leave your inhibitions at the door
Some of the most popular shows on cable are the ones where a food expert like Bourdain or Zimmern go to exotic restaurants across the world. Sometimes they’re fancy, upscale restaurants but mostly they’re little out-of-the-way, hidden gems that only locals know of. Often the entertainment comes from watching them eat nasty local delicacies, such as boiled pig anuses (or is that pig ani?) but it doesn’t have to be. They could be eating chicken and rice, but seeing it prepared by someone in a way that’s completely different is just fascinating.
But I think it would be equally as fascinating to have them travel around here and eat the homogenous, mass-market food prepared that an ungodly majority of Americans love. We’re talking boneless skinless chicken breast prepared by someone in a way that’s completely the same as what we’re used to.
Food Network and Travel Channel haven’t picked up on this yet, so here’s where I step in.
This one is in the same little strip mall where I work out. On several nights of the week, the parking lot is packed and I’ve seen people waiting outside for their table. I hate to judge a book by its cover…. Oh wait, I love judging a book by its cover. Anyway, I wouldn’t say that they were the most stylish and cosmopolitan people. Definitely, not the Brooklyn-type hipsters that work in and frequent the restaurants I usually go to.
Ok, that’s really not fair of me. I can’t really judge a place based on the people that go there, right? And the fact that it packs ‘em in, has got to mean the food is pretty good, eh? From here on out I promise that I’ll try to have an open mind and positive attitude.
Let’s see how long that lasts me.
I had just finished off a long day of yard work and I was downright parched. I checked out their beer list and, under the heading “Craft Beers” I saw Blue Moon and Shock Top. Exactly how am I going to keep a positive attitude when you list these as “Craft Beers?” Is that what passes for good beer in Australia? Thankfully the bartender informed me that they also have Bell’s Two Hearted. Positive attitude can resume.
Let’s see what the wine list has that I can pair with the steak…
This is one of my HUGE winesnob pet peeves. Not that it’s a crappy selection, which it is. But using the term “sweet” to describe a Pinot Noir is like fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m sure they mean “fruity” which is not the same as sweet. Big difference. I’m forgiving when a casual wine drinker incorrectly uses the term, but a corporation with wine “experts” on the payroll SHOULD NOT be using “sweet” like this.
Positive attitude dying. I stuck with the beer.
After I placed my order, there was that little lull where I could just sit there and take in the atmosphere. As I sipped my beer, I noticed that the speaker right above my head was playing Whitney Houston’s “How Will I know.”
Positive attitude gone.
The commercials for Outback always mention their “Blooming Onion,” a whole onion that, after being sliced a certain way, battered, and deep fried, resembles a flower in bloom. It’s their signature dish so I knew I had to try it, but the thing’s meant to be shared by 3-4 people. Luckily they have “Bloom Petals,” a version with just the smaller parts of the onion. In fancier restaurants it would be labeled “Deconstructed” –
UGHHH. Those masters of marketing got me. It’s really all the bits that fell off and into the bottom of the fryer. Those big chunks are actually just globs of dough. The one I put in my mouth wasn’t fully cooked and I almost puked.
And Belinda Carlisle is playing overhead. Positive attitude hopped in the car and ditched me.
Out comes the wedge salad.
This was actually pretty good. Not that you can mess up a chunk of iceberg lettuce with toppings.
Out comes the bone-in ribeye, one of their biggest, best steaks.
My first thought was that it looked a little on the thin side. Then again, it was $23 and I’ve spent more on one of these uncooked. Kudos to the cooks – it was perfectly cooked. But something wasn’t right about the flavor. It wasn’t old or spoiled, just odd. I began to wonder if what I thought were grill marks was actually where the jockey got it good with the whip.
But another thing happened. It started off nice and firm, but it got really tough as I got towards the middle of it. By the time I finished, it was downright leathery. I thought about sending it back, but the bartender said it was his “birthday meal” and I liked the guy. Besides, it’s not like the next one in the fridge was going to be any better.
The garlic mashed potatoes were pretty good, though. They really delivered on the garlic flavor. The bread wasn’t that good, but I do appreciate the lovely presentation that evoked a jailhouse shanking.
Yes bread, I feel you. I feel you.
I’m pretty sure this first time at Outback will be the last time at Outback. The salad and mashed potatoes were good, but the reason you go there is the steak. It’s not like you’d go to see The Pips and not care about Gladys Knight. Or, for you youngsters out there, it’s like going to see Bieber’s backup singers.
Even if the experience was magical, it would be a tough sell for me to return because I never really understood why people are so enamored with steakhouses in the first place. Some of the fancier ones can run you at least $75 a person without drinks or appetizers. And even then the steak isn’t any better than what I can do at home with a high-quality cut from the butcher.
Do you like steakhouses? What IS the plural of “anus”? Any suggestions on what other commoner food I should try?