. re: renov8r

                        140 degrees = rare beef? You've got to be kidding. 140 is medium on the way to medium well, rare beef is 120 degrees in the center. Just ask Julia Child (or consult her cookbooks if you don't want to hold a seance).

                        This controversy is the reason that many better steakhouses list their definitions of doneness on the menu - and when they do so, rare is typically defined as "red and cool in the center," medium rare as "red and warm in the center." Medium gets you a pink center, and from there on it's all downhill.

                        1. re: renov8r

                          No need to YELL.

                          Some of us actually like rare meat, myself included. When I ask for a steak done rare, I want it cool and red in the middle. I don't want pink and I don't want 140 degrees, because that means my meat is overdone. I want it still practically mooing.

                          Sorry, but the day I have to eat hamburgers that are brown all the way through is the day I stop eating hamburgers.

                        2. re: bryan

                          Agree. Rare is a cool red center, medium rare is a warm pink center.

                        3. Unless you've ordered "blue rare" or "just seared" the meat should not be cool in the center. Also, with a warm foie dish everything that is good about the foie is destroyed by being served cold (unless a terrine/pate).

                          You'll be doing the restaurant a favour by letting them know. I would want to know if one of my cooks snuck cold meat past the line.

                          1. Better to have something undercooked than overcooked. They can always throw an undercooked chop back on the grill, but an overcooked chop is wasted food. So, if it seemed to rare for your taste, you should have sent it back. But don't assume that it was a kitchen error, because some of us like our meat cool and bloody.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                              dont agree Morton, once a steak or burger is taken off the grill and brought to the table, then found to be underdone and they re cook it, it seems to dry out. It has cooled for at least a few minutes between grill, plate and customer and back again. Nope. For me they have to get it right first time ie charred to death! I can cook a steak to my liking on a BBQ at home and that is pretty much the only time I eat it.

                              1. re: smartie

                                Not trying to flame, just trying to understand. But if your preferred choice is charred to death, how juicy can it actually be in the first place? If you actually mean cooked all the way through well done, there can't be that much difference in juicyness between that and something that is put back on the grill to be cooked some more. Please explain what the difference would be?

                                I prefer my steak rare and anything past medium rare I find kind of dry. Anything beyond medium well, especially into well done, I don't see much of a difference.

                                1. re: Jase

                                  sorry gotta disagree, a steak well done off the flame or pan which comes directly to my plate and table will still be juicy. If it is underdone and is returned to the heat it will return dried up.

                                  1. re: smartie

                                    Ok, I can except the idea of a "well done" steak retaining some moisture but I think that we can agree that we may have overstated things a bit with the "charred to death" reference though.

                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      I concede to a touch of hyperbole!

                                      the problem I find is that if I dont ask for it charred to death invariably the steak or burger comes up pink.

                                2. re: smartie

                                  I'm not trying to flame either and I totally understand how blood or even pink can gross a person out. But what I don't understand is what is exactly appealing about a "charred to death" steak. I can imagine getting some pleasure from the surface caramelization maybe but I'm lost on the dry sawdust texture and diminished flavor of the middle; which would be the result of cooking the meat "charred to death".

                                3. re: Morton the Mousse

                                  That's the key thing...if its not cooked the way you like it, say something. The definitions of rare or medium rare or anything else are irrelevant in the face of an individual diner. I think we should all try to be clear about what we like and what our preferences are up front (ie, ask how the foie gras is prepared, ask how the steak is cooked, ask what "rare" means, etc and be clear about what you're looking for) but if the food comes out and you don't like how its made or cooked, say something. Don't expect it to be comped, but do expect that the servers and the kitchen will do what they can to put food in front of you that you'll like.

                                4. With everything that you hear goes on in the kitchen, I'm quite afraid to send something back. Yet, in this discussion I read that its perfectly acceptable to send back a steak that's undercooked.

                                  As a child I did send back steaks that were too raw for me, but I think restaurants were more likely to not mind when a younger person asks for it to be put back on the grill, but not as lenient with an older person?

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: beany

                                    Thanks everyone for replies-- apparently some pretty strong feelings about meat doneness. Still curious, however, about the foie gras portion of my meal. Can't say I eat it constantly but have perhaps a dozen times or so, and can never remember a cool middle. Would I be wrong in saying that of the two plates (veal and foie gras) that the foie gras was the unqualified mistake?

