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What "chef-y" things do you do at a restaurant?

  • cgfan Oct 23, 2010 10:25 AM

I was just curious about how CH'ers "game" their dining experiences for the better by the "chef-y" things that they do at a restaurant.

What are your tricks to maximize the CH-worthiness of a meal that seem "chef-y" (chef-like) to you. For instance do you travel with your own condiments, is there a trick in how you order certain dishes, or is there an important detail in how you garnish your meal at the table?

Or what have you observed other people do that you consider to be "chef-y".

I have a few myself, but wanted to just kick off this topic without biasing it towards any particular practice. This should be fun; looking forward to your input!

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  1. I've seen this but I don't do anything. When I go out I expect that my food will be cooked correctly.

    When I was doing the road warrior thing I would bring things along for takeaways and grocery purchases but stopped that practice after the TSA started going nuts in some airports.

    1. I wouldn't have thought of this as "chef-y," in particular, until you mentioned bringing your own condiments, but there's a breakfast restaurant here that makes the best pancakes I've ever eaten, but they serve them with "syrup" and "spread" instead of real maple syrup and butter. They'll serve them with butter if you ask, but you have to bring your own maple syrup. So I do.

      1. The back of the house and the front of the house are completely separate matters. When chefs eat out, they are probably more polite than your average diner. They don't want to be disrespected in their house, and aren't going to be disrespectful in someone else's house.

        The only chef-y things I do is look longingly at the action on the line.

        1. I honestly cannot get the point of this--what "game" is there to play except the implicit one we need to play with a chef and restaurant: to eat their food, and come to some feeling about it? There have been loads of CH threads about bringing your own sel-de-mer or olive oil or bread or napkins or chairs or whatever to a restaurant and they all seem to me to reflect childish, boorish, look-at-me behavior. "Chef-y?" How bout playing "guest-y" as well as possible?

          2 Replies
          1. re: bob96

            Perhaps "chef-y" was the wrong word, as many of the things that I personally think about in this regard are quite simple and might be easily overlooked or perhaps would strike many as just simply obvious. And yes, perhaps "game" was a particularly bad choice, so mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa...

            What I was trying to get at, and perhaps have not explained it sufficiently well, is to solicit the various ways CH'ers actively engage in their dining in order to maximize their experience. I'm willing to bet that CH'ers above all are more likely to carefully think about, for instance, how they choose the dishes when they order at a restaurant. What are the considerations that you personally employ when ordering at the table?

            And as much as I'm sure that many CH'ers give what they order great thought, perhaps that even extends to what they do once the items arrive at their table. Whether one realizes it or not one tacitly makes many choices in the simple act of consuming their meal. This question is really directed to those in our population who do so consciously, though no pejorative connotation is intended towards those that do not. Yes, to many, dining is a very deliberate act. Why do you do the things that you do at the table? No matter how subtle it could be that you have very specific reasons for your actions. If your answer extends beyond just simply a "because I like it that way", it's likely that you have given it some thought, that you had a specific reason in mind.

            Sure, bringing condiments to the table might sound extreme to many, but I don't see much of a problem when it is done discreetly, and anyway it was just given as an example. Yes, I too agree that this can be a particularly sensitive area, and certainly there are more wrong ways of going about it than there are right... But without an understanding of the specific details and context, I don't understand how one can conclude that that should immediately be interpreted as boorish or look-at-me behavior?

            ...and BTW there was no presumption intended that this be limited to fine dining, and in fact is probably more applicable to how one finds ways to maximize their casual dining experiences. But no, even at a diner I'm not talking about recreating Jack Nickolson's role in "Five Easy Pieces"... :-) http://tinyurl.com/682g44 We're talking about much simpler, more discreet, things here...

            In any case let's have fun with this. Perhaps in the end we can agree to disagree, but I'm willing to bet that you will find some of the things that will be stated in this thread are not in the least bit "extreme"...

            1. re: cgfan

              i don't order fish on a monday. . . exception made for the fried-from frozen chippie shop, etc of course. :)

          2. I try not to play this at all. My assumption, when we dine out, is that the chef knows what he's doing and has his line trained to a correct standard. If I don't like the schema of the food somewhere, I'd avoid that place rather than go out of my way to embarrass the chef (and myself, and whomever I'm dining with.) If I want food that tastes like mine, well, I"ll make it at home. Once or twice I've asked for salt in places where it didn't appear on the table, and I felt awkward enough about that - probably more awkward than the chef who brought it to me. (roughly an hour later) Mr. just reminded me that I do one thing that he considers "cheffy" - whenever we visit a restaurant we enjoy, I invariably ask the servers and bartenders where the house crew's going after service to have a snack and a drink. We've found some of our best places this way. I just never considered it "cheffy", though; only common sense.

