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Restaurants

5 Signs You Got a Bad Deal

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As the blogger behind The Bad Deal, Bloomberg News food critic Ryan Sutton chronicles some of the silliest and most deceptive dining offers on daily deal sites. Here, he reveals the warning signs that accompany bad restaurant deals.

Ryan Sutton

© Courtesy Ryan Sutton.
Ryan Sutton knows bad deals.

1. Your deal is a brunch deal. It’s Saturday morning. You’re hungover. You want to be in bed. But you purchased a deal that's only valid at brunch. And that deal expires today, which is too bad because most people pay in US dollars; greenbacks never expire. Maybe your coupon locks you into a dessert, which is pointless because you never eat dessert at brunch. Maybe your voucher involves multiple courses, like a recent New York event where six different breakfast courses were served at half hour intervals—that's three hours of brunch. Most brunch foods are already cheap, so is it really necessary to pay extra for something you don’t want?

2. Your deal includes mandatory wine pairings. Deals that come with a wine pairing for every guest may seem like a good value. But are you and your date going to be smashed after six pours of wine? Most likely. It’s usually cheaper to have the sommelier create an individualized selection of wines tailored to your own budget and alcohol tolerance. If you decide to stop drinking a pairing halfway through a meal, most good restaurants won't charge the full pairing price. But if you pay up front with a deal, that financial escape plan isn't an option.

3. You ordered a tasting menu at a neighborhood restaurant that never serves tasting menus. A ten-course, three-hour meal is a delicate ballet. Without rigorous pacing and precise portioning, you’ll overdose on food before the feast is half-over. These menus, whether cheap or expensive, are best ordered at restaurants that specialize in them. So it’s unfortunate that deal sites are turning tasting menus into ubiquitous commodities, an excuse to restrict choice and increase the bill at eateries that typically serve just appetizers, entrees and desserts. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your tasting menu is only available through the dealsite, skip it. If you want something fancier, go to Le Bernardin.

4. The deal includes all-you-can-eat or all-you-can-drink. Do you usually leave restaurants feeling hungry and ripped-off? Do you think portion sizes in our diabetes-plagued country are too small? Do you want to be drunk during an 11 a.m. brunch? If you answered yes to these questions, then maybe you do actually want an all-you-can-eat-and-drink deal. For the more rational folk occasionally drawn to the offer of endless tacos, consider the following: Restaurants regularly impose strict fines if anyone else takes a sample from your never-ending basket of fries, a policy that defeats the communal experience of dining that attracts us to restaurants in the first place. Here’s a revolutionary alternative to the unlimited offer: Order something big and share.

5. You didn’t read the fine print. As economists often say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. That means a deal isn’t a gift, it’s a trade-off. In exchange for a promised discount, you’re giving up certain freedoms, like the ability to eat on certain days of the week, or to order off the full menu. Those trade-offs are almost always buried in the fine print—read it. Another necessary step is comparing the deal's price with the restaurant's regular prices. Deal sites can overestimate savings by hundreds of dollars, and a restaurant's everyday offerings are often more affordable than the deal. So comb through the menu; getting your restaurant information from daily deal sites is like watching infomercials to learn about world affairs.

Related: 5 Signs You've Picked a Bad Restaurant
Cheap and Delicious Recipes
Bargain Wines

Cocktails

Adult Slushies (aka Shaketails)

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It’s a tough time for anyone with at least one eye on the wildly fluctuating stock market. So here’s something to make everyone feel better – or at least those adults who want to drink like children, and have valid id in case the bartender asks. Adult slushies (aka shaketails) have become wildly popular around the country. Here are a few great places to find them.

Tristan, Charleston. Cocktail popsicles are available in weekly changing flavors like Watermelon, White Balsamic Mojito and Firefly Southern Peach. Whether you want to down them as an aperitif or an extra chilled Happy Hour snack is your call.

