• Julia Helton

What are the best and worst things to order at Italian restaurants?

The Best things to order are dishes that you would never make for yourself: 

Bucco- finding the right cut is almost impossible these days as the local butcher shop has all but disappeared. The nicer cuts and quality of meats are often sold to restaurants rather than your local grocer. Osso Bucco is a long slow braise that takes at least 4 hours to cook. This is why it makes my shortlist of must-have dishes at your local spot. It also requires a skill level to make correctly.

Scallops- I’ve been on a couple of reality chef shows. They always take us to Whole Foods to do the shopping. I wander back to the fish counter hoping to get the gorgeous U-10 dry pack scallops as I have at my restaurant but all they ever have are 10/20 IQF that are leaking chemicals and the flesh is separating. Sadly this is the place for a regular consumer to get quality fresh fish in most communities. Chefs at Italian restaurants buy the best seafood they can as Italy is all coastline. What a lot of people don’t know is that shellfish are regularly injected with chemicals to plump it up thereby making the fish heavier so the supplier makes more money per pound. The shellfish are oftentimes frozen to make it to your plate without spoiling which isn't a bad thing if it's coming from far away. A good restaurant will buy chemical-free scallops that are U-10 meaning there are under ten scallops per pound, the big boys. Dry pack means that they are chemical-free. Again, restaurants have access to nicer food than most grocers as we go through it quickly and have guests who want a nicer food experience.

Gnocchi or any pasta made in house- Maybe you took a pasta-making class or made gnocchi one afternoon with your nonna, but doing it on the reg is a hassle. Nicer Italian restaurants have a person who only makes pasta; that's the person's job: pasta maker. There is nothing like freshly made pasta. It makes going back to the dried stuff real hard!

The worst things to order are priced to benefit the restaurant not the guest:

Bruschetta- often times restaurants will have a tomato bruschetta on the menu no matter what time of year. In winter the tomatoes are mealy and devoid of flavor. Unless this bruschetta is seasonal or on the special menu avoid it.

Wine by the Glass- unless you are dining alone most folx will have two glasses of wine with their meal. A bottle holds four generous pours. You and your dining companion should agree on a bottle of wine and order a bottle for a price break.  Typically for a glass costs $15, four glasses is $60 but the bottle may only be $50. If you don’t think you will finish it ask the server before you order if it is possible to take the rest of the bottle home. Lots of communities have laws that will let you as long as the bottle is stoppered and in a bag.

Margarita Pizza- I know so many of you love this pizza but its a total rip off. Dough, a little sauce, a quarter of a log of mozzarella, four pieces of basil? That’s your dinner? You’re paying $12 minimum for a dish that costs $1. I know because I was the executive chef at an Italian restaurant for three years so I costed it out many times. Stop paying for this dish!!

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