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I Don't Get It

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
While canning some chicken stock this morning I had the Travel network on, and they were running their "Chowhound Countdown" series. Apparently, this is their recommendations for the 101 tastiest places to chow down in America.

Strange thing. All the places they chose either featured some kind of oversized dish (i.e., four-pound hamburgers; 2-foot long buritoes; 74-ounces of assorted steak, etc.), or offered a very off-beat version of a more familiar dish (i.e., Neeley's barbecue spagetti; Voodoo Doughnuts' weird toppings;etc.). By far the majority of the joints offered something in the gargantuan size.

When, I wonder, did humongous versions of a dish become synomynous with "tasty?" But, more fundemental: What is the attraction of these dishes?

I just don't get it.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #2 of 18
I feel it's more of the American  "bigger is better"  idea. If a 12 oz steak is awesome, a 72 oz steak is the best thing ever! Meh. Also crazy toppings or twists on the original keep the spark of "American Ingenuity" alive. Cause its "NEW" no one has ever done this before, anywhere, ever.

I say this with both  a positive and negative view. Cause while some of these things do bug me on a certain level. There are some things that I do hanker to try once I have seen them. Duckfat fries for instance or Arepas.
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"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 
It doesn't actually bug me, Gunnar. I just don't understand the fascination with some of these things. 

Many of the places that offer the giant-sized dishes have some sort of deal if you actually finish it. So for some, no doubt, it's strictly the challenge. But the rewards, IMO, are not commensurate. For instance, take that 74-oz mixed steak dish. It's not hard enough to eat something like that, so they add a hefty portion of spuds.

If you finish the whole thing it in a hour they give you a hundred bucks. But the price of the dish is $140.

So, after stuffing yourself, and taking a chance of making yourself sick, and not being able to actually taste the food (how could you when the idea is to just shovel it it), they don't even give it to you for free. 

I guess what's really bugging me is the title of the series. If we're going to identify the tastiest foods in America, then let's concentrate on the flavors, not the gimmicks.


 
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #4 of 18
Did you happen to catch this week's Time magazine? There is an article about the 'dumbing up' of the American Hamburger. In essence, rather than dowsing a quality burger with miscellaneous toppings just for the sake of dowsing it, the article goes on to expound the virtues of quality and simplicity. Seems rather apropos to what you mentioned above.

The article can be found here: American Burgers

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Invention, my dear friends, is ninety-three percent perspiration, six percent electricity, four percent evaporation, and two percent butterscotch ripple

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post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 
Wasn't at the bash, so can't say what really transpired. But there are a few things buried in that article that are telling.

First off, in taste test after taste test it turns out that people can tell the differences among fast food burgers. So I'd like to see that---and some of the other categorical opinions stated by the author---documented.

More to the point, what the people wanted, and what chefs and food critics say they wanted, were obviously different. None of the so-called "classic" burgers were choosen as people's choices.

Second, I'd like to see a definition of "classic." For sure it doesn't mean the basic ground meat patty, American cheese, iceburg lettuce and tomato detailed in the story. Note that the winner's burger was not specifically described. But look at the picture. I don't know what the cheese is, but it's certainly not American; or even cheddar, not with that color. Half-cooked bacon dripping down the sides isn't my idea of classic, either. And whatever that green stuff is, it isn't lettuce. Arugala, perhaps? And for sure and for certain it isn't sitting in a classic hamburger bun.

So, apparently, this return to the classic is anything but.

I've got to wonder, too, if the simple, basic burger is what upscale chefs are offering, who in their right mind is paying $26-40 dollars for them?

There's no question that burgers are trendy, and that chefs are doing all sorts of things with them---different meats, different incredients incorporated in the mix; different toppings. Anything to justify the ridiculously high prices being charged for what is, at base, a lunch-counter sandwich.

With that in mind, I feel confident saying that if thee and me were covering that bash we could, buy the same process of selective focus, have written a story that reached a conclusion 180 degrees from that one.
Edited by KYHeirloomer - 3/14/10 at 2:40pm
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #6 of 18
I disagree with the "upsizing" of meals too.  With the vastly increasing incidences of diabetes type 2, hypertension and obesity - where the heck has the idea of common sense and some sort of responsibility gone?  We don't need to eat like pigs.  It is ridiculous.  On soap box for a sec., excuse the rant, but with many millions of people in the world living on next to nothing - why on earth is stuff being super-duper sized?  People complain about the global financial crisis, recession, call it what you will - but there are those who are much, very much worse off. 

BTW that burger in the article looked pretty awful - I can't believe it was the winner.  Bacon not crisp, lettuce wilted, tomato looking anaemic.  And the lack of description on what was in there makes for a useless report.   I think thelettuce is what here is called butter lettuce.

