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Jul 6, 2013 01:49 PM

Canary in the mine dishes.

If a new Jamaican place opens, or one I haven't been to before, I'll always have the jerk chicken, rice and peas, even though it's not my favourite dish- much prefer oxtail or curried goat. I use it as a barometer. If they can't get this right then I don't see the point of ordering other dishes. Not sure why I don't do this with other cuisines?
Anyone else have dishes they use as a "tester"?

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  1. For German, Knodeln or spatzle. First question is, do they have them, and then how light are they? If the potato dumplings are all the same size without any croutons in the center, then I figure they are out of a box.

    For Italian, spaghetti carbonara. Requires each made to order. Fusion examples are usually stable sauces ladled on to the pasta.

    Sushi. If the wide variety of rolls are the selling point, I have an automatic suspicion for the quality of their products. Warning claxons resound when I tell them I am only having Negiri sushi and miso soup and they give me a pair of chop sticks for the ginger. Not really needed.

    19 Replies

      When I think Italian, I think meatballs. If you screw that up you should open a McDonald's.

      1. re: monavano

        How many meatballs should they serve on your spaghetti?

        1. re: monavano

          That's decidedly Italian-American, if you're talking spaghetti w/meatballs.

          If you mean polpette, small meatballs that are served as appetizers.... that's an interesting choice!

          Mine would definitely be a pasta dish like carbonara.

          1. re: monavano

            Surprisingly I find most restaurant meatballs little better than dog food.

            1. re: melpy

              That's really too bad. We have a fave restaurant, heavily Italian influenced, where we've eaten almost everything on the menu :) We were putting together a few apps there recently and added their meatballs. IIRC, it's beef/pork combo and they were just perfect.

              1. re: melpy

                I think my meatballs are excellent. Humblebrag, yes! And I agree that most restaurants can't make them for toffee..

                1. re: monavano

                  Having grown up on my Grandmothers meatball's I find this a very bad barometer to use to judge a restaurant. As is the same case with gravy, or red sauce, nobody is ever going to live up to my Grandmothers!

                  I've taught my children over the years to never order a spaghetti and meatballs type dish because more times than not they will be dissapointed.

                  1. re: jrvedivici

                    You've just made my point!!
                    If your expectation is the meatball has to be EXACTLY like Nona's, well, expect to live in disappointment. It's completely unreachable, so why bother. That's not my outlook on life and food.
                    But I think there are hallmarks of excellence when it comes to our "canary in the mine foods".
                    I stand by my meatballs because I'm open to Proustian experiences, moreover, I live for them.

                    1. re: monavano

                      Often, when the Spanish brother-in-law is watching a cookery programme, he will say that the food isn't "authentic". What he actually means is that it isnt how his mother cooked the dish (I've eaten his mother's cooking years ago - it wasnt that great).

                      1. re: Harters

                        Great anecdote that shows just how microcosmic "authentic" can be.

                    2. re: jrvedivici

                      I agree! No red sauce or meatballs. I will try and get a taste of some sauce to know for future reference though.

                      1. re: melpy

                        Yes and 100+ bonus points if you find it palatable! But even if I don't I don't hold that against the establishment "it's ok, it's me it's not you".

              2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                For Italian (or Italian-American if you wanna nit-pick), it's a basic red sauce. It's easy to make a quick delicious sauce - if you can't handle that I'm not going to experiment.

                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  Ehh, I think that's a bit harsh in terms of sushi. Like it or not, there are different styles of sushi. Yes, you have the high-end for the folks who fancy themselves sushi connoisseurs and take some pride in their austere adherence to their self-maintained beliefs regarding the purity of sushi. I used to be that guy BTW.

                  However, there really are some delicious and fun offshoots in the world of sushi. If I go to a place and see a bunch of rolls, with a lot of ingredients, and several involve flash frying, then I don't make a scene by trying to show off that I am some sort of sushi snob. Instead I pick what I think are the best rolls, with an understanding that I may want to exercise caution when dealing with their raw fish dishes.

                  In DC, we've got a wildly successful cheap sushi place like that in a trendy hipster area of town. Lots of fried rolls and they serve tater tots with most everything. A couple of years back, in a stunt to gauge opinions from local sushi gurus about the trend towards "junk food sushi", the Washington Post took one of DC's most respected purveyors of high-end sushi to this place and asked for his opinion. The chef basically admitted that in terms of being great sushi, it was awful, but in terms of being good bar food, it was quite delicious. That's sort of how I look at it.

                  1. re: The Big Crunch

                    Totally agree. My expectations are different for bar food at $17 All You Can Eat and when I want to treat myself for $5 per piece. Or higher.

                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      Yea, I usually judge sushi by the quality of the rice and my first order of sashimi. Most of the places I enjoy which are available in the area do have a ton of rolls which are fried or loaded with mayo but their simpler, more classic rolls are still delicious. I just order what I know I like and avoid the more "Americanized" rolls if I don't enjoy them. It's actually a win/win because I can then go with people who prefer those types of rolls and everyone is happy.

                    2. re: The Big Crunch

                      A Midwestern sushi joint won my heart by satisfying my basic sushi cravings (including some deep-fried mayo-dressed indiscretions amongst the nigiri and simple maki) but also deep-frying the heads of my amaebi. There's a line about the profane meeting the sublime in there somewhere.

                    3. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      I'm surprised how many, many people use chopsticks for non-sashimi sushi.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Most people don't know the etiquette. My parents were just complaining about the rice in their nigiri falling apart when dipped in soy sauce. They had no idea about the chopsticks.

                        That said, I will eat my maki with chopsticks when it is served topped with a sauce.

                    4. With Mexican restaurants it used to be chiles rellenos, and mostly still is. I'm a bit less stuck on insisting they have to be made the way my first ones were made - egg batter, fried, yellow cheese inside - because I've had very tasty variations, especially with the cheese. Pizza Margherita is another, but that's a quest to find one that is at all like my first, with which I fell in love: thin crackly crust, oil and shredded mozzarella, sliced Roma tomato, and then fresh basil strewn over and the pie given another brief firing. $7 worth of heaven in a single-serving pizza. The place is still in business, but that pizza is long gone from the menu.

                      Steak Frites or escargot for French, Fish & Chips for good imitation-Brit pub, good biscuits and decent grits for Southern, REAL mashed potatoes for a diner (though one otherwise favorite place has ghastly gluey ones).

                      1. For an "authentic" English pub, Spotted Dick. If I ask if they have it and the waitress's eyes get big as saucers and she cracks up laughing, I go somewhere else.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: PotatoHouse

                          We received some Spotted Dick as a gift a few years ago. We don't know if it's any good because we'd rather just keep it around for laughs.

                          1. re: John E.

                            I gave this can as a trophy in a trivia contest I emcee'd last year.

                        2. For years, I had lamb rogan josh as my standard tester for a high street curry house. Now moved to saag gosht.

                          1. Naan at an Indian restaurant. If it's flabby, underdone or not fresh, I won't be returning.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: pippimac

                              How about made from Bisquik?
                              Years ago I went to eat at a very popular Indian restaurant for the first time. Told my friends, "This naan tastes like Bisquik."
                              They replied, "You're really overdoing the super taster thing; it's fine."
                              We spotted the Bisquik box on the counter of the open kitchen as we left.
                              Did not return.