Fulcrum Ruminations

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Other Matters Command Attention

If you will indulge me, gentle reader, I'm going to step outside the normal parameters of Fulcrum Ruminations for a moment. Yes, I am going to permit myself a rant. A non-political rant which will have nothing to do with who's running for what office or whether George Bush is a poopie-head.

Addressing myself to any and all food service workers who may stumble across my slice of the blogosphere, I must ask: when did the restaurant business lose the ability to cook beef to order?

Once upon a time, perhaps as recently as fifteen or twenty years ago, you could order a steak or burger by the well-known "medium, medium rare, well done" scale and get what you asked for. Those days, it would seem, are lost. Let me explain . . .

Neither my wife nor I really like to cook, so we eat out several times each week. This being the Washington DC area, there are hundreds of good restaurants from which to choose, serving almost any type of food anyone could want. Standard meat-and-potatos American all the way to exotic Ethiopian or Afghan cuisine is available. So we partake. Sometimes, tho, you just want a cheeseburger. Or a steak. No shortage of restaurants offering such fare, either. Outback Steak House, Silverado, local mom-and-pop places, everything up to five star international melt-on-your-tongue goodness.

And not one of 'em seems to know what "medium rare" means any more.

Most places we go when I'm in the mood for beef, I have to order "medium well" to get what I actually want, which is "medium rare." If I order "medium rare", I get a raw and bloody, barely cooked hunk of flesh. It's quite discouraging.

Let me spell it out for any cooks or chefs who may be reading. Here's how the scale goes:

Rare - Outside lightly browned, inside warm, red, very juicy

Medium Rare - Outside moderately browned, inside hot, red, juicy

Medium - Outside well browned, inside hot, pink, moist

Medium Well - Outside well browned and beginning to char, inside hot, barely pink, still moist

Well Done - Outside dark brown with charring, inside hot, no pink, slightly moist

That's it. "Well Done" does not mean "cooked until it looks, feels, and tastes like leather." It is actually possible to do a piece of meat "well done" and not dry it out. Conversely, "rare" does not mean "sit it where it can see the cooktop." If I want raw meat, I'll order steak tartar. Or go for sashimi.

If I understand correctly, restaurants do not cook beef visually any more. They cook strictly by time and temperature, which all but ensures that the meat is not cooked properly. I can hit any of the marks listed above when I grill over charcoal. Why can't chain restaurants get it right these days?

Along similar lines, why is it so hard for the wait staff to understand that the appetizer comes before the main course, not with it or, God forbid, after it. And that everyone in the dining party should get their food at the same time and all of it should be hot and fresh? Is this so difficult?

At the end of the meal, my favorite thing: the tip. I've sat for slow, indifferent service with poorly prepared food that I've had to send back twice before it was right, and yet I'm still expected to add a twenty percent gratuity to the bill.

I. Think. Not.

Worse still are the restaurants that arrogantly include the tip in the bill. Ah . . . no. I will decide if your service warrants a tip, and how much that tip should be. Not you. Your job is to make me happy, not to see how much money you can pry out of my wallet. Do your job and I'll be generous with the tip.

Next time will be a standard political diatribe, I promise. I just had to get this off my chest. Thanks.

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