Dining out used to be easy. My ex-wife and I would pick a restaurant—any restaurant—and off we’d go for dinner. It was almost always fine because neither of us was much of a cook, so just about anywhere was better than eating at home.
It’s not that way anymore. You may have read in some other blogs that I have become a pretty darn good cook. I’m not a chef; my presentations skills consist of throwing it all on a plate and thrusting it at someone. That’s not Michelin star type dining. But if you judge the food by its taste, then I’m right up there, baby!
As the Lovely Louise explained a few months ago, “Why should we go out to eat when we can eat much better right here at home?” This has created a problem, however. The Lovely Louise lives to go out and be around people. Me? Not so much. But I like Louise, and my life is much, much better when she’s happy, so out we go.
I’ll use clam chowder to illustrate the problem: I love clam chowder, and I make a great one. So when I’m in a restaurant and I order clam chowder, I’m very nervous because I just know it won’t be up to snuff. When the waiter brings my chowder, I can usually tell just by looking at it that it’s going to disappoint me. It’s too thick or it’s too thin or the color is just wrong or I can’t see any potatoes or clams in it. When the waiter asks why I haven’t eaten it, what do I tell him? The truth? Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men would have told the waiter “You can’t handle the truth”! Neither can most chefs. They get upset when I complain that they used bacon instead of salt pork for the fat. They cringe when I ask them why in the world they put sherry in their chowder, or what were they thinking when they decided not to cook out the flour taste in the rue they used to thicken it. And why, oh why, did you use russet potatoes? They just break down into a soggy mess! Yes, I’m a pain in the ass, but I know my damn chowder!
Every once in a while I order something that simply tastes out of this world. Now I’m excited, and I start to dissect the meal with my knife and fork. Is that a caper? Who would have thought to use capers? For a moment, I thought I detected just a hint of lemon zest in the sauce for the veal. What a great idea—I’m stealing it! These mashed potatoes are holding up because the chef used Yukon Golds instead of Russets. The complexity of this curry is amazing; I suspect he used saffron. Yup, that’s me. I’m now a food critic.
If you love amazing food, Cape Cod probably isn’t going to be your go-to place. Don’t get me wrong; there are some really, really fine restaurants here, and I try and get to all of them. But we’re a tourist economy, and restaurants cater to tourists. And what do tourists want when they come to Cape Cod? Fish and chips, fried seafood of any kind, burgers for the kids, steak for Dad, and maybe baked stuffed sole for Mom. There are lots and lots of restaurants where you can get exactly that. But really good Indian curry? How about authentic Mexican? Peruvian? Genuine northern Italian? How about a Moroccan lamb tagine? Not here, kiddo, unless you come to my house (bring wine).
In any event, those are the good things and the bad things I’ve discovered about learning how to really cook. It’s the same as starting to drink $100-a-bottle bourbon: It’s not very long before Jim Beam just isn’t drinkable anymore.