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A brilliant idea for always getting restaurants to cook steaks and burgers perfectly

rworange Oct 9, 2009 12:47 AM

David Letterman had a guest on who saw a photo of a steak that was exactly the way he likes it. So he had the photo laminated and carries it in his wallet. When he orders steak he pulls it out and says to the server "this is how I want my steak cooked. What is that called here"/ Except for once when the chef told him to leave, he always gets his steak perfect.

I think that is both hilarious and genius. .

Even better you could load the photo on your phone.

  1. Brian S Oct 24, 2009 09:37 AM

    Here is a video of the Letterman segment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD--6eGaewQ A newspaper in the city where the guest was told to leave the steakhouse ran an editorial criticizing the restaurant as reflecting badly on the entire city and saying that if he ever returns, he should get a free steak, perfectly cooked.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Brian S
      jfood Oct 24, 2009 12:43 PM

      Over the top funny and classy. Not once did he mention the name of the restaurant.

    2. greygarious Oct 24, 2009 06:45 AM

      It would make sense for restaurants that spotlight steak to have pictures of varying degrees of doneness on their menu. I don't go to such places so wouldn't know if any menus do that. I HAVE seen menus with written definitions of doneness levels.

      1. s
        ShakeIt Oct 21, 2009 10:44 AM

        haha it sounds funny but it is actually a pretty good idea. Every restaurant cooks things differently so it is really helpful to show them what you mean

        1. Sooeygun Oct 21, 2009 10:33 AM

          I wouldn't call this "foolproof" though. It assumes that the cook in the kitchen knows how to get your steak to the doneness in the picture without cutting it open. It assumes he or she can relate the colour inside to the feel of it from the outside.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Sooeygun
            DallasDude Oct 21, 2009 10:46 AM

            Erm, they can. First is with a thermometer. This is the most effective method of testing doneness. One of the many reason a checf carries three or four in his breast pocket.

            Another nice way to check (especially for home cooks) is the finger test. If anyone doesnt already know this fine 'trick' I can share.

            1. re: DallasDude
              Cathy Oct 21, 2009 11:20 AM

              I know it! and that is how I can send it back as over or underdone without cutting it.

              It's how I cook steaks on the grill...

              1. re: Cathy
                Sooeygun Oct 21, 2009 12:42 PM

                But as I said, was not every cook knows what colour inside equals what feel on the outside. They may have learned at some point that 'this' feel is 'rare' and 'this other' feel is 'med-rare'. They may not be able to make that connection to the colour inside/on your picture. And may, for that matter, have learned incorrectly the right feel for the right colour. Not every cook is well or properly trained or has enough experience with meat cooking.

                As far as the thermometer, not every cook carries one. They should, but not all do. And maybe I didn't work in the right places, but I never saw any cook carry more than one.

                Happily, I like my meat anywhere from rare to med-rare. So I order rare. If it's done properly it's great. If it's overdone a little, it's med-rare and it's still great. Beyond that, it's back to the kitchen.

                1. re: Sooeygun
                  rworange Oct 21, 2009 01:01 PM

                  The thing is that the guy in the OP only showed the picture to the waitress and asked "what is that called here?" She then knew what to tell the cook according to the restaurant standards.

                  The only time a chef saw it was on one occasion when the waitress thought it was a great idea too and asked to show the photo to the chef. That ticked off that particular chef who refused to cook for the guy.

                  The picture itself though was great. It was what is usually associated with blue and it was perfect.

                  1. re: rworange
                    chef chicklet Oct 24, 2009 10:07 AM

                    I was thinking that perhaps a chef might not be pleased to be shown a photo how to cook a steak.
                    I'm pretty lucky or maybe not so picky. I only get unhappy if it's cooked med to well. I can name about two times that that has happened, and I just think since I was in a steak house, that I received someone else's order. Where I go their policy is if its not cooked the way you asked, it's on the house. So they do try to get it right.

                  2. re: Sooeygun
                    Blueicus Oct 24, 2009 08:54 AM

                    Thermometers are notoriously slow (unless you have a super expensive thermocouple) and I only use them if I have to do 20+ steaks at the same time (you'd be surprised at how you can set a tray of identical steaks in the oven and each one feels different because either the steaks are all cooking at different speeds or the grain of meat is varying... it's extremely frustrating)

              2. re: Sooeygun
                roro1831 Oct 21, 2009 12:14 PM

                If this had been mentioned prior i apologize. The person who was on Letterman, told the waitress to bring the laminated card to the "cook" and have him prepare the steak how it looked on the card. He was kicked out of the high priced restaurant because the chef was insulted. A chef should know how to prepare a steak, so in a high priced place one should not have to show a picture of how you want your piece of meat prepared.

                1. re: roro1831
                  rworange Oct 21, 2009 01:03 PM

                  Yes. That was the case. However, even across high class joints the same term might mean different things.

                  If I ever see the perfect picture of a burger or steak that means 'medium' to me I'll probably do the same. For me medium means a little pink but not bloody. To some restaurants that means no pink. Ordering medium rare risks it being rare and bloody.

                  That was a great picture though, wasn't it. I think that more than anything sold me on the idea.

