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They Call It A Doggy Bag

September 9, 2009

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?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2009 12:44 pm

    Daniel,
    I think we should go out to dinner so we can mutually complain about everything, I think it would be a hilariously good time.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    September 9, 2009 3:41 pm

    Having traveled a bit, I must note that it is only American restaurants that offer huge portions. And this is both a product of, and a cause of, our personal hugeness. I would much prefer smaller portions, with proportionally smaller menu prices, than the current grotesque situation. One of my pet peeves is the failure of so many lunch places to offer sandwiches WITHOUT the g-damned French fries!

  3. Mer permalink
    September 18, 2009 11:55 am

    I personally hate leftovers from restaurants. I rarely ever eat them, so therefore I rarely bring them home with me. I am a big fan of the small plate options at restaurants for this very reason. An app or salad and a small plate is perfect. Anything left on my plate I just leave there. So you’re not the only one who dreads the doggy bag, and I certainly never rate someone better on Yelp because they gave me leftovers. Too much food is more a negative in my mind.

  4. Jennifer permalink
    September 21, 2009 11:06 am

    This issue was on my mind this weekend as the partner and I decided to have an early dinner at Villa Valenti. Don’t mock my choice, I was craving eggplant Parmesan and I had a good memory of eating there a few years ago.

    Maybe I am getting old because dinner was nothing like my memory. My eggplant rollatini was three humongous pieces of eggplant stuffed to bursting with ricotta, drowned in at least a cup of red sauce and topped with what looked like half a pound of mozzarella. And it came with pasta. A lot of pasta. My side of pasta was served on a large dinner plate and it completely covered the plate. That meal could have easily fed myself, my partner and either my teenage daughter or my eight year old son. As it was I could manage no more than a part of one eggplant roll and a few forkfuls of pasta. I did take the food home because I couldn’t bear to see it go to waste. I might heat a little up for lunch and see how it fares.

    I would have preferred a portion that was 1/3 as big for half the price. It would have been more reasonable.

    O/T does anyone have a good recommendation for an inexpensive red sauce Italian joint in the Capital Region? Some times you just crave a plate of pasta…

  5. October 25, 2011 11:16 am

    I’m a little late to the party here but saw this linked from today’s post. I remember the first time I went out for a nice dinner and had the perfect amount of food. It was at Bistro Tallulah in Glens Falls. I had an appetizer, two small plates, dessert, wine and spiked coffee. I walked out of there with NO leftovers and felt perfectly full and content. It was the most beautiful feeling in the world. While I’ve never been ashamed to take leftovers from some place (probably a byproduct of growing up poor – you take what you paid for!), that evening was the first time I realized that the perfect amount of food is a major part of the fine dining experience.

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