            23 Replies
            1. re: mamachef

              I'm with you. At least awkward and going on up to rude. Now, I can see if you're a regular at a breakfast joint and bring your own syrup, that's kinda funny and they obviously don't have a problem with it. But no. Kinda gives me the icks.

              1. re: c oliver

                I frequently share my maple syrup. The tables are very close together.

                1. re: Jay F

                  Nice mental picture :)

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Oh, I didn't think of that.

                    Now I did.

                    1. re: Jay F

                      I meant that in a friendly way. There are a few touchy people out and about today :)

                      1. re: c oliver

                        And I took it in a friendly way. I like you.

                        1. re: Jay F

                          Likewise. We're "spunky" :)

              2. re: mamachef

                What a great idea! (Asking for recs from the staff for an after-dinner fave...) And as I said in my reply to bob96 above, "chef-y" was probably a poor choice of words... http://tinyurl.com/28crxcs

                Yes, I suspect that a lot of the things that I'm thinking of would seem like common sense to many CH'ers, but as we know a CH'ers common sense is not at all common! (Otherwise everyone would be employing the same strategy that you talk of to find good after-dinner recs...)

                1. re: cgfan

                  Okay, go ahead and tell us what you do cause I don't think we're getting your point. Don't worry about biasing us :)

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Agreed c oliver; this seems to be a most appropriate time to do so...

                    One of my most frequently used practices is at a Pho shop. Now this can likely only be done at a Pho shop that has a VN staff, but in my San Diego that's an easy call...

                    My standard order would be for a Pho Tai Gan Sach, (Pho with rare steak, tendon, and tripe), which by itself is not what I'm taking about. However without specifying any further the rare (raw) steak would be directly placed into the broth right before service, and due to the very thin cut used it almost always overcooks, which for me defeats the purpose. It also has the effect of clouding up the soup (and hence the taste) with the rendered proteins from the blood.

                    What I almost always do at a VN-run Pho shop is to ask for the rare steak on the side (Tai Rieng) so that it is served separately on a plate as raw beef. I also usually order a small side bowl of broth, (Chen Soup), so that the Tai can be cooked to your desired level of doneness, which for me is very rare, and also has the benefit of keeping the main broth clear, and importantly keeps the broth hot for far longer. You can clearly taste the natural sweetness of beef when consumed in this manner, rather than the cardboardy taste, nearly leathery texture, and the deathly pale look of an overcooked Tai...

                    (...overcooked Tai...an oxymoron if I ever heard one, but that is the way it almost always arrives...) And one can leisurely enjoy their meal without the mad rush of "rescuing" their rapidly cooking Tai out from the hot broth less it turn into toothy pieces of cardboard.

                    What initially got me to order the separate bowl of soup was first simply regretting how cool the Pho broth got after adding in the Tai. As in most Japanese, for me a very (very) hot broth is absolutely essential to a soup. Then I thought, why not order a separate bowl of soup? When I started doing that it immediately became obvious that there were many other advantages beyond simply a hotter soup. It literally transformed the dish! For me the extra order is worth it, and perhaps it will be for you as well when you experience the difference!

                    The difference is amazing, and once a fan of Tai has had it this way and prefers their Tai on the rare side, it is likely that one would not go back to their standard order.

                    After all the most important part of the Pho and where most of the magic occurs is in the broth. Pho restaurants fail or succeed on the basis of a winning broth. I'd say if anything it is a sign of respect when a customer respects the broth to the point of requesting these extras. I challenge all Pho Tai fans to consider if they are really tasting the broth at its best if the Tai is cooked in the main bowl, the very broth that your Pho shop has hopefully spent all of their best efforts into creating.

                    I think a cultural parallel is in order here. Just as much as I can no longer imagine cooking the Tai in the main bowl, I cannot imagine, as most Japanese, the logic behind soaking oneself in the same bathwater that was used to wash. Here the soap scum in the bath is the equivalent of the protein scum in the soup. Yuk! And in many of the traditional soup styles in Japanese cooking, clarity is paramount to a well-constructed soup.

