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Frame: Everything Else

May 21, 2011

We’ve all seen it. It’s usually at the bottom right hand corner of your menu, or on the back, or even on a separate piece of paper. When you ask your waiter about it they give you a blank stare, or at best a lukewarm recommendation. It’s ignored by most diners, and when it finally does catch someone’s eye, the attention is wholly undeserved. It’s the ubiquitous, creepy,  “Everything Else” section – striking fear in the heart of chefs everywhere.

If you’re dining at a burger place, “Everything Else” is the Portobello mushroom sandwich. If you are in a Chinese restaurant, it’s chicken noodle soup. Fish fry joint? A plate of pasta. Mexican? Grilled salmon salad.  These are the “safe,” familiar-sounding items that people choose when they are too scared to try what the restaurant actually specializes in. These are also the items that terrify the chef when they appear on a ticket – so rarely ordered, they never turn out well. Because really, who wants to eat spaghetti when the place has the best lobster rolls in town?

Post-vegan experiment, I am much more sensitive to those who must eat or choose to eat a special diet, and who are sometimes forced towards Everything Else.  But luckily, there are now many places that cater to these diets – which means you should try to frequent them. If your friends drag you to a steak house, don’t torture yourself by trying to engage the waiter in a “can that steak be made without the butter bath? or the meat? ” kind of conversation. Eat dinner before you leave the house – or fill up on rolls. Also, if you’re vegan and your friends drag you to a steak house, maybe it’s time for new friends.

Chefs like David Chang are actually taking a stand against the Everything Else section, and special diets/requests. Chang tried some vegetarian options when he first opened Momofuku, but was almost sued by a woman who was accidentally served a meat-based broth instead of a vegetarian broth (don’t get me started on the litigious nature of our society, or the American public’s general lack of self-responsibility). He also makes the point that items from Everything Else are more likely to be processed, frozen, or racking up unnecessary food miles. But to me the most compelling argument goes back to taste – order what the place is known for and you are guaranteed a delicious meal. Order enchiladas in a French restaurant, and be prepared for food poisoning.

Moral of the story: The next time you see “Everything Else,” avert your eyes immediately.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2011 10:57 am

    Such a well written and honest post. It’s so nice to see a notable chef like David Chang take a stand.

  2. Labs permalink
    May 26, 2011 12:29 am

    This is a good point. Presumably this BS section is added because of some irrational fear that someone in some party won’t find anything they are comfortable eating. It’s never necessary. If you do 50 things on a menu they can’t all be good. If you do 10, more likely to be good.

    If I had a restaurant we would serve one thing – Like “Labs’ Turkey Sandwiches.” If someone comes in and asks for spaghetti and meatballs I would kick them in the meatballs and tell them to get the hell out of my store.

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