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No Free Lunch

June 22, 2016

Sometimes I think that I was born with strong preferences about food. If it were a genetic trait, I’m fairly certain it would come from my father’s side of the family. While my dad himself may be relatively easy to please in the food department, my aunt and grandmother are decidedly more particular.

My grandmother just turned 93 yesterday, and I was on the phone with her recalling the time that she schlepped a giant bag of Long Island bagels on a flight to visit me in California. That trip cemented Nana as a legend in the eyes of my bagel-loving friends.

There is an argument to be made that I truly discovered food in my 20s when working in the ad agencies of San Francisco. One of my favorite parts of the job were the business lunches. And I was lucky enough to grow weary of some of the best choices in Bay Area dining.

The old saying is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And that’s very true. Back in the day, the cost of my free lunches was not only time, but typically some kind of sales pitch from the vendor who was footing the bill.

These days, the free lunches come at an even higher cost.

It’s not integrity. That’s not for sale. I’m not going to tell you something is good, just because I got one for free. And besides, I’m well aware that when food is provided for a special event, extra effort is taken to make sure it’s perfect. Ideally, that same level of care would be used to make every plate of food, but that’s not how it typically plays out in practice.

It’s not time. I’m quite glad to take the time to explore some of these opportunities that make it into my inbox. You know, for science. I’m extraordinarily curious when it comes to food. But while I might not have gone out of my way to try the new McDonald’s lobster roll, I’m glad to have received an invitation to sample it with a couple of the local franchise owners.

Same goes for BurgerFi’s new larger burger. I was asked to put that through the paces yesterday. It tasted like a BurgerFi burger. I would have been curious to see the old burger next to the new burger to really gauge the size comparison. They say it’s a little bit bigger, so I believe them. But it hasn’t fundamentally changed the flavor or texture profile of what the chain makes. That said, the former top of the line burger came with blue cheese. The new one, the CEO, comes with aged swiss. If you decide to check it out, I’d recommend asking for blue on the CEO, so you got a burger with a bigger punch of flavor.

I’ve also agreed to check out a few of the new Applebee’s menu items. It’s been almost 20 years since I last stepped into an Applebee’s and vowed never to return. But I’m told there have been some dramatic changes in the past two decades, so I’m willing to give it another shot, just so long as it’s on their dime.

All of this curiosity does have a cost though. And it’s an opportunity cost.

Instead of the burger today, I could have been at Berben & Wolff’s, which I’m dying to try and have still yet to visit. Instead of the lobster roll at McDonald’s I might have finally tried the one made by my friends at fin – your fishmonger. I still haven’t sampled their version of the classic sandwich. Instead of the dinner at Applebee’s, perhaps I’d swing by Peck’s Arcade and delight in a few of their small plates.

But the reality of the situation is that I would likely just prepare something moderately healthful at home, ideally with a lot of vegetables from the CSA. And that means the other big opportunity cost of these blog outings are the occasional cheat day from my diet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I feel very fortunate to be in this position. And even though I’m apprehensive about the outing to Applebee’s, part of me is really curious to see how far the chain has come since it put shredded carrots and sliced cherry tomatoes on a caesar salad sometime in the mid to late 90s.

Yeah. I still remember. Which, perhaps, is one of the reasons I’m cut out to do what I do.

Maybe the answer is just becoming a runner. But then I’d have to figure out how to make time for running and more eating. And right now, I can barely figure out how to make time for sleeping.

Actually, forget I ever mentioned it. Running is just a terrible idea.

Fortunately, the diet is continuing to hold. Last night, I had a large salad with my dinner of Utica greens. Greens and greens. And I made those Utica greens myself out of broccoli rabe from the CSA and homemade chicken stock. I’m sure Mr. Dave would be displeased, but they were reasonably healthful, and totally delicious.

So let him judge me. It’s probably the last time I’ll have leftover prosciutto around the house anyway. Usually, Little Miss Fussy gobbles it up. But on my last visit to Via Fresca the fellow behind the counter sliced the meat so incredibly thickly, that those delicate ribbons of fat turned into impossibly chewy bands of anguish. I’m going to write that off as one bad day. But it’s a good reminder to stay vigilant at the deli counter. Lesson, relearned.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2016 10:01 am

    I make Utica greens with my garden kale when I’m out of the purpose-grown escarole is used up. I’m mellowing in my older years. I even took down that snotty post I did about Swifty’s greens the other day… I felt bad.

    My advice though, try the method of cooking your greens with the peppers and garlic the night before baking. It makes a difference.

    • Mr. Dave permalink
      June 22, 2016 10:04 am

      Oh yeah. One more thing. I got that Applebee’s offer in my email too. I find it hilarious they send that stuff to me… The result of me writing about a gratis Applebee’s meal would not be my preferred PR material. Although, my kids went with their g-parents and fell in love with the little video game thingies.

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