                    (I'll have to remember next time to take pictures of the Chen Soup before and after the Tai has been cooked and post it here... I tell you just by looking at the cloudy soup after cooking the Tai I cannot get myself to eat it, but yet customers essentially are doing the same thing everyday with their Pho Tai..)

                    1. re: cgfan

                      Ah, so it's like ordering your salad dressing on the side. Got it.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Yes, and a hurrah for the hopefully more positive evolution of this thread!

                        And actually I'd consider that to be "chef-y" as well, as what mindful chef would go out of their way to dress a salad early? No, they'd dress it as late as possible, and if a customer doesn't mind dressing it themselves, I'd say that if anything it again pays respect to the chef and to the restaurant for the customer to care enough.

                        And as simple as it might seem it's by no means obvious, particularly when considering the general population. If it were more people would be requesting their salad dressing on the side! :)

                        1. re: cgfan

                          You can get alot of disagreement here on CH regarding asking for salad dressing "on the side" at higher end restaurants. Sure, at Applebees and the like where they put too much on. But at "nicer" places many consider it an insult to the chef. Saying that s/he doesn't know what's correct. Not sure what you want by "positive evolution." You may find that alot of us don't do those types of things.

                          ETA: Karl S and others have commented that at dinner parties in private homes, it's the guest responsibility to be the guest and not usurp the hosts responsiblities. So maybe I feel the same in a restaurant. My "job" is to be the diner not the chef.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Agreed as well. I was responding to your post in the context of a casual dining restaurant.

                            And as to "positive evolution", my phrase was more completely "positive evolution of this thread" where I was referring to the overall mood and reception (misunderstanding?) of my original post which I felt was in danger of heading off in a decidedly negative direction. I certainly was not talking about anything so high and mighty as the evolution of dining and cuisine! :-0

                            1. re: cgfan

                              I think some of us just don't do those types of things. That's neither positive nor negative. Just what we do or don't do.

                      2. re: cgfan

                        Your practice of requesting rare beef served on a separate plate rather than in the broth is a very common among pho eaters. Others prefer it in the soup because they want it a little more cooked while others can't be bother. This is an accepted practice as no waiter or other diners will give you a second look. It is like requesting salad dressing on the side. This is very different than if someone brings their own bottle of Sriracha and douce it all over a plate of food. By the way, my mother hates raw bean sprouts in pho so she always request them cooked. And like all her lady friends, she gives all fried dim sum a light squeeze with her napkin to remove some of the oil before eating it, a funny scene when the entire table of ten are doing it.

                        1. re: PBSF

                          Is that along with "polishing" one's plate in advance of putting food on it?

                          1. re: PBSF

                            Yes, and that is essentially my point. We are not talking about a "Five Easy Pieces" moment here. Just a little something that reflects a thoughtful approach by the diner, again not to put any negative spin if one does not.

                            I do know it is practiced; witness the occasional inclusion of these options on the menus themselves. However it has been my experience that this is not a "common " practice, in the sense that I very rarely see it being done by the customers at a Pho shop. Just curious, what percentage of Pho Tai diners would you estimate practices this? Personally from what I have seen I'd put it at less than 10%, and probably even less than 5.

                            Regardless, however common or not was not the point of this thread. The main point here was the deliberate things one does to maximize their experience at a restaurant.

                            1. re: cgfan

                              When I get noodle soup at the Cambodian hole-in-the-wall, one of the options is to get the soup "dry." The broth comes out separately with a pork bone in it, then the noodles meat and vegetable come out in the big bowl; cooked, but dry.

                              I don't say this because it's "chef-y" (or whatever)--about half the clientele orders this way--but that you might enjoy this if you see it on a menu.

                              1. re: barryg

                                About half the time when I order a bowl of Mi at a VN restaurant, I'll also request it dry. Curious, with what kind of noodles would the Cambodians serve it dry? (I have no experience with Cambodian food...) Would it be similar to the Mi dishes (Chinese-style egg noodles) at a VN restaurant, by chance?

                                1. re: cgfan

                                  The popular soup is Hu Tieu Nam Vang aka Phnom Penh Noodle Soup. Where I go it's offered with an option of rice or egg noodles.

                            2. re: PBSF

                              My daughter blots the oil off a greasy pizza, but only at home. I've never seen anyone squeeze their dim sum, but would probably find it very funny to watch!