 Oh - its easy to tell which franchise a burger came from out of those 2 mentioned - if you have tastebuds  
Edited by DC Sunshine - 3/16/10 at 6:23pm
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
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post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
Good Lord, DC, you don't want to get me started on the upsizing issue. Portion sizes in most restaurants are ridiculous.

I'm not even talking about the gimacks. Just standard portions. USDA's suggested serving size, for proteins, is 3 ounces. Even doubling that is a smaller portion than most restaurants put on their plates. I mean is an 8 ounce filet mignon, or a 12 ounce strip really a reasonable portion as part of a full meal?

The worst offenders can be found on the "appetizer" side of the menu. Those aren't appetizers; they're a la carte offerings of the same portion served as an entree. In many cases, even the description is the same, word for word.

Same can be said for many of the so-called small-plate offerings. They're far too large, IMO. A tapas---mezze---appetizer---call it what you will should be something you can finish in one or two bites, not something requiring a knife & fork.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #8 of 18
Sorry KYH,  but its an issue I have too, sorry to get you started.  4oz meat is plenty for me - sometimes I'll enjoy an 8 oz steak - rarely - but then it will be the steak on its own.  No spuds in butter, fries, this that and the other.  Maybe some greens or corn with pepper if I haven't stopped to eat thru the day (yeah I know, not a good thing, trying to change habits).

Personally, quite often restaurants here will have the option of entree size or main size for your main dish.  I love it.  I am no light-weight (getting there :)  ) but I usually opt for the entree size, and that's all I'll have.  My other half however, digs in like a trencherman and well, it shows.  Always 3 courses, buffets are a real hazard.  3 desserts will go to their fate.  At home, bulk bread to go with meal.  He's active (sort of), but not doing hard physical labour.  Can't be stopped, or even commented on. It's not worth the grief of trying anymore,  Anything green has to be disguised in a pureed soup.   It's not only the US, believe you me.

You should see some of the meals dished up at "Italian" restaurants. Absolute mountains of pasta and bolognese sauce, huge slabs of lasagne, enough to feed a family of 4 on one plate.  Yuk.  What's the point?  Half of it goes in the bin.

Then if cooking is past my endurance of an evening, and we do the evil thing and head for the takeaway,  every single place tries to add on...."Would you like fries with that?"...."We can upsize you meal for x amount?"  oh no my head is going to explode in suitable rage....Great for them business wise, really bad for the customer.  But hey, the regular diners won't be around that long to make it a long term benefit to the company,
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #9 of 18
Thread Starter 
I understand the syndrome with the fast food and take-out places, DC. But I'm talking about fine dining restaurants, which should know better.

One example: We're celebrating a friend's birthday at one of the few upscale restaurants in Lexington. Friend Wife orders an "appetiser" that's sort of an Asian inspired squid salad. Frankly, it was one of the best calamari salads I've ever eaten. But, no kidding: four of us could have eaten it as a luncheon dish. I'm guessing, here, but wouldn't surprise me to find there was a pound of squid on that plate.

Meanwhile, my appetiser, described as fried green tomatoes with country ham salad consisted of six---count 'em six---large slices of fried green tomato, a scoop of the salad, and an artfully laid out squiggle of tomato jam, all garnished with sauteed green onions.

Again, very nice taste. And a pretty presentation. But my God!

I've since used that as inspiration. But when I serve it, two slices of tomato are more than enough as an appy. Or if I have them available, I'll use green roma-type 'maters for the visual impact of many slices. But total quantity actually remains about the same.

I have a friend---and I'm sure he's not untypical---who says he loves these oversized portions. "I know ahead of time that I'll only eat half of it," he says. "But that gives me something for lunch the next day."

Me, I can make my own lunch, and would rather have a reasonably sized portion that I don't have to carry part of home.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by KYHeirloomer View Post

Same can be said for many of the so-called small-plate offerings. They're far too large, IMO. A tapas---mezze---appetizer---call it what you will should be something you can finish in one or two bites, not something requiring a knife & fork.

 

Just a wee bit of a correction here.  A meze does not mean "bite sized food."  Meze is an experience of small plates that are shared by a group of people.  It's an activity, not a characterization of the food.  Some of the plates have small morcels of food like dolmades or meatballs, but others have a block of cheese, a salad, a dip or spread that is still meant to be shared.  When you are enjoying the activity of Meze you don't not order entrees.  The ritual is to only order small plates which will be shared by the group, and are of course accompanied by the local wine or spirit which may be retsina, ouzo, wine, or raki.  Just wanted to clarify.

I know it's not only America that has huge serving sizes in restaurants but we are the ring leaders for sure.  I remember a visiting friend from Greece and I went out to dinner.  She ordered a coca cola and they brought her this very tall large glass filled with ice and coke.  She looked at it and said "is this for drinking or for bathing?"  We americans sure do expect our big sodas and refills.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #11 of 18
Thread Starter 
>but others have a block of cheese, a salad, a dip or spread that is still meant to be shared. <

No argument, KK. There's nothing like a mezze table and a large group of friends and family. It just about defines "good time."

