There I was, in the middle of a Friday night in the 50 seat Italian Bistro in which we had been on a wait since 6:00. Now it was quarter to nine and sweat was pouring down my face as another cook and I pumped out dinner after dinner. As I finished plating up a six top I heard the computer spitting out an order, which I grabbed and put it in the line of orders still hanging. I looked at the order and my blood began to boil, it read:
No pasta sub zucchini
Sauce on the side
Defeated I uttered a word which rhymed with the word duck. It wasn’t that I had to run into the walk-in find a zucchini, slice, season and grill it. No, we get special orders all the time, and while it taxes any cook I’ve come to expect it in our restaurant. What really got me was sauce on the side. Don’t they know that I make the sauce with the chicken filet, and the chicken and the sauce won’t be as good if I make them separately? Grudgingly I made the dish and finished out the night.
Driving home that night I couldn’t seem to get those four words, sauce on the side, out of my head. I wonder when this phenomenon began. It seems like America is in love with sauce on the side. No doubt most nationwide chains and franchises have already figured this out and just put the sauce on the side as a rule rather than the exception. What are we, a bunch of kindergarteners that can’t handle our food touching, are we not sophisticated enough to eat dishes the way they are intended? Maybe for women it’s the “When Harry Met Sally Effect” wanting to immulate Meg Ryan in that memorable diner scene with Billy Crystal. Or for men it could be “The Five Easy Pieces Effect” men doing their best Jack Nicholson. Either way people seem to want to call the shots. After meditating on this I think I know where this atrocity “sauce on the side” came from- the dinner salad. Yes, the dinner salad let me try to explain.
You see one of my biggest pet peeves is that dinner salads are just plain horrible in most instances. The dinner salad is always an after thought in restaurants. First they are usually made by the wait staff and not the kitchen staff and thrown together. The wait staff is there for tips not hourly wage and so time spent making and putting together salads is wasted time to them, so invariable they are put together hastily and with little care. With little knife skills the customer ends up with watermelon rind size cucumbers, onion ring size onions, a quarter of a tomato, and boxed croutons. The hunks of lettuce used is usually washed but not dried, so when they are thrown in a fridge they wilt faster and accumulate a green liquid on the bottom of the bowl. And then the final straw, the dressing is not tossed with the salad but rather slopped on top so the top layer is saturated and the bottom layer is dry.
To combat this problem brilliant restaurant minds came up with a solution- dressing on the side. Now the customer can dunk its vegetable into a ramekin of dressing turning the salad into nothing more than a bowled cruditite. Salads are not meant to eaten this way, they are supposed to a true community, everything working together to support the whole.
Maybe I’m just behind the times because you wouldn’t see “sauce on the side” written into menu if it wasn’t a popular trend and what the public wanted. I however would like a little mystic, creativity, and personal touch when I dine. I like to look at each plate as its own entity and not ingredients on a plate. Dining should be like a symphony, tastes melding together as each coarse comes adding from the last. If this trend keeps up we will be serving chicken salad with a pile cooked chicken, a pile of celery, a pile of walnuts, a little bowl of mayonnaise and a salt and pepper shaker. I am hopeful though, if restaurants can take back the dinner salad and treat it with the respect it deserves maybe the public can see the beauty of composed food and we rid the world of “sauce on the side” forever.