                            3. re: cgfan

                              Now this, I can totally understand and get behind, and I've seen it done by more than one person at Pho houses, and it seems to be a complete non-issue there.

                      3. I try to sit back and just enjoy the meal as served.

                        Unless, of course, it's at this paragon of fine dining .. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7385...

                        1. You mean bring a jar of MSG to PF Chang's because it's your boss' favorite restaurant and you didn't have a choice about eating there?

                          I try not to eat in places where I have to do something special to enjoy the food, but if I'm stuck in a chain restaurant or some place I know is bad, I sometimes do have to use whatever condiments they provide to improve the meal. I wouldn't bring my own because that seems rude.

                          I also try to order something that is more difficult to mess up. The more complicated dishes are likely to have heaping spoonfuls of burnt garlic from a jar, for example, so I'll order something plain and cheap, because I don't want to pay (or make someone else pay) for food that won't be enjoyed.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Isolda

                            i am a chef and like it was said above its different for a chain restaurant. i often will bring maple syrup for breakfast. and most places i eat can not make things to the spice level i want. so i may bring a small bottle of hotsauce or ghost pepper powder. now i do not do this if i have never been there. it tends to be thai, chinese, mexican for the most part. but i feel when i go somewhere and ask for hotsauce and i get tobascco, cholula etc give me break it aint hot. i tend to order specials, if the establishment isnt busy i may ask the server to relay to the chef to cook what he or she would like. i dont tend to ask for things on the side. if there is something i dont like on a dish i order something else. i will let servers know that i tend to like less sauce. this wastes less and save the establishment $. if im goin to a place i have never been i sit back and enjoy(or try to).

                          2. I don't think I do anything. I go with an absolute willingness to try and enjoy the food as prepared by the chef.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Harters

                              And that is what chefs do when they go out to eat.
                              They do not bring their own condiments or practice any of the behavior that the OP stated.
                              My friends who are chefs are a joy to go out with, they try adventurous items, are very courteous, and they are excellent tippers.
                              I am confused by the OPs question... does he think that chefs go out order food, and be "chefy" (that is also a terrible made up word) and try to doctor the menu selections?

                              1. re: MattInNJ

                                Yeah, I really blew it on the opening question. Blame it on a bad choice of words (and title). For an idea what I was getting at, consider my follow-up post here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7424...

                                ...and for a particular example of what I was trying to get at, consider my post here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7424...

                                (What I really should do at this point, but can't, is to rewrite my original post!)

                                1. re: cgfan

                                  Actually you CAN rewrite it. Just reply to your own thread. I still don't think any of us really know what it is you're trying to describe. Give it another shot. Maybe with a different example than the pho thing since it appears that it's not really a "thing" :)

                            2. I bring a squeeze bottle of balsamic reduction and a little box of finely chopped parsley to decorate my plate when the presentation is lacking.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Evilbanana11

                                A couple of excellent ideas!

                                1. re: Evilbanana11

                                  Hah! good one, Evilbanana11.

                                  1. re: Evilbanana11

                                    The visual is hysterical, Evilb!! I can see you now, carefully hunched over your dinner plate, squeezing out tasteful dots of balsamico and some delicious yummy dry parsley, to bring it up to aesthetic snuff before you consume it....

                                  2. I don't do anything special. But I did have an experience last year that was a little out of the ordinary.

                                    I was vacationing (driving) up the Hudson River Valley last October (from Philly--not a far journey). My first stop was Poughkeepsie (sp?) of all places; very close to the CIA. I took a tour of the CIA and ate at its Italian restaurant. The restaurant was very good if you keep in mind all staff is students except the execs, who are faculty.

                                    Toured the Valley--the mansions, wineries, etc.-- visited my niece at SUNY to end the trip, went back through Poughkeepsie. This time we ate a L'Escoffier, the CIA's French restaurant. as I wanted to visit the very nearby Hyde Park sites.

                                    We very much enjoyed the meal; very much better than anything we had encountered in "professional" restaurants in the Valley. But as I said, we did nothing special. At the end of dessert, our server asked if we'd like to go back to the kitchen.(!) We had been there several hours, and no one else had been offered this view, though the kitchen was open (glassed in). Of course we did.

                                    Gave the thumbs up to the students making the bread; were given samples of the sorbets we had not ordered; spoke to the profs who were serving as execs and the seniors who were working as the sous chefs. Saw every station--bread, salad, fish, meat, etc.

