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Would you like some fresh ground pepper?

LurkerDan Mar 3, 2010 02:56 PM

Hope that this is the right board for this thread.

How often have you been asked this when served a salad at a restaurant? It seems to be fairly common at nicer restaurants; I guess they don't want to put salt and pepper shakers on the table but still want to offer their diners pepper, and it seems classier to grind it for them on the spot.

I suppose when it is a "normal" salad, you might know the answer to the question. But the other day I was served a chicken salad appetizer at a nice restaurant for Denver Restaurant Week, and was asked this question. My response at the time was "no", but it occurred to me that I didn't really know the answer yet. I hadn't had a chance to taste the salad.

How do you answer this question? Tell the server "I don't know yet, come back in 2 minutes"?

  1. s
    Sherri Mar 3, 2010 03:10 PM

    "Would you like some fresh ground pepper?"
    My answer is always "I have no idea if I want pepper until I've tasted my food". Sometimes the server departs (and I may have to flag him/her later) and other times the server waits until I give an answer after my first bite.

    I think this is an idiotic question and I treat it as such.

    I'm in Phoenix and two of my favorite places (T.Cooks and noca) do not do this. A well-trained waitstaff knows better than to ask this silly question so use it as a guide.

    FYI: pepper mills on the table have a tendency to "walk" out the door so there aren't a lot of these around. It's a shame but this is a fact of life.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Sherri
      tatamagouche Mar 5, 2010 05:54 AM

      But isn't that weird to be forced to take your first bite with the waiter standing there watching? I'd feel awkward.

      1. re: tatamagouche
        c oliver Mar 7, 2010 03:14 PM

        Is it any different than tasting the wine?

        1. re: c oliver
          tatamagouche Mar 8, 2010 09:35 AM

          Somehow, yeah. For me it is. It occurs to me I always wait until the waiter has left the table to take my first bite. I guess I've never been conscious of that before.

      2. re: Sherri
        invinotheresverde Mar 8, 2010 09:03 PM

        My restaurant keeps grinders on the tables. I find they're less likely to walk now, since you can get one at your local supermarket for $1.89.

        1. re: invinotheresverde
          c oliver Mar 9, 2010 06:52 AM

          Are they adjustable?

      3. b
        babbabooey Mar 4, 2010 03:50 PM

        im asked almost everytime i dine at an italian restaurant.

        1. TheHuntress Mar 4, 2010 05:56 PM

          Ah the great cracked pepper debate. This was explored by The Chaser in Australia :)


          You are not the only one with the cracked pepper problems...

          1. t
            tarteaucitron Mar 4, 2010 06:40 PM

            I am tempted to say I want it on the side, but usually just play along and say yes or no based on my best prediction of whether it might be needed.

            Actually when I do want the pepper, occasionally I tell the server I would like it thickly ground. I don't think I ever got that fulfilled even once.

            1. ipsedixit Mar 5, 2010 07:07 AM

              My answer: "Why, did the chef forget?"

              1. s
                silence9 Mar 5, 2010 10:55 AM

                Perhaps its a matter of aesthetics? If the server brings a vibrant and colorful salad or soup to the table, and amid the gorgeous vivid greens, yellows and other hues that grace a nice plating, the kitchen may want the diner to not have to wonder if the random black flecks on the greens constitute a poorly washed lettuce or vegetable; in other words, not wondering if the just-brought salad has sand and grit strewn across the yellow heirloom tomato. Once the lovely salad or bisque is initially viewed and apprised as a feast for the eyes, then the server can offer to disrupt the pristine image with the 'messy' fallout from freshly ground pepper. Just sayin'...