Holsteins Shakes & Buns, Las Vegas. Located in the super-fun Cosmopolitan, Holsteins has a whole section of "bam-boozled" milkshakes on their dessert menu like the Cereal Bowl with vanilla vodka, Cap’n Crunch and Fruity Pebbles. The brand new "sorbet" shake is made with watermelon, bubblegum vodka and, surprise, liquid nitrogen. 

The Ritz-Carlton Downtown, Atlanta. Atlanta summers are so hot, it’s no surprise that the local Ritz came up with a super fun adult slushie. That would be their boozy, vibrantly colored snow cones,like Passionfruit with Lemon and Bourbon and the locally minded Moonshine-spiked one with Blackberry and Honey.

Village Whiskey, Philadephia. In July, chef Jose Garces premiered milkshakes at his two-year-old spot, which guests can order spiked or not. The long list of ingredients in the Irish Car Bomb includes rum-soaked devil’s food cake, whiskey-infused chocolate pastry cream and vanilla and chocolate ice creams; to make it even more appealing (to me anyway), it’s topped with a piece of cake.

Burger, Tap & Shake, Washington DC. Jeff Tunks, chef at this soon-to-open tavern, coined the term ‘shaketails’ and he’s taking it seriously enough to make almost everything in the drink in-house. The Dr.’s Cure mixes vanilla bean vodka with coffee liquor and vanilla ice cream. I’m not sure how the Teacher’s Pet got its name, but it combines apple brandy, ouzo, root beer with more vanilla ice cream.

La Esquina, Brooklyn. At the new outpost of the groovy Mexican restaurant in New York City, pastry chef Pichet Ong is creating a list of alcohol-soaked ices to serve to the Williamsburg locals. He’ll start with shaved ice and flavor it with tropical fruits like a pineapple margarita, flavored with fresh fruit puree, cilantro, tequila and, as is necessary for all good margaritas, salt.

Related: 20 Refreshing Drinks
Best Ice Cream Spots in the U.S.

Restaurants

Curry Chicken from One of Joe Jonas’s Favorite Chefs

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Chicken Dance spotlights a fantastic Food & Wine chicken recipe every day.

Susan Feniger

© Photo courtesy of Border Grill
Susan Feniger

Joe Jonas is quite the foodie, according to today’s New York Times profile of the pop star. The middle Jonas brother, who appeared on last season's Top Chef as a guest judge, discussed his desire to start a food blog, his new solo career, and how he idolizes chefs like Ferran Adrià, Mario Batali, Tim Love and Susan Feniger. "If there’s a chef I really like, I will freak, because I think their talent is so different from what I do," Jonas said. Don't freak, but Feniger’s sweet, sour and spicy curry chicken recipe should get you excited too.

Restaurants

How to Embarrass Yourself in a Nice Restaurant

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Upscale restaurants get busier in the fall as diners snap out of the summer's casual mode and start getting excited for serious food prepared by top chefs. Here, five mistakes to avoid if you want to come away like a dining-out pro.

© Theo Morrison
Wine pairings may offer more than a buzz.

1. Underdress. It's easy enough to call ahead to inquire about a dress code, but even if the suggestions are fairly vague, like “business casual,” you can try to show some decorum. No one wants to see a man's hairy legs in shorts (Mario Batali being exempt from this), and if a woman's dress is cut down to here or up to there, you can bet the line cooks have already heard about it. Also, forget flip-flops.

2. Fake an allergy. The topic of how restaurants deal with food allergies turned up on Grub Street and Inside Scoop SF recently, and both articles touched on finicky eaters who feign allergies to avoid dislikes. In top restaurants, chefs will often individualize tasting menus so allergy-prone diners can fully experience the cuisine (see: Thomas Keller’s gluten-free brioche). This takes a lot of effort. So, if you demand a gluten-free menu because you’re trying to avoid carbs, you better not get caught tucking into the breadbasket.

3. Drink the finger bowl. If a small, pretty bowl containing hot water scented with lemon or herbs comes between courses, it’s not a palate cleanser or an under-seasoned soup. Drinking this is the fine-dining equivalent of eating a Wet-Nap.