But my point is that here, in America, that block of cheese or dip would be brought out as a serving for one person; or, at most, two, and be called an appetizer.

Could you imagine going out just with your significant other and being served, as a mezze table, something like: 8 ounces of fried houlomi; a big bowl of spiced olives; a whole skillet of soutzoukakia; a pound or so of kalamarakia toursi, a large salad; and maybe some shellfish fritters with hot aioli to fill in the corners? A spread like that would keep Friend Wife and me well fed for the good part of a week.

Sure, if we were out with six or eight friends, then those portions make sense, because everyone is only having a bite or two of each. But not for two people. And that's really my point. Even in most small plates restaurants, where the mezze idea supposedly is in force, you can't really eat more than one or two plates. While I exaggerate the sizes above, they're often not so far from them.

Back in the '80s it started to be trendy to order several appetizers instead of an entree. If you were out with friends, and everybody ordered three items, you'd have quite a spread to share. It worked, back then. But in order to justify the prices, they started increasing the size of the appetizers. Try eating three of them from a typical menu nowadays an you'll founder yourself for sure.

When they started listing three sliders as an appetizer something was out of kilter.

I'd have to say that the casual dining places are most guilty of that. But even fine-dining restaurants have appetizers that are way too big, as evidenced by my post above.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #12 of 18
Fine dining - how many (excluding present company) actually do that very often?  Or have the means to.  But I don't think it has of yet hit that extreme here yet.  Thanks goodnes.  If I would like to have 3 courses I need them all to be small.  But perhaps I contradict myself here too.  I remember having a caesar salad (pretty traditional one, no dratted chicken in it, and raw egg cracked on top - it was delicious) for a main course as we had a fair wait to have our order taken at a posh-nosh type of place so  I was able to see what was being served.  I love caesar's, but this monster could have fed 4 as an app.    An it was listed as an app.

So, before I got myself sidetracked there, most people do not generally go to high end restaurants, but the more affordable family type places.  But why oh why are the servings so large?

When we go out to a dinner and it's Thai or Chinese etc, we order banquet style.  That way you take as little or as much as you like of a variety of dishes - plus the chop sticks help you know when you are full by making you have to eat more slowly, unless you were brought up using them.  Even so - it's certainly  better than using a fork as a shovel.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #13 of 18
AMERICA THE FATTEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD...need I say more
you don't have to be  a Rocket Scientist to figure this one out.....and who's benefiting? from  all these over weight people with MAJOR life threatening health problems? THE GOV......hmmmmm  the GOV SUPPORTS all these fast food places ,tabacco , alcohol and when your sick .....ya gotta pay....WHO ? the GOVERNMENT!
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post #14 of 18
Cold Stone Creamery calls their serving sizes "like it" (small), "love it" (medium), and for large it's something like "gotta have it". That's just stupid to me. I do like their ice cream, but I'm tempted to say something smart, like ask if they have a "don't like it" size.
post #15 of 18
"Cold Stone Creamery calls their serving sizes..."

Just an observation: my wife and I took two grandchildren to a local Coldstone Creamery after a round of miniature golf. We spent $23 for four fancy ice cream cones; I asked for a glass of water and was told they "don't have glasses of water available"

BUT, they could sell me a bottle of water for $1.50.

Cold Stone won't be seeing me again.

Mike 
travelling gourmand
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travelling gourmand
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post #16 of 18
The supersizing happens here too.  Alot of times I will upsize just my drink (they usually put too much ice and not enough diet cola for my liking) but not the fries or burger.  That's just far too much food for me.  

Mike that's crazy about the water!  Don't places have to provide customers with drinking water if they ask for it?  I have gotten a small cup of water at fast food places before.. and it's been fine. 

There's a Cold Stone out in Stoney Creek but I doubt we'll be visiting any time soon.  We have a Laura Secord in the mall down the street and by the bay Hutch's has a great ice cream bar in the summer... and yes they will let you have a glass of water!
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post #17 of 18
not a fan of big portions as well, i always try explain to servers that more sauce on the cake is not needed. it grinds my gears when they tell me i need to add more to it, even though i know im giving a good portion. in my opinion it depends on what type a place is, i work in fine dinning and they usually have few courses besides the salad or dessert so giving big portions is a waste because it ends up going in the trash. i think in finine dinning one doesnt go to pig out b ut to enjoy a good meal, a nice ambiance and feels that fullnes but not stuffed
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post #18 of 18
I agree, skatz.   I think some servers have the feeling that the customer is paying X number of dollars for their meal so they should get their money's worth but they aren't the ones who have to manage food cost and waste.  You're right on with fine dining.. they are there to have a good meal, not pig out.  I'm sure if they wanted a pig out fest they'd be at the all you can eat buffet down the street.
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