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Jun 22, 2011 05:12 PM

Watching an adjacent diner's meal in disbelief and envy

This isn't meant to be a judgmental post, everyone likes and eats things their own way. But have you ever noticed a nearby table order the same dish and they leave what you consider the best parts? Then you just pine and wish you could have all they set aside?

What triggered this post for me was a recent visit to Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. One of our favorite dishes there is the garlic fried prawns. They take these big prawns peel them partially away from the shells so it's still attached at the tail. Battered lightly and then fried along with bits of garlic. The frying process fans out the prawn in this beautiful V shape. It's absolutely decadent. The prawn meat is so juicy and succulent. The shell crisp and light, it's like eating a prawn flavored cracker. No greasiness or heaviness to anything. I've been known to kill an entire plate by myself.

This past visit as my friend and I were savoring each piece slowly, I noticed the next table over a single diner had also ordered the same dish. My happy feelings of empathy towards being a glutton and having the dish to myself quickly turned to horror and envy when I saw how he was eating the dish. He was separating the meat from all the shell, discarding them into a pile and just eating the meat.

I swear I felt physical pain seeing all that delicious shell piled up untouched and being whisked away to the trash by the waiter. Meanwhile, my friend and I were being extremely polite with each other dividing the single plate and eating up every last bit of shell and garlic. I so wished there was a way we could have all the shell the other diner didn't want. I gladly would have asked for a clean plate and silverware and separated out all the meat for him, haha!

Again, this isn't a judgment on a right or wrong way of eating something. More of an envy of not being able to eat something I consider delectable and something that was going to be thrown away anyway. Anyone have similar stories?

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  1. I have seen people order giant lobsters to eat just the claws (not even the knuckles, just the large portion of the claws). I have seen people order filet mignon just to eat the outside crust, leaving the rest of the meat aside. Or diligently pick off the fat from pata negra because otherwise it's too fat.

    I just feel sad but I also have to remind myself that it's their meal.

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. My first job in the restaurant business was as a dishwasher in a fine dining establishment and I at first was dismayed by all the great and delicious food people didn't eat while I struggled to feed myself at all while I was learning the craft. Sometimes the employee meal was my food for the day. At some point it became a live and let live thing and I stopped really caring what other people did. Now, I can just make those dishes myself, thankfully.

        6 Replies
        1. re: LorenM

          Oh, as I stated, this wasn't meant as a judgment on a right or wrong way of eating something. Just more of seeing something I consider very tasty being dumped and wishing there was a way I could have had what they didn't want. Such as they only get served the meat and I get the rest of the shells.

          1. re: Jase

            I totally get you, Jase! I hate to see wonderful things get wasted. I would have felt the same way. In fact, I probably leaned over and said "aren't you going to eat those?!?!?" At which point, my husband would yell at me to keep my mouth shut!

            1. re: Jase

              I understand and I certainly wasn't trying to say you were being judgmental. I was annoyed at first with the good food people threw away. I just had to become immune to it for my own sanity's sake. Believe me, I even thought about consuming an uneaten mussel or crawfish garnish from a plate, though I never actually did.

              1. re: LorenM

                Remember in 'Million Dollar Baby' where Hillary's character works in the restaurant and asks for the leftover steak for her "dog"? Heck, I would invent a dog too.

                1. re: LorenM

                  I know people who have. They worked in a fancy restaurant and some stuff would come back untouched.

                  1. re: wekick

                    It was strictly verboden in my restaurant as anyone who got caught would receive endless and merciless abuse from everyone else in the kitchen! I was petrified of this at 18 years old. Plus I had the hots for a couple of the bus girls and wouldn't have wanted such a thing to be spread around, if you know what I mean.

            2. First, let me say I can't believe how people have misconstrued your post. Unbelievable! lol

              Second, I know exactly what you mean. Perhaps the diner did not know the shells were edible? I probably would have struggled with myself whether to tell him or not; and if I had a few drinks in me I probably would have. :)

              4 Replies
              1. re: ttoommyy

                In most preparations shrimp shells are not particularly good eating. There may be some good sauce that's worth sucking off, but shell itself is as appealing as finger nail clippings. This preparation may indeed be different.

                1. re: paulj

                  I guess being Asian, I'm used to shrimp and prawn shells being prepared so they're edible. Usually it's this type of preparation where the shell is fried so it's thin and crackery. You get the great seafood taste but there's no chewiness or rubberyness to it. Chinese salt and pepper shrimp is fried with shells on and one way of eating it is to just take a bite without peeling. If you're into sushi, sweet shrimp heads are usually fried and served on the side while you eat the body raw.

                  I don't expect everyone to be familiar with all the variations and again, wasn't judging the guy. Although upon further observation, he was a wine rep who made a presentation after the meal. So he was probably familiar with it and just preferred not to eat it.

                  For those of you not familiar with Lotus of Siam, it's a nationally acclaimed Thai restaurant offering traditional dishes that are hard to find. They also have an outstanding wine list. I'm not a knowledgeable wine drinker but I gather that the manager does a great job in curating a wine list that matches very well with the Thai spices. Something that is very difficult I'm lead to believe. Also they carry some wines that are hard to find and supposedly a good bargain.

                  Read any of Dave Feldman's posts in the Las Vegas board and you'll get a great idea of what they have. Anyone interested in Thai and if in Vegas should definitely visit the place. It's a mandatory stop for me in every trip, often 2 or 3 times in one trip.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Oh, I can eat some shrimp shells.
                    I like em fried, but I had a few off the grill last week and they were good too.

                    1. re: paulj

                      I agree. I undoubtedly have an American midwesterner's approach to international cuisine, as I was born as raised here in the midwest, but I don't really care for shells on my shrimp, nor on any other food, either. They may be edible, but if you're not familiar with the full breadth of a particular cuisine or of how a food was intended to be eaten, you'll probably not think to eat the shell unless someone mentions that they're edible first. No one I know would eat the shells.

                  2. I understand what you are describing, though I have honestly never thought of prawn shells as something to be so enjoyed. I am going to file that away in the CH part of my brain for future reference.

                    I get a little pained sometimes when I see diners ordering lots of expensive, wonderful food and then just picking at it. I hate the wasteful aspect , especially with so many people in our country (never mind the world) who go hungry every day. I would love to go into a very nice restaurant and order whatever I want without restraint, but my sensibilities and my budget won't allow. So when I see people who are taking the tasting menu approach to normal sized apps, entrees, etc., I cringe a litle, especially when it is something I particularly love.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jlhinwa

                      Fried shrimp tails, like fried fish fins and tails, are crunchy good like potato chips, or more appropriate, kroepoek.

                      To that you can add bone marrow, which is now returning to favor, and probably potato skins, which most people discard.

                      1. re: jlhinwa

                        Yeah, boiled and steamed shells would hold absolutely no appeal to me except for maybe sucking the boiling spices off them. But in this dish where they are pulled away from the body and only joined at the tail, the batter and frying process makes it very delicate and crisp. The prawn flavor mingling with the fried garlic tastes heavenly to me.

                        If you happen to see it, I'd encourage you to try similar Asian fried techniques such as I described in the post above and maybe you'd like it.