4. Heavy petting. Sweet displays of affection might include a nuzzle, hand-holding across the table, and a kiss or two, but it’s best to keep your hands and mouth focused on the food. Footsie and bathroom adventures might be popular these days, but it’s unwise to experiment in a restaurant you might like to return to someday.

5. Get drunk. The likelihood of the above happening, along with every classic blooper (toilet paper on your shoes, skirt tucked into your tights, FALLING), rises exponentially with your consumption of alcohol. Many wine pairings provide more alcohol than diners can tolerate, so even if you paid as much for the pairing as you did for dinner, try to mind your limit. Plus, the lasting value of an amazing meal dwindles if portions of your memory are blacked out.

Related: 5 Signs You've Picked a Bad Restaurant
5 Ways to Screw Up a Wine Pairing
More What Not to Dos

Restaurants

Party Time at Mandarin Oriental Paris

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Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx made the Mandarin Oriental Paris's party food.

I hate to miss a good party. And it sounds like I missed a pretty spectacular one last week, as the Mandarin Oriental Paris celebrated its official launch. Among the people I would have liked to hang out with: Liam Neeson and Maggie Cheung, and Pierre Gagnaire, one of the world’s all-time great chefs). Michelin-two-starred chef Thierry Marx did the party food—of course he did, he does all the food for the hotel, most especially the impossible to get into Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx.

© kate krader
Thierry Marx's outrageous brioche.

But don’t feel too sorry for me missing the party, because I did get to see the Mandarin Oriental Paris earlier this summer and was just fine. I loved the Swarovski-crystal-lined walls in the lobby, the Diptyque shampoos in the bath and the outrageous brioche in the breakfast bread basket and at the Cake Shop. And I found my new hero, hotel concierge Adrian Moore, who knows every single thing about the Paris food scene and has an excellent blog to prove it.

For more on the Mandarin Oriental Paris, and the fantastic hotel scene in Paris right now, check out the awesome Paris Travel Guide in the October issue of Food & Wine.

Restaurants

Top 5 Trends in Restaurant Desserts

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Since I'm pretty obsessed with finding great desserts, I spend a lot of time examining pastry menus from all over the country. Here are some of the biggest trends turning up on early fall menus.

Upside-Down Cake Recipe

© Tina Rupp
Upside-Down Cake.

1. Black pepper. Salt continues to be popular, but now pastry chefs are experimenting with pepper, which adds a mild heat to desserts like tuiles, sablés and even cheesecake.

2. Brown sugar. Obviously brown sugar is nothing new, but now it's being called out as the title ingredient in pavlovas, tea cakes, pound cakes and cookies. This recipe for simple Iced Brown Sugar Cookies from Baked in Brooklyn is a great way to embrace the trend at home.

3. Chocolate crémeux. The French word just translates to "creamy." The silky, pudding-like dessert seems to be the new darling on pastry menus. For an Italian take on this classic, try this Milk Chocolate Cremoso recipe.

4. Duck fat, lard and foie gras. These fatty faves are adding a savory element to cookies, profiteroles and even s'mores.

5. Upside-down cakes. Pluot, peach, blueberry, black plum, and of course pineapple are some of the fruits starring in this easy cake. The most interesting fruit in rotation has to be tomato, seen at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon. Here's our recipe for the perfect upside-down cake.

Related: 30 Beautiful Desserts
Delicious Chocolate Desserts
Fabulous Apple Dessert Recipes

 

Restaurants

Eat Ribs, Help a Future Chef

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© Courtesy of Bravo
Chef Tom Colicchio playing guitar


On Monday night NYC’s Hill Country Barbecue will host Restaurant Industry Night, the first in a quarterly series of events that recognizes different industries and related charities and celebrates them through food and music. Star chef Tom Colicchio will hit the stage with his guitar, no doubt taking inspiration from Season 9 of Top Chef, which he recently filmed in Texas. The event will raise money for the Careers Through Culinary Arts (C-CAP) scholarship program, which helps prepare high school students in underserved communities for restaurant careers.

If you can’t make it to the event, here are some amazing Texas-inspired barbecue recipes from chef Tim Love to try at home.