                2 Replies
                1. re: silence9
                  rich in stl Mar 6, 2010 06:57 PM

                  Sounds like the time to use WHITE pepper in the kitchen

                  1. re: rich in stl
                    kpaxonite Mar 7, 2010 05:46 AM

                    that would look really weird on a salad

                2. mcf Mar 5, 2010 02:17 PM

                  I always want it, and I often ask for it before it's offered. I love restaurants that have mills on the table. I've never not wanted fresh ground pepper on my food, pretty much.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: mcf
                    tatamagouche Mar 5, 2010 03:36 PM

                    Yeah, I have to say it's never occurred to me to be irritated by the offer of fresh ground pepper. I think it's a nice touch. Of the types of dishes it's usually offered with, I can't fathom a dish so exquisite it would be harmed by an extra grind, so even if I don't know how it tastes yet, I'm not too worried about destroying the whole delicate balance.

                    1. re: mcf
                      goodhealthgourmet Mar 5, 2010 03:49 PM

                      mcf, i'm with you. most of the time i want it. what i find most frustrating is when a server gives me a perfunctory grind or two and tries to walk away. then i have to ask them to hit me again or come back (some of them dart away), and that often garners a puzzled or irritated look from the server. anyway, at this point i've determined that it's best just to request that they leave the grinder on the table for a couple of minutes so i can attend to it myself.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                        invinotheresverde Mar 8, 2010 09:06 PM

                        ghg, don't you think your food should be properly seasoned, though? Perhaps an extra grind or so is desired, but enough to warrant leaving the mill on the table? That's either a freakish palate or a poor job seasoning on the chef's part.

                        1. re: invinotheresverde
                          RAGHOUND Mar 9, 2010 06:02 AM

                          ivtv, I'd have to agree with you first statement, but add - why it is that most restaurants over-salt? As far as pepper goes, my wife and I always look for the grinder for salads, which I've never found to be seasoned when served. And, for freakish palates, I worked with a guy that had to have any soup he ordered virtually black on the surface before he would dip a spoon into it!

                          1. re: RAGHOUND
                            tatamagouche Mar 9, 2010 07:42 AM

                            I don't think "most restaurants" oversalt. When I do come across oversalted dishes, I tend to think either 1) the chef's a smoker (so many of them are) or 2) the kitchen isn't tasting dishes as it goes.

                            1. re: tatamagouche
                              RAGHOUND Mar 9, 2010 10:04 AM

                              I'll accept your 2 reasons, but I'll disagree with you about the oversalting. We've gotten to the point of requesting "no additional salt" when we place an order.

                              1. re: RAGHOUND
                                tatamagouche Mar 9, 2010 12:02 PM

                                Does it work?

                                1. re: tatamagouche
                                  RAGHOUND Mar 9, 2010 12:19 PM

                                  It hasn't always worked. We're of the opinion that when it doesn't, it's probably because the server didn't convey our request to the kitchen - we were told that by a chef a one restaurant who came to the table later to see if things were OK. My wife has sent some dishes back when that happens and it's really too salty for her. I've not done that because I've found them a little saltier than I like but felt I could live with it that way.

                            2. re: RAGHOUND
                              khh1138 Mar 12, 2014 01:11 PM

                              I would have to agree - maybe it's just my palate, but your average restaurant serving "American food" tends to over-salt and under-pepper for my tastes. Unfortunately there's no way to undo the saltiness once it's on your plate, but I can always add more pepper.
                              I think that might be one big reason why, more and more, when I go out to eat it's for Chinese dumplings, Mexican street tacos, Korean BBQ, Indian vindaloos, etc. - I don't have to worry about doctoring up a plate of simultaneously oversalted and underspiced food. When I want typical American food (say, roast beef and roasted root vegetables), I cook for myself at home to my own taste.

                        2. re: mcf
                          masha Mar 12, 2014 12:27 PM

                          I'm with you. I tend to like my salads (and soups) on the pepper-y side compared to the average person, so I always say yes.

                          It has never crossed my mind to find this practice objectionable. I view it as similar to the Italian restaurants where the server offers fresh ground cheese table-side.
                          And, at virtually any restaurant where the offer is made, most servers keep grinding until the customer indicates they should stop.

