Matt Pre­ston: Demystifies restau­rant spe­cials

Baf­fled by the so-called spe­cials re­cited ta­ble­side at restau­rants? Are they one-off won­ders or cob­bled-to­gether mishaps from the menu? Read on.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS - @mattscra­vat @MattsCra­vat MATT PRE­STON

RESTAU­RANT spe­cials are a thing of great de­bate, and no lit­tle de­ri­sion. Over the years, the con­cept has been un­der­mined by places sell­ing things that aren’t all that spe­cial as ‘spe­cials’.

So how do we know whether to or­der a restau­rant’s spe­cials when we eat out? I’ve got 10 top tips for pick­ing spe­cials that are truly, er, spe­cial. It’s by no means a de­fin­i­tive or fool­proof list, but it should help.

1. IF THERE’S JUST ONE SPE­CIAL ON OF­FER

A spe­cial should be spe­cial. It should be the best thing on the menu.The very word ‘spe­cial’ im­plies that it’s bet­ter than the rest of the dishes on of­fer.That’s why I don’t mind it if a restau­rant has no spe­cials or only of­fers them oc­ca­sion­ally. This im­plies that when a spe­cial is of­fered it might ac­tu­ally be spe­cial.

2. IF IT’S SEA­SONAL – AND EVEN BET­TER IF IT’S LO­CAL TOO

Ideally, at this time of year I want the waiter to tell me that to­day’s spe­cial fea­tures the first of the new sea­son’s chest­nuts, rhubarb, olive oil or Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes – al­though maybe not to­gether in the same dish. Even bet­ter if the spe­cial fea­tures “the last of the per­sim­mons from chef’s tree”, the fresh sal­s­icce from their re­cent salami day or a mushroom risotto us­ing “wild fungi we for­aged from the lo­cal forest and pad­docks”. Or­der away.

3. IF IT’S UNIQUE

Def­i­nitely con­tem­plate the spe­cial if it has a unique in­gre­di­ent as the hero or it’s a dish you wouldn’t nor­mally get to try any­where else. I re­mem­ber once watch­ing a chef buy the only two boxes of fresh pistachios to en­sure no one else could put them on their menu, even though he only needed a quar­ter of that amount. Sure, he found a use for them but it showed a gen­uine de­sire to make that night’s spe­cial truly spe­cial.

4. IF IT’S LIM­ITED

When wait­ers re­cite a spe­cial fol­lowed by the words “but we’ve only got one serv­ing left” (and with the price be­ing re­vealed ob­vi­ously) I usu­ally grab it im­me­di­ately be­cause I’m not only a sheep, but a sheep with an abid­ing fear of suf­fer­ing dish envy. I would just die if the ta­ble next door snagged it and it came out look­ing and smelling amaz­ing.

5. IF IT’S TO­TALLY CAMP IN ITS TIME­LI­NESS

The chicken shop sell­ing that ‘Christ­mas in a bun’ with a tur­key burger, cran­berry sauce, roast po­tato bits and gravy. Less so if it’s a Christ­mas pud­ding and brandy but­ter McFlurry but I’d be tempted if it came in a com­mem­o­ra­tive cup with a car­toon DJ-ing Dis­ney rein­deer on it. Maybe.

6. IF IT SEEMS TO­TALLY RAN­DOM

You’re in a coun­try pub with the most con­ser­va­tive meat-n-three-veg menu but there’s a ro­gan josh on as the spe­cial. It’s odds on that chef in the kitchen is from Kash­mir, and if he is In­dian,then or­der that spe­cial.The pride and care he will have taken in this dish will usu­ally make it truly spe­cial. The same goes for those em­panadas or the pas­tel de choclo in that in­stant-cof­fee, pie and cheese­toastie café with the cheap tubu­lar metal fur­ni­ture deep in the sub­urbs, but only when the chef or owner is wear­ing a Chilean soc­cer top and has pic­tures of La Roja, Alexis Sanchez and Car­los Caszely be­hind the bar.

7. IF IT’S A PO­LIT­I­CAL STATE­MENT YOU AGREE WITH

Hate the French and their se­cret ser­vice shenani­gans? Then or­der those spe­cial free­dom fries. Up­set by the vi­cious at­tacks on burger chains by the likes of Mor­gan ‘Su­per Size Me’ Spur­lock Eric ‘Fast Food Na­tion’ Schlosser and a whole pitch­fork-wield­ing posse of food blog­gers in stretchy gym gear (or eth­i­cally sourced Mon­go­lian yak-herder pants)? Then buy those uber-deca­dent quad-stacked burger spe­cials – even if they’re ir­re­spon­si­bly fat­ten­ing and con­tain enough calo­ries to feed a medium-sized refugee camp.

8. WHEN IT’S A COLLAB

Ev­ery hype-beast knows that there is

noth­ing cooler than a collab ATM (here ATM stands for ‘at the mo­ment’ and not ‘au­to­matic teller ma­chine’ even if these col­labs are a li­cence to print money) whether it’s Adi­das with Yo­hji Ya­mamoto or A Bathing Ape, or Louis Vuit­ton with Supreme. So if to­day’s spe­cial is a col­lab­o­ra­tion of a dish be­tween the restau­rant and a top guest chef then that truly is a spe­cial to take se­ri­ously.

9. WHEN IT’S A FRESH SPE­CIAL

Spe­cials that you see be­ing writ­ten freshly on a black­board should al­ways be con­tem­plated.The words “we just got in a box of…” or “Mrs Jenk­ins from the bank let us pick her mul­berry tree to­day” also help to get me over the line. Ex­treme lo­cal­ity and lim­ited avail­abil­ity make these even more at­trac­tive.

10. IF YOU TRUST THE WAITER OR THE CHEF

One of the great ben­e­fits of be­ing a reg­u­lar is know­ing when you can trust the chef or your favourite waiter. So if she tells you that you need to try the spe­cial, do it! Step away from the ‘spe­cials’ printed on lam­i­nated cards – head to de­li­cious.com.au for Matt’s eight red flags for spe­cials you should never or­der.

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