Sticky Barbecued Beef Ribs

Braised Pork Shanks

Grilled Texas Rib Eye

Charro Beans

Chiles Rellennos

Restaurants

F&W Exclusive: Star Chef David Thompson's Thailand-in-NYC Dinner

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Betel is the place to find David Thompson and his exceptional Thai food.

All the NYC-based Thai-food fanatics who are mad that Chicago has Grant Achatz going full force on his Tour of Thailand menu at Next, this is for you. Thai-food superstar chef David Thompson— who made a name for himself at Sydney’s awesome Sailors Thai and scored the first-ever Michelin starred for a Thai restaurant at London's Nahm—is coming to Manhattan. On October 5, he’ll cook at Betel, the groovy Southeast Asian restaurant in the West Village.
 
And Thompson is bringing gifts. Specifically, kanom jin noodles flown in from Thailand, which you never see fresh in the United States. As part of his three-course dinner, he’ll serve them three different ways, including with smoky grilled fish and shrimp curry.
 
The wine-paired dinner is $150 (including tip). For reservations, call 212-352-0460 or email guestchef@betelnyc.com. There’s also an open-bar after-party (yay!) starting at 11 p.m., where you might be able to ask Thompson your Thai cooking questions; those tickets are $40.

Restaurants

F&W Exclusive: M. Wells Returns to Long Island City

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The All-Clad Food Truck is Ready for the M Wells team.

Here’s good news for everyone who wants to see M. Wells and their outrageous cooking back in Queens. On Sunday, September 25, from 1 to 3 pm, chef Hugue Dufour and his wife, Sarah Obraitis, will be in Long Island City cooking on the All-Clad Food Truck. What’s more, they’ll be serving their much-heralded sautéed veal brains (the New York Times's Sam Sifton called them a "must-order"). What’s more still: Those veal brains will be free.

The well-outfitted All-Clad Truck will be on the move before that: Ditch Plain’s Marc Murphy will set it up outside Sur La Table locations on Wednesday, September 21st. And next week, Elizabeth Karmel will take it to the Hill Country Barbecue neighborhood. It’s all to celebrate All-Clad’s 40thAnniversary. And the party goes on through October 1.

And here's details for September 25: M. Wells on the All-Clad Truck will be on Center Blvd. near 48th Ave., in Queens. You can get more info on Twitter or Facebook.

Recipes

Award: Best Dish of the Weekend

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© kate krader
Bad Pic of a Great Dish: Inaki's Beef with Chive Salad

In honor of Emmy Awards Sunday, I'm handing out a prize of my own: best dish of the weekend.

Competition was stiff: By my count, there were a trillion excellent food–related events in NYC on Saturday and Sunday.

Among the highlights: Brooklyn Local, which brought together top Brooklyn purveyors (shout out to Ample Hills Creamery’s aptly named Salted Caramel Crack ice cream), and restaurants (such as my local spot Seersucker), all to benefit City Harvest. Also the Travel + Leisure Global Bazaar which starred chefs like José Andrés and Marcus Samuelsson. And don't forget the Feast of San Gennaro, featuring sticky ribs from Torrisi Italian Specialties and a short rib patty melt from Dewey Dufresne, the dad of WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne.

But I cast my vote for the absolute best-tasting dish of the weekend to one served at Le Grand Fooding Campfire Session: beef with chive salad. There was no campfire in sight; then again, the French-based Le Fooding’s events don’t always make sense. Who cares: The “campfire” featured Inaki Aizpitarte from Paris’s Le Chateaubriand. Inaki seared the beef beautifully but the chive salad made it, and here’s what was in it: chives, yes, and coriander seeds, buckwheat, flax seed, cocoa nibs, lemon juice and browned French butter, which worked better than American butter. It was crazy good, and I’m not even factoring in how cool it was to have LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy acting as saucier.   

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Already looking forward to next year (June 19-21, 2015)? Relive your favorite moments from the culinary world's most sensational weekend in the Rocky Mountains.