                        3. h
                          Harters Mar 5, 2010 02:29 PM

                          Where I am, it's the standard (and irritating) procedure in Italian restaurants. Even when they have S & P on the table.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Harters
                            goodhealthgourmet Mar 5, 2010 03:44 PM

                            but is the pepper that's already on the table the pre-ground stuff in a shaker, or is it a mill with whole peppercorns? big difference.

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                              mcf Mar 5, 2010 04:02 PM

                              Absolutely, the ground pepper in a shaker isn't worth anything, I'd go without before I'd use it.

                              WRT the mill, I tell them immediately to "keep it coming til I say when." I just love the smell of it coming out, too.

                              1. re: mcf
                                goodhealthgourmet Mar 5, 2010 04:09 PM

                                "I just love the smell of it coming out, too."
                                just don't sniff too hard, or you're likely to end up sneezing all over your food ;)

                                i get odd looks when i tell them to "keep it coming." i don't understand why they ask if i want it if they're barely going to give me any! i like to do it myself anyway because i'm a clean freak and it bugs me when they get it all over the table around my dish.

                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                  mcf Mar 5, 2010 04:37 PM

                                  I don't *snort*, I just sniff! :-) You're right, I always get a double take from them except for where I'm a regular when I say that. I don't think I've ever noticed anyone peppering the table cloth, but I prolly wouldn't sweat it; I get to leave it there. Drives me nuts when my husband salts the whole counter or table at home, though.

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                    monku Mar 7, 2010 06:14 AM

                                    Same here...can't get enough fresh ground black pepper. Got to have it on everything not just the salad.
                                    They end up wearing out their wrist when I say "when".

                                    Friend of mine got me a fresh ground peppermill the size of a lipstick that you push for fresh ground pepper...now if I could only find it.

                            2. s
                              sillygoosedown Mar 6, 2010 06:45 PM

                              I always say yes. It's a nice atmospheric touch and releases a good aroma. Freshly ground pepper is one of those things that I'm so accustomed to that I really don't notice its presence or absence unless I'm thinking about it. Perhaps it has a subconscious role in my enjoyment of food. I do think it brightens up most dishes.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: sillygoosedown
                                EWSflash Mar 7, 2010 06:05 AM

                                That's how I look at it too.

                                1. re: sillygoosedown
                                  rockandroller1 Mar 8, 2010 10:26 AM

                                  ditto this. I really like freshly ground pepper on a salad, and in certain pasta dishes I think it makes a big difference. I have no problem with them asking. It's not a "needs pepper" thing, it's a "wants pepper" thing.

                                2. pikawicca Mar 8, 2010 10:22 AM

                                  I carry my own very nice travel pepper mill, filled with Tellicherry peppercorns, with me wherever I go. I love pepper and can't stand the powdery, stale stuff that comes out of shakers.

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: pikawicca
                                    c oliver Mar 8, 2010 10:25 AM

                                    Of course, you do :) Vinegar also? But I think that's a great idea. I'm going to keep an eye out for one.

                                    1. re: c oliver
                                      mcf Mar 8, 2010 10:49 AM


                                      My kitchen mill, a Vic Firth is the best I've ever owned at any price.

                                      1. re: mcf
                                        kleine mocha Mar 9, 2010 06:19 AM

                                        Possibly not the same quality, but half the price: http://www.campmor.com/outdoor/gear/P...

                                      2. re: c oliver
                                        pikawicca Mar 8, 2010 12:39 PM

                                        I have been known to pack small vials of EVOO and great vinegar on road trips where fast food stops are inevitable. Even a fast food salad is pretty darn good when dressed well.

                                        1. re: pikawicca
                                          BobB Mar 9, 2010 05:53 AM

                                          And I've traveled with a little plastic squeeze bottle of my favorite hot sauce (Melinda's XXX). More than once I've seen fellow diners' eyes light up when I told them what it was, and have been happy to liven up their meals too.

