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Blind Trust

June 7, 2011

What is a restaurant? It sounds like a simple question, and I suppose on one level it is. A restaurant is a place where people go to eat in exchange for money. But is it a place where people go to eat what they want? Or is it a place where people go to eat what the cook decides to feed them?

I think this is a fundamental philosophical divide between restaurants in the Capital Region and those in larger or denser metropolitan areas.

Here restaurants feel the need to be prepared for any contingency. One diner is in the mood for veal parmesan, and another wants chicken teriyaki. Or perhaps it’s penne with vodka sauce and crab cakes. The bottom line is that most menus are huge sprawling affairs that are set in stone. So that means the kitchen needs to find some way to deliver a caprese salad in November as well as in August. Not only does this approach make food mediocre, it also makes it expensive.

There is another way, but it requires a certain amount of trust.

Find yourself a restaurant with a good chef who focuses on using great ingredients and put yourself in their hands. Abandon control of your desires, and let them feed you. This is what tasting menus are all about. But I’ve also done this in good bars, by saying something like, “I feel like something with citrus and rum,” and letting the bartender take me into uncharted waters.

I was reminded of this just yesterday at a very unexpected place: a sandwich shop.

Officially, it’s not really a sandwich shop. It is Dnipro, an Eastern European grocery store that has an amazing deli case of meats the likes of which I’ve never seen. Many of which remain mysteries as they are written in Cyrillic. What was clear as day, however, was the goose liverwurst, and had I brought a cooler in the car, I would be the proud owner of that doubtlessly delicious treat.

But I digress. Right or wrong I had come into the store for a sandwich, but there were no real visual indicators that they actually made sandwiches. So I asked. Apparently in two weeks they will be set up for making sandwiches, but the lovely woman behind the deli case said she would make me one anyway.

She asked me one question. “Do you like garlic?”
I replied with an enthusiastic “Yes.”

From there she went to work. Really, that was it. I watched her toast some hearty looking bread. She pulled a block of cheese from the cooler and cut a few slices, then did the same thing with a joint of meat. One piece of toast got squirted with mayonnaise, the other with strong mustard. A bit of shredded lettuce was added (she apologized for the lack of tomato), and a pickle was wrapped on the side. It was a hefty sandwich, but when she rang me up at the register it was a paltry $4.50.

Before leaving, I thought it would be wise to ask what the sandwich was, you know, just in case I wanted to get it again. Thinking that it would be some unpronounceable meat, I asked her to write it down.

All I know now is that she made me a sandwich called the Moskov.

Essentially it was a ham and cheese sandwich. But this was no homogenized block of Subway-style deli ham. This was streaked with wide white strips of fat, and it was seriously delicious. Was it a $5 footlong? No. But it was more than satisfying, cost less than $5, and used better ingredients. Not to mention this sandwich was tastier than anything I’ve ever found at any Subway anywhere.

Eating like this certainly isn’t for everybody. But there are rewards to being an adventurous eater and stepping beyond your comfort zone. It is taking a leap of faith that someone who spends all their time around food knows a thing or two about what is delicious.

You just have to find a place that you can trust.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2011 10:25 am

    Ask for Scott to do the same thing at Roma’s in Saratoga Springs – life changer.

    Last time it was rare roast beef, hot sopressata, fresh mozz, oil&vinegar, lettuce and tomato.

    The prociutto di parma is fantastic as well, but the key is to talk to Scott.

  2. June 7, 2011 10:28 am

    Nick does this at our shop – he decides on two sandwiches per weekend, based on what’s seasonally available (& inspiration), the specials rotate. Our regulars love it. Even though there are only 2 choices, everyone has been satisfied so far – and the bigger one is only $4.50. In the shop he serves them with a very small salad of microgreens and homemade dressing.

  3. June 7, 2011 10:29 am

    I’ll have to add a reminder to check them out. Unfortunately, like many local establishments, they’re not really open when I’m able to get there (except Saturday). But, being a dad, I also recognize the need for regular hours for family time.

    I take the “feed me, you decide” approach often, or ask for recommendations if they’re not keen on surprising me. More often than not it results in a fantastic experience.

    • June 7, 2011 10:43 am

      11a-7p Monday-Thursday
      10a-7p Friday
      10a-6p Saturday
      Closed on Sunday

      • June 7, 2011 1:30 pm

        Right. Not hours that work for me weekdays. But like I said, that’s fine, and they have locals who can and will support them.

  4. June 7, 2011 10:43 am

    Was it the Fine Mother Goose Liverwurst in the gold tube? That is my favorite liverwurst but I do believe it is a mixture of chicken, pork and veal livers. It’s great on the dense dark rye bread they sell there.

  5. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    June 7, 2011 10:45 am

    Dnipro also sells some seriously hot Russian mustard: when I bought it, the owner said to me, “This one hard core!”

  6. Stevo permalink
    June 7, 2011 1:13 pm

    This would be a great article in the Times Union or even in Metroland. But unfortunately, in this forum you are preaching to the choir. It’s not the readership of this blog that you need to convince.

  7. Deborah permalink
    June 7, 2011 2:46 pm

    is there a menu online somewhere?

  8. June 7, 2011 3:07 pm

    I’d love to be able to do this! I’m going to work on it.

  9. ashallann permalink
    June 7, 2011 8:03 pm

    It’s like free falling into a shallow menu, love it, will definitely be trying to break away from my norms next time we go out to eat. It’s all about trust!

  10. June 8, 2011 3:21 pm

    Daniel B. Definitely want to be eating that sandwich! Found your post through a google alert on trust and featured your post on my blog. Love your thought of letting the culinary adventure ride. I appreciate the idea of “letting go” particularly when you feel you are in the hands of a good chef or sandwich maker. Thanks for the material.

Trackbacks

  1. One Sandwich Please: Hold the Doubt and Heavy on the Trust « Trustbuilding Leadership

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