                                    I'm still not sure why were singled out for this honor. But if I knew, I'd repeat that behavior every time ;)

                                    1. I insist that my pizza crust be very thin and crispy. I guess that's about as "cheffy" as I get.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                        Before ordering pizza, I ask if it's thin crust. If not, I order something else. I also ask for "extra crispy" but if it comes out otherwise, I don't mention it.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          I don't mention it either, but depending on the rest of the experience, I might not return either, and that's far greater punishment than a critical remark.

                                      2. Yes, I travel with a purse full of condiments, fresh spices, and garnishes and if a dish isn't presented well, I make sure to take the food apart and redo it. I also like my smudges on my plate in a certain way, with complementary colors. Decorations must be in fibonacci numbers or it drives me crazy. I tell the chef exactly how to prepare food, a la Sally in When Harry Met Sally. As Harry put she, she can order the food better than the chef knew it could be prepared. That would be me.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: chowser

                                          One of those small, plastic tackle boxes sounds like just what you need.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            I was so thankful when huge handbags came back in style. My condiment Birkin bag. Every girls gotta have one!

                                          2. re: chowser

                                            You forgot to mention that you also bring your own plates ...

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              And Reidel wine glasses. I hate being served my Beringer's white zinfandel ($1.99 bottle) in anything less. Well, actually, when I was in grad school, any plastic would do...

                                          3. I order my salad tossed. I order my steak medium. I am nice to waitstaff and bartenders. I try the special. I eat mostly at locally owned eateries and I typically dine alone. I live in a small city, so I have about 5 places that I go to in regular rotation with occasional trips to other spots. I actually know and talk to the owners or general managers of most of my "spots" so I tend to get good service.

                                            1. We try to contact/call as many restaurants before and find out if the chef is willing to do things which are not on the menu and give him full creative freedom. We feel that most chefs like the possibility to cook without any limits. And many restaurants are often first reluctant but once we had the chance to talk to the chef and explain him our thoughts about food often they are more than interested and really enjoy it.
                                              Since we are very interested in food we also often try to talk to our waiters/busboy etc. about the food/restaurant/sources for ingredients and it often happens that once these people realize that you are truly interested in food/restaurant they are more than willing to talk extensively about the restaurant, food, own experiences and even often are themsleves interested that you meet the owner, chef etc. which again give you often the opportunity to experience a restaurant very differently in the future (special dishes etc.)

                                              1. I carry a very small pepper grinder in my purse. I hate the powdered stuff in a shaker. However, I'm very discreet, and never use it except when dining with family and close friends.

                                                If I know we're going for breakfast at a place that serves fake maple syrup (a rare occurrence), I make no apology for bringing along a vial of the real stuff.

                                                1. The only "chef-y" thing I do is smell each item before I eat it. My sense of smell is much more acute than my taste, especially since I got pregnant.

                                                  1. The only really "chefy" thing I do is to don a Fedora hat and draw attention to myself.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Tripeler

                                                      I work ridiculously long hours and drink to end a day...

                                                      1. re: Lizard

                                                        me too.

                                                    2. If ordering a la carte. I always get an appetiser and an entree and try to choose dishes that are completely different from each other. On the other hand, if there is an element from one dish that I think would combine well with the next, I will save a bit to combine later. I like to compose each bite on my fork. I also protect my bread plate from over eager bussers, as I usually have plans to soak up some sauce later. I think carefully about what I will be drinking with each course, whether I'm in a high or low end joint. Once, I shared a 13 pound lobster with just one other person. We had lots left over, which I took home and put i my freezer for stock making.

                                                      20 Replies
                                                      1. re: haggisdragon

                                                        Thank you, haggisdragon; your thoughtful answer is the one that most reflects the intention of my original post.

                                                        What I was after in this thread was poorly stated in my original post. I hope we can all replace "chef-y" with "thoughtful" when considering the subject of this post, which is much closer to what I had originally intended.

                                                        They may be earth-shatteringly subtle, almost taken for granted actions, but at least to me it'd be a grave mistake to dismiss these actions as being obvious.

                                                        1. re: cgfan

                                                          cgfan, I never had a problem with the word "cheff-y", which is to say, I understood immediately what you were referring to. The other options are so wordy: "What do you people who are employed or have experience in the food industry do that reflects said knowledge?"

