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September 14, 2009

The recited specials list



In a comment yesterday under his Ocean City restaurant reviews guest post, Hal Laurent brought up a subject that I thought we had talked about before, but I couldn't find an entry on it:

At three of the restaurants reviewed above, long lists of specials were recited to us. I don't know about the rest of you, but my brain isn't capable of handling that much information, especially when delivered verbally rather than in writing. I wish more restaurants would have the specials on a piece of paper instead of it being a test of my (and the waiter's) memory.

This is a particular pet peeve of mine, ever since many years ago when I ate at a Little Italy restaurant and every special on the recited list -- recited without prices, of course -- was  $10 more than the entrees on the menu. And that was when $10 meant something at a restaurant. ...

But lately I haven't noticed it as much at the restaurants I've been going to around here, and I have a theory why. The long, recited specials list may be a casualty of the local and seasonal trend, which new restaurants are emphasizing. To stay true to it, you have to have a menu that changes monthly if not weekly. At most the server will mention one or two specials, and my brain can handle that.

I always ask what the prices are. I agree with another commenter who suggested they can be a way to get customers to order something that costs more than the regular menu items. Some folks feel uncomfortable asking.

Of course, these days no one could you fault you for being economy-minded.

I'm trying to think of any Baltimore restaurants I've been to recently that have a long list of specials, either recited or written, and I can't. Then there are places that write the specials or even the whole menu on a blackboard. That can be irritating if you aren't seated where you can read it easily unless they follow it up with a paper copy.

(Karl Merton Ferron/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:10 AM | | Comments (13)


My ideal restaurant has a menu, with prices, that is printed up each day, because everything is fresh, local and "special."

One restaurant that seems to be doing well is Cinghiale. I for one appreciate emails twice a week telling me about Tuesday specials and the menu for their Sunday "supper" at a fixed price.

At The Dizz in Remington, a sheet listing a slew of daily specials -- and their prices -- is inserted in the regular menu. At lunch, for example, there may be two or three intriguing burger combinations and a sandwich special like the one I tried last week -- a chunky chicken salad melt on twelve-grain bread. A very tasty switch on the traditional tuna melt. The choices are equally original for dinner. Almost everyone, in fact, seems to order from the day's menu.

The first review of One Eye'd Mikes I ever read said basically, ignore the menu, its the specials that are the star of the day. So far, that's been great advice. I wonder which other restaurants that could work for?

When a server starts to ramble off specials I go into Selective Hearing Mode. No matter how hard I try, I come away with bits and pieces of each dish stuck in my head trying to figure out which ingredient goes where. This is not a particularly useful way to convey specials IMHO.

Just to make my position clear, I have nothing against specials. I approve of them. I just want them written down so I don't have to memorize them (or more usually, fail to memorize them).

Is that Sea Horse Tempura? I thought they were an endagered speicies.

earlier this summer, I was at Joss sushi in Annapolis that had a huge list of specials. so long, that about 5 specials in, the waitress stopped and asked us if we were interested in any particular fish.

Of course, we got thrown off by the reciting that we ordered 2 things that we thought were handrolls, but turned out to be full blown sushi rolls. we obviously over-ordered....

if your special list is too long that the waitress doesn't want to list all of them... they should write it down.

The joss in baltimore didn't do that though.

The Catonsville Gormet generally has a fairly extensive list of specials (appetizers and entrees; usually about 5 or 6 each), which they include on a printed insert. This is very helpful, and is usually what I order from.

Comment of the Week, Brother Bim.

Let me guess that restaurant in Little Italy
that ripped you off was Da Mimmos

Second nomination for Brother Bim. Is it nepotism month?

BG, in some quarters it's always nepotism month. Just like when I told my younger son about International Talk like a Pirate Day, he replied "It's always Talk like a Pirate Day."

I love that. :-) EL

hey all! I work for a chinese chain and we have NO specials, ever! come to the bar and I will reveal what IS special on our menu, like the oolong tea marinated sea bass over fresh spinach. I am not a fan of rip off techniques like verbal specials with no prices, we have no drink specials either. we do however have a high percentage of satisfied customers. customers need a sense of value, especially nowadays and restaurants need to acknowlege that to survive.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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