                                      3. re: pikawicca
                                        aceike Mar 9, 2010 06:16 AM

                                        hi pikawicca, sorry this is about the ramps trying to get info can you reply to me here on this question, hi, I live in muncie in. are these ramps the same thing as the little wild onions that you find growing around, they are real strong smelling but dont have as big as blades on them or are these different, I would like to find some to try if there different than wild onions, do they grow in my area. any help would be appreciated, thanks also, do you know if the fiddleheads grow in this area too, thanks Michael

                                        1. re: aceike
                                          pikawicca Mar 9, 2010 07:13 AM

                                          Ramps and fiddleheads are plentiful in the woods around Bloomington, so you should certainly be able to find them in Muncie. With the warm weather we're having, you will certainly come across fiddleheads this weekend, possibly ramps, although it's a bit early. Ramps are not the same things as the wild onions in your yard. They have broads leaaves (kind of like tulips), usually with a strak of red between the leaf and the slender bulb. Good luck foraging!

                                      4. 2m8ohed Mar 8, 2010 10:56 AM

                                        Agree with OP on this one. Incidentally, years ago I read something where the waiter who asks you if you want fresh ground pepper was jokingly referred to as the "peppier" (pronounced pep-ee-AY). I see that the term has now made it into the Urban Dictionary. Fancy Italian restaurants usually have another guy who offers the fresh grated Parmegiano cheese. I wonder if he's the "cheesier"?

                                        1. KaimukiMan Mar 9, 2010 10:51 AM

                                          No it doesn't bother me, but maybe because I'm someone who does like the flavor of fresh ground pepper on most of the items (like salads) that they offer it for. Same with the cheese. No it does not mean the kitchen messed up. Some people like an extra kick, and the flavor of freshly ground pepper, while it can be added in the kitchen at the last minute, is something some people like and some don't. I do agree with the OP that on some things, and his example was a good one, you just don't know till you taste it.

                                          1. linguafood Mar 9, 2010 11:14 AM

                                            As much as I like fresh ground pepper on my salad (that's how I finish mine at home, after all -- with a bunch of grinds, semi-coarse), it seems that everybody started doing this in the 90s, like it was a requirement for any self-respecting restaurant. In many a case, I find it tacky, but prefer it to the black dust that is available on the table -- much to my surprise -- even in high-end restos.

                                            As opposed to one giant peppermill for one restaurant, I'd prefer having my own on the table in case I need more pepper.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: linguafood
                                              pdxgastro Mar 9, 2010 12:14 PM

                                              Newport Bay chain seafood restaurants get my kudos for having a pepper mill on each table. I wish more places did that.

                                            2. y
                                              ylsf Mar 12, 2014 08:19 AM

                                              Old thread but I am bumping it up because it is something I have thought of a few times. Dining with some family we had a salad to share and when the waiter asked if we wanted pepper my relative said yes without even consulting anyone else. I for one prefer to try my food before adding anything to it. I find it common with pasta dishes too where people will add pepper without even trying it. When I asked my relative she said "everything tastes better with pepper".....

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ylsf
                                                mcf Mar 12, 2014 08:46 AM

                                                I'm with her! I always know I'll want fresh ground black pepper. i taste first, but will ask for the pepper mill because I've never not wanted it. LOVE restaurants that have them on the tables..

                                                But I'd never answer for a group sharing a dish.

                                              2. PattiCakes Mar 12, 2014 12:08 PM

                                                I am a fairly good cook. My husband has taken to putting pepper on everything I make before he even tastes it. I finally called him on it and told him that I found it borderline insulting that he would dump a bunch of pepper on food that I carefully seasoned. That stopped him for several days, but then he went right back to peppering away. I am sorely tempted to make something with a ton of pepper in it and let him have at it with his pepper grinder just to see what happens. Sorry to vent, but it's a sore point.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: PattiCakes
                                                  mcf Mar 12, 2014 12:17 PM

                                                  I used to feel that way about salt. But my husband doesn't taste it unless he uses a ton and life's too short. There's no such thing as too much for him.

                                                  I'm much happier picking the important battles; I can tell you that no matter how much salt I add to his, he likes it fine with more. :-)

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