                                                          1. re: mamachef

                                                            And, mama, I'm betting 99.9% of the time it's a silent appreciation of what one or more senses tells such people. It's not an action but rather a reaction. Just my thoughts.

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              I'm betting you're 99.9% correct on that one, c oliver!!

                                                          2. re: cgfan

                                                            Yes, I think your wording came off not as intended. Maybe something along the lines of, "Do you do anything special for a better dining experience" would generate less snarky (yes, mine) responses. Your examples of bringing your own condiments and garnishing your dinner at the table came off as a little over-controlling. Honestly, if someone came to my house and did that, there's a good chance I might not invite them back, whether they were professionals in the business or not.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              Good point and possibly a way to steer people in the right direction.

                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                as others have stated, some very humorously, above-- chefs, line cooks, & servers at same-level-local independent restaurants etc. tend to be good restaurant guests. they don't tend to do special orders or PITA substitutions or try to take control of someone else's "house"-- they call in advance, go in, are polite, order more interesting preparations off of the menu (often with a big bev tab as well-heh), enjoy the experience the chef and staff provide, tip excessively, thank everyone profusely, order dessert *and* coffee *and* after-dinner drinks. . . then in turn they welcome the staff of the first restaurant at their own, at a later date, and generally the same amount of money is spent sampling the wares of the second restaurant. the same $200-$500 can get passed back and forth or around the same neighborhood for months or years. when visiting dives, chefs don't carry their own condiments, syrups or fleur de sel--- they tend to eat what is served and appreciate it for what it is, or not go there in the first place. the idea that hospitality industry people would go across the street or across town and try to dictate the off-menu plate that they are served, or otherwise take over the dining experience or engage in these picky eating rituals-- nope, not part of the culture. 10 lashes with wet noodle for incorrect use of term, but the op's clarification of intent is appreciated and should result in a good discussion, i think.

                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                  Wholeheartedly agreed with your restatement, though in the spirit of my original intent in the OP I'd place a particular emphasis on "thoughtful", or "mindful", dining.

                                                                  Just a minor correction if I may, the "bringing one's own garnishes" was not part of my OP, though I did mention bringing one's own condiments as a possible example.

                                                                  (I'd still argue that the latter's appropriateness is all about context, and will restate my position on it from [http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7424... above...]:

                                                                  "Sure, bringing condiments to the table might sound extreme to many, but I don't see much of a problem when it is done discreetly, and anyway it was just given as an example. Yes, I too agree that this can be a particularly sensitive area, and certainly there are more wrong ways of going about it than there are right... But without an understanding of the specific details and context, I don't understand how one can conclude that that should immediately be interpreted as boorish or look-at-me behavior?")

                                                                  1. re: cgfan

                                                                    "But without an understanding of the specific details and context, I don't understand how one can conclude that that should immediately be interpreted as boorish or look-at-me behavior" - Without starting a discussion if cooking is art or not but if somebody goes to an art gallery nobody would ever think about bringing their own paint brush/pencil to change a painting. Nobody goes to a concert and brings his/her own instrument to "improve" the music. Going to a restaurant means that you want to experiences the ideas/creativity of the chef. And "improving" them with your own condiments is exactly what a visiting chef wouldn't do because it is a sign of disrespect and the opposite of being "chef-y"

                                                                    1. re: honkman

                                                                      I've known in my gut but couldn't express what you just did. Perfectly IMO. Years ago I walked with two neighbors in SF. One had just had her house repainted and the other one said something to the effect of "I think you should have added an addiitonal color to it." In other words, what you did was wrong and you should have had ME do it.

                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                        While I wait for this thread to turn towards a more positive direction, I'd still suggest that most of the responses in this thread are being thrown out without the benefit of any specific, non-hypothetical examples being given, and hence without sufficient context.

                                                                        And as I have said above with regards to the whole condiments issue, I'm well aware that there are more wrong ways of doing it than there are right, so giving out poor examples of the point doesn't do much to further the discussion, which was to solicit a discussion on the many ways in which a customer can thoughtfully accentuate their dining experience.

                                                                        So I still naively pose the question (with the hope of turning this discussion around), in what ways have you found, if at all, means to accentuate your experience by a thoughtful approach to dining? (And again I'll state that if not, no pejoritive connotation is implied...)

                                                                        1. re: cgfan

                                                                          I think many different posters already mentioned the one key thing everybody should do to have the best experience in any restaurant which is also the most thoughtful approach- sit back and just enjoy the meal as served.