                  1. re: rworange
                    Blueicus Oct 24, 2009 08:59 AM

                    I never understood what people meant by "bloody"... I assume that simply means they want the meat to be well rested, if you're getting red juice pooled on the bottom of the dish then it's not rested enough

                  2. re: roro1831
                    Philly Ray Oct 24, 2009 09:20 PM

                    I don't think so.

                    The diner showed the card to the waitress, who then offered to show the card to the chef. He did not tell her to take it back.

                2. invinotheresverde Oct 21, 2009 10:15 AM

                  Doneness problems exist because many customers have no idea what they want.

                  I worked at a higher-end steakhouse for years. Once the customer ordered his steak, we'd describe the temperature he just ordered. You can't imagine how many different times I came across the little gem:

                  "How would you like your steak cooked?"
                  "That'll be hot and pink throughout"
                  "Oh, I don't want any pink!!"
                  "So you'd like your steak well done?"
                  "No, I want it medium"

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: invinotheresverde
                    Janet from Richmond Oct 21, 2009 10:37 AM

                    I have a friend who does this exact thing and about 80% of the time send her steak back to have it further cooked. She always orders it medium.

                  2. l
                    LStaff Oct 21, 2009 08:00 AM

                    It always confuses waitstaff whenever I say I want it in between medium and medium rare. Maybe this is my answer.

                    1. shaogo Oct 17, 2009 10:19 AM

                      Indeed a picture is worth a thousand words. (But for the chef who was insulted) this appears to be a foolproof way of getting a steak done correctly.

                      Personally, I'd feel a bit self-conscious about it, normally. Not now. For the past two months, we've been frequenting a place that has wonderful, unpretentious food and very good service. One problem: when I order a steak it's always done a bit more than I want. First one, I sent back. Next visit: ate a decidedly "medium" steak but wanted it rarer. Third time was a charm: I *ordered* "rare" and got perfect "medium-rare" (red, warm center). I feel bad for the poor folks who like their steak "blue."

                      The menu at Ruth's Chris, I believe, outlines the qualities of the different "doneness" terms. That's the best form of communication.

                      1. h
                        hsk Oct 17, 2009 09:32 AM

                        That's a brilliant idea! It took me a week in Colombia to find out how to communicate that I wanted my steak rare. I tried everying in my limited spanish (red, less cooked, juicy) and always got it medium at best until I discovered the proper term was azul (blue).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: hsk
                          Brian S Oct 17, 2009 09:55 AM

                          Oh is it? I had the same trouble in New York, trying to order plato montanero at my favorite Colombian restaurant. So I phoned the Colombian embassy. They told me to ask for "huerta! huerta!" which I think means something like "bang! bang!" It worked.

                        2. Brian S Oct 16, 2009 09:50 AM

                          This idea also works in restaurants where they don't speak your language. You don't speak Chinese and you want to order 東坡肉 or (if you like it spicy) some 五更腸旺? Just get a clear photo using Google images, print it out, and show it to your waiter.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Brian S
                            jfood Oct 16, 2009 09:58 AM

                            jfood';s brother used to take his chinese cookbooks and decide what he wanted. Then to Chinatown and his favorite place with the menu written on a piece of paper in chinese. Worked every time and jfood has no idea what he was eating when he joined.

                            1. re: jfood
                              Brian S Oct 17, 2009 09:01 AM

                              Ah yes. Eating in Chinatown is always a challenge and a delight. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/328296 When in New York (which I haven't been in a long while, sadly) I maintain a huge collection of menus written in Chinese and English. When I get a Chinese-only menu that I can take home, I use my collection to translate it. If I can't take it home, I learn characters from the collection that can guide my ordering. Of course, there are pitfalls. 雞 is chicken. But 田雞 isn't some kind of chicken. It is frog.

                          2. j
                            Janet from Richmond Oct 9, 2009 05:56 AM

                            I think I got this idea from jfood here on the boards. I have started stating I want my steak "with a warm red center" and have found that works.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Janet from Richmond
                              jfood Oct 9, 2009 06:42 AM

                              now everyone in casa jfood orders that way AT HOME.

                              1. re: jfood
                                bbqboy Oct 9, 2009 07:01 AM

                                tough crowd:)

                                1. re: bbqboy
                                  jfood Oct 9, 2009 07:53 AM

                                  you have no idea... :-) love those guys

                            2. monku Oct 9, 2009 05:33 AM

                              Sounds good in theory, but when I go to a fast food joint and point at their signature burger it never looks like picture when I open the wrapper.

                              1. s
                                smartie Oct 9, 2009 04:50 AM

                                so I should carry a picture of a charred hockey puck?? You never know it might work for me.

                                1. luckyfatima Oct 9, 2009 01:55 AM

                                  I like it! Though nosy friends always grab the phote section out of my pocketbook and I can imagine me sheepishly explaining to someone why it is that I have a pic of a steak or burger in my purse among the pics of DH and the kids. (toooo obsessed with food)

                                  1. Veggo Oct 9, 2009 01:39 AM

                                    A splendid idea if your wallet is not overstuffed with grandchild photos. I have a friend who says "do you want to see a picture of my pride and joy?" and then pulls out a small photo of a can of spray wax next to a bottle of diswashing liquid.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Veggo
                                      Terrieltr Oct 16, 2009 02:38 PM

                                      I totally want to do this. Love it.

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