When I go out to restaurants and find something I really like, I am often torn— do I have it again, knowing that I just love it, and know I will enjoy every bite, or do I try something new? I am a fairly adventurous eater, though I don’t think I could bring myself to eat an insect, and I am not crazy about very spicy food, I love trying new things. I have wrestled with this question many times. I have a long history of falling in love with a particular dish at a restaurant, and having it every time I go back. When I go out I often order something I am unlikely to make at home, and if its really good…
I can think of several instances of this phenomenon. I love Rosa Mexicano; the one I frequented was on First Avenue in Manhattan, and almost every time I went I had the shrimp with squid ink rice. It was sublime! The last time I went, I can’t recall if it was no longer on the menu, or if I made the decision to try something different, but I do recall leaving feeling unhappy with my choice, and my dinner overall. I wanted my squid ink rice!! I used to go to a place that made a half grilled chicken wrapped in banana leaves. I have no idea what magic was performed but it was juicy and tender, the skin crispy and brown, it was all I ever ordered there. When I go to David’s MAi Lai Wah in Philly, I have to get the dumplings that come with an amazing ginger sauce, and when I go to Manhattan Pizza in Great Barrington, MA I like my white pie with sausage and mushrooms.
So does having favorites mean we’re in some sort of restaurant re-run rut? We all have our favorite dishes, things we cook at home more often just because we, or someone in our family really like them. Last Saturday I met a friend for lunch, we got our menus, but we hadn’t seen each other in a while, so of course we were talking up a storm, and not looking at the menus. When the waiter came to see if we were ready she said ‘I always get the same thing here, so I know what I want’. I had to laugh, because as usual, I though it was just me.
When my daughter and I spent our vacation in Chincoteague last week, we ate at the same three restaurants over and over. We liked them, the food was good, we were fine with that, so we had lunch at the Sea Star every day. Many years ago I traveled through Greece, and on that trip we found that eating at the same restaurant very night was a smart decision. We got to know the owners; they would invite us into the kitchen, and make us special things. I think we had better food than we would have if we tried a new place each night.
Most of us like a mix of what is comfortable, and good, and expected, mixed in with new and different (maybe even exciting) experiences. When I go to Chinatown, in Philadelphia I go to a number of places, and try new things, but I also return to David’s for my favorite dumplings. When it comes to food there are times we crave the familiar from our mom’s chicken soup, to a Hostess Twinkie (if that is your pleasure), and there are enough days to have those things as well as the Kahlua Pork Tacos from the Poi Dog food truck!