                                                                          1. re: cgfan

                                                                            I think if people aren't giving examples, it's because they're not doing anything to give as an example. I don't think the discussion needs turning around. I'm surprised sometimes that the very thing I may take for granted isn't common at all. Maybe that's your situation.

                                                                            1. re: cgfan

                                                                              I don't do anything intentionally. But I've had a couple of experiences where I think the chef took notice of us which resulted in a better dining experience.The two examples I give are restaurants where there is counter dining and the chef cooks in front of you. Not sure if this would apply in traditional dining situations.

                                                                              I think being open to eating different items can help. I was eating at a restaurant where there's a set tasting menu only at counter seating. Woman next to me had all of these stipulations -- no raw meat, no raw seafood, etc (and I don't think pregnancy was involved as she was drinking wine). She had a few other restrictions but I don't remember what they were. When it came to the dessert course, the chef had some issues making the ice cream and managed to get three decent portions and one crappy one (bunch of ice crystals in it). Another chef plated them and started to hand the crappy one to me when the first chef interjected and pushed the crappy one to the woman with all of the restrictions. The first chef did hear bits of my conversation and commented on how I detected subtle flavorings in the dishes. So I figure that I was saved from the crappy ice cream for that reason and that he thought the woman who had a zillion restrictions wouldn't notice a difference.

                                                                              Second time was at another place with counter seating where I was thoroughly enjoying sucking out all the brains of the prawn (and eating the shell). I'm thinking that probably drew some attention as I had a couple of antennas sticking out of my mouth during the meal. The chef came over and made a few extra off-menu courses for us and asked us for our opinion.

                                                                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                                We had lunch with Alan Barnes too many months ago at a Sichuan place in the burbs. We were forewarned by another CH to ask for the "special" menu. Turns out the owner was the server. She was smiling all the way through because of our over the top enthusiam for everything, including the pig intestines and the pig ears. All we DID was enjoy ourselves :)

                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                  Yeah, asking for the "special" menu (if a place has one) generally lets the guys know that you mean business. It's too bad that places don't make it more well known or have these "special" menus in a language that I don't understand!

                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                    Sorry co - but first you were savvy and informed enough to *ask* for the "special" menu. Then you apparently were your gracious and vivacious self and *spoke with the server* at least enough to find out she was the owner. Being the well traveled dinner that I'm sure you are, you probably even served yourself or ate in a way that a person without your experiences would just because they have no idea its appropriate. Experience and sometimes a little inside info go a long way to creating experiences that are just effortlessly enjoyable :-)

                                                                                    1. re: just_M

                                                                                      Well, thanks so much. AFter blushing I'll forward this to Bob who teases me that I got all over the world picking up people :) But, ya know, just_M, it makes a point. I really LOVE food but I have a passion for people. So I interact with almost everyone and certainly to excess at times. But it brings me joy and makes the food taste better sometimes :)

                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                        I too have a passion for people. I love to hear their stories. Its possible being raised with a bar in the family helped this along. Think Cheers (where everybody knows your name & how your doing in school!) And it does sometimes lead to better food. I have yet to get the courage up to ask for a "special menu", so far it just hasn't felt right - but maybe some day. I do think that feeling your way and not forcing your way is key. In the meantime I'll fill up on tips and stories from you and all the other intrepid travelers and food lovers :-) I'll just hope by retirement I've gained some of your ease and hopefully ability to travel ;-}

                                                                                  2. re: Miss Needle

                                                                                    I agree that being very openminded and actively asking the chef to be adventurous/creative might be the only thing thoughtful to do beside siting back and just enjoying the meal as served.

                                                                      2. Being a regular so the owner/manager knows my preference. I've talked about this at different times but one of my favorite places is a hole in the wall, just acceptable chinese american restaurant. We'd go because it was convenient and got to know the owner who is Korean. Now I go in and talk to her about what I'm in the mood for and it's often a surprise what she brings out. When she's had time, she'll pop in the back and make something Korean for me. I love her chap chae and it feels like I'm just one of the family. Her chef spent 17 years in Thailand and will make special curries, with lots of extra vegetables for me. I don't feel like a chef or restaurant pro, but like her daughter.

                                                                        1. a friend of mine always orders a root beer at a chinese buffet where they have a soft serve ice cream machine and builds himself a root beer float for dessert...