They Call It A Doggy Bag
Most restaurant portions are too big.
Luckily it seems the tide is turning, with restaurants offering the option of smaller portions. Not small plates per se, but the option of having six ounces of steak rather than twelve. In part that has been attributed to the declining economy. But I’m really hoping that this trend will stick with us even after the national fiscal situation improves.
Because most restaurant portions are too big.
Over the past several years, Mrs. Fussy has had extraordinary success in getting me to begrudge waste. This was not something I learned growing up. Our refrigerator was so full of good stuff that nobody even knew what was in there. I remember once discovering an unopened carton of eggs that had all gone bad. Those eggs must have been there for a long long time. And not one of the dozen had even been touched.
Now in our household almost nothing goes to waste. It’s really quite remarkable. So yes, I do eat leftovers.
In fact leftovers at home can be a great exercise in creative cooking. And housewives have known for years that the casserole is the very good friend of the leftover. A nice béchamel and cheese can take meat and vegetable scraps and turn it into a very comforting and tasty meal.
Leftover rice and stir-fry can be made into fried rice. Al dente pasta with sauce can be combined with some ricotta, some more sauce, covered with cheese and baked. Leftover steaks can be sliced and turned into steak sandwiches (or even steak salads if you believe in eating raw leafy greens). The list goes on and on. And I’m fine with almost all of it.
But restaurant leftovers do not make me happy.
I recognize that I am in the minority on this one. Although I will hold out that perhaps, just perhaps, there is a silent majority of restaurant doggy-bag haters. I suppose we will see shortly.
My suspicion about being in the minority on this issue comes from reading people’s reviews of restaurants. And I have been surprised how often people exclaim with joy, “The portions were huge and I had enough leftovers to make another meal.”
I can’t recall hearing very many voices on the other side. If they were there, they might say, “The portions were grotesquely large, we skipped appetizers and I shared one entrée with my dining companion. Afterwards we were so full there was no way we could even have had a bite of dessert.”
Both scenarios offer a no-waste solution.
Now clearly it is more fun to go out to eat and get an appetizer, entrée and dessert so that you as the diner can really experience the full range of what the kitchen is producing. And if you have good friends who are good sharers and will trade you bites of their delicious meals, the experience is even richer.
The consequence of this perfectly normal and desirable dining style, in the age where restaurant portions are too big, is the doggy bag.
How is this different from leftovers at home?
Primarily there is the matter of taste. I go to restaurants so they can make food that I cannot at home. They cook better than I do. And if they do not, then I have no reason to return. But hot food, freshly prepared by trained chefs, degrades. Often it degrades quickly. It is why there are expediters and food runners working with the line cooks and waiters to make sure you get your food as soon as it is ready.
Let’s say you want to bring home some of your entrée. The dish is cooked and then served. You eat what you like and ask for the rest to be wrapped. Then perhaps you have dessert and coffee. Most likely you will walk to your car and drive home. All in all it will have been well over an hour since your food was cooked. Perhaps significantly more if you did not go straight home, or if you lingered at the table.
Finally it will get chilled down in the refrigerator. Unless you eat it cold, heating up the food will not just make it warm, but also cook it further. If it was cooked perfectly to begin with, now it is overcooked. Congratulations.
Sure, there are some dishes that have natural second-day applications. For example, I had an underwhelming risotto from Creo. Despite only getting the smaller portion of the dish, I could barely eat half of it. (I shudder to think what the full portion looked like.) I brought home the remainder, and the next day formed the leftovers into two patties and fried them in a skillet as risotto cakes. Frankly, they were better in this form on the second day then they were at the restaurant.
But I consider this to be the rare exception, and really the reason I doubt I will be returning to Creo again for a meal. When the leftovers are as good or better than the food served at the restaurant, it does not speak very well of the restaurant.
Most restaurant portions are too big. Please do not conflate quantity with value. I believe it is this that drives restaurants to pump up their portion sizes. We can talk more about that next week. K?