                                    1. re: alias wade

                                      I believe that every time I've eaten seared foie gras it has been warm all the way through. Practically melts.

                                    2. re: beany

                                      "With everything that you hear goes on in the kitchen, I'm quite afraid to send something back."

                                      These are urban legends. They may curse and mock you behind your back, but no cook is actually going to put bodily fluid in your food.

                                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                        I've seen it done by a server, but never a cook. And it was in a college bar where the guy was hitting on the server in a very obnoxious way. She spit on his burger.

                                      2. re: beany

                                        Since I like rare meat, I've only ever sent back steaks that were overcooked - meaning they'd have to start a whole new piece of meat - but have never had a whimper from the kitchen or waitstaff. Of course, I only order steak in a restaurant that I know has access to better quality meat than I can easily get my hands on, which usually means one of the hideously expensive steakhouses that ages their own, and they're generally apologetic that they didn't get it right - i.e., properly rare - the first time.

                                      3. Yes, there are many varied personal definitions for rare, even if my preferred one is that if it's red in the middle it's rare, pink is some form of medium and brown/gray it's well done. What the OP did not say was that they ordered it rare. Just that when it was served, it came rarer than rare. I think that calling back the day afterward is not very constructive. After all, the meat is gone and the cooks have no way of comparing your meal with the the way they intend to cook. The time to make a remark was during the meal. After all, it could have been served that way on purpose, in which case you could have pointed out that you wanted it otherwise.

                                        1. Many restaurants do prepare rare as 'cool center'. In my experience, though, the waiter confirms this when the order is placed, giving the patron a chance to up it to medium rare if they want a warm center.

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: Christnp

                                            "Many restaurants do prepare rare as 'cool center' "
                                            Yes? Now I am curious as to what city this is. I live N. Cal., and I usually have the opposite thing happen: ordering a steak 'rare' invariably produces a hunk of meat that is medium-rare, and this applies to both greasy spoons, chains, and chi-chi places with a famous chef's name in the title. This is how I first discovered 'black and blue' in the first place, from a very savy waiter.

                                            1. re: jerry i h

                                              I wonder if many places are afraid to cook meats to "rare" specifications, because of the possibility of getting sued? So, they cook everything to a specified temperature, producing a more medium-rare product.

                                              1. re: QueenB

                                                Yes, some do. In some locations, there are laws and regulation that mandate at least a medium temperature on things like burgers.

                                                1. re: ccbweb

                                                  In my area (Boston) there are some places that will not cook rare- not sure if that is just for burgers, or for all red meat. If I can't have it rare, I don't want it! There is a local ( NE ) chain near me that will cook rare, and the burgers are pretty good.

                                                  1. re: macca

                                                    I agree, mostly. There are a couple of burger joints out here in SF that don't really cook to order, but the overall package works out well for me. There are a bunch of places that serve non-fast-food style burgers that will cook to order rare and I love them. The problem I find is actually making sure they get the difference between rare and raw...I like the char on the outside and that takes a couple of minutes.

                                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                                      Exactly! Don't want it raw, but want that blackened taste on the outside. Too tell the truth, I hardly ever order a burger when I go out. Can always get them just the way I want them at home. And I am high maintenance with my burgers. Want them cooked as stated, with a toasted roll (lightly toated!), raw onion, swiss cheese, lettuce- and only want tomatoes if they are great tomatoes. And I have to have my fries well done. If they are not crispy, don't even bring them out to me! Thankfully, my local pub knows how I like them, and never gives me an attitude when I do order one!

                                                      1. re: macca

                                                        I don't know where you live...but that is my _exact_ order at Burgermeister in SF...and they're so good that I've entirely given up making burgers at home (my wife doesn't eat red meat...so it'd just be me...easier to get them one at a time out). They do a great job actually _cooking_ the burger rare.

                                                        1. re: ccbweb

                                                          Too funny- But that would be a bit of a trek for me, as I live in Boston. But if I am ever iin SF, I will be sure to go there!

                                          2. My thought on this is the possibility that the foie gras and veal chop were both too cold from being taken straight from the fridge and cooked, the outside was done correctly, etc. but the inside was still "fridge cold to cool." The items probably needed to come to room temperature or be cooked longer.

                                            Also, don't wait until after you finish an item before you speak with a waiter - they may think you are angling for a freebie, instead of genuinely letting them know it was too rare for you.