Food trucks, cooking shows and celebrity chefs are as common to gastronomy-loving travelers these days as burgers and fries. But for those of us who aren’t so hip to the nose-to-tail* jargon, ordering at a fancy resort restaurant can be a bit — dare I say — stomach turning. Since I’m more of a comfort-food girl myself (did someone say French fries?), I got a few top chefs to dish on getting the best meal on your honeymoon.
*Nose-to-tail cuisine often refers to sustainable practices, in which the chef uses as much of the entire animal as possible.
In the Family
My mother always says: “Don’t order ethnic food in a pub.” She insists that burritos and lasagna don’t belong on the same menu. The chefs I talked to agree: “When trying a new eatery, I generally order traditional and familiar dishes from that type of restaurant,” says Ashley James, executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills and host of Cuisine Culture on PBS. He suggests choosing signature dishes of the cuisine or chef. For example, go for spaghetti with tomato sauce and tiramisu at an Italian place and the tacos al pastor and tres leches cake at a Mexican spot. Argentina is known for beef, Tahiti and coastal Mexico offer the best in seafood. And England is known for hearty stews and savory pies.
Locavore, localism and farm-to-table may be trendy terms, but they all generally mean the same thing—food at its freshest. Opt for dishes that feature market fresh and local in their names or descriptions. Also look for location IDs (Chatham cod, Wellfleet oysters,
Maine lobster, which are all native to new england, for example) to help you determine the fresh factor. In a world where you can buy tomatoes in winter, it’s often difficult to remember that food, like weather, is seasonal. note if the menu changes with the season (hint: it will say so). Or order the special, since that’s where chefs tend to highlight their market-fresh purchases.
If you’re anything like me, you focus on the girl in the cutest outfit at the store and scope out what she’s got in her hands. then you head straight for the rack that offers her selection. the same approach works at restaurants, says James. Look around the dining room and see what other patrons are savoring. And feel free to ask. I was approached by a fellow diner at Jaleo, a Spanish restaurant helmed by superstar chef Jose Andres, in Las Vegas. I’ve commented on others’ dishes at new York City’s ABC kitchen by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and swooned over someone's chilaquiles (tortillas smothered in sauce and Mexican cream and cheese) at Cancun's Moon Palace.
Speaking of talking to those around you, utilize your server. She’s more than a drink-taking-check-dropping tron. In fact, she’s your best source for information about the menu. “Servers usually recommend items that receive good overall feedback,” says Wolfgang Von Wiser, group director of food and beverage operations at the Grace Bay Resorts. In addition to meal selection advice, clear up any terms and items you may not understand. You may think headcheese is related to cheddar, for example, but it’s actually a cold cut made from organ meats. If you feel as though the server hasn’t properly answered your questions, ask to speak with a manager. Or see if there’s an opportunity to talk to the chef. “Have a brief chat and get to know his strengths — you may choose to leave yourself in his hands,” says Von Wiser. “Chances are you won’t be disappointed.”
While I’d never advocate avoiding ramps (a delicious leek-like veggie that’s fresh in the early spring), because you’re unfamiliar with the taste, there are some meal selections that the chefs prefer to skip. “Avoid overcomplicated dishes with too many ingredients,” advises James. “And don’t immediately jump for the most expensive item. It may not be the best tasting one,” says Von Wiser.
Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood Photography