Tag Archives: Restaurant Review

In-N-Out Redux: Next Time, Maybe Lead With That

Back in 2010 I tried In-N-Out, and did not like it. There was nothing setting the burger and fries apart from those served at other fast food restaurants, except that it somehow felt greasier.

I ordered the fries “animal style” because I was told to. As it happens, that’s an awesome suggestion for people who want a fried potato casserole, but it’s less awesome for people who like to eat french fries. Today I figured out that it’s almost certainly not what the In-N-Out apologists in my various feeds wanted me to try.

Today I asked for “animal style” on a burger. Specifically, I said “double double animal style,” and attempted to adopt a tone that suggested I was an old hand at this, rather than someone who had not ordered food here in six years.

What arrived was kind of amazing, with a flavor I hadn’t had before, and I can totally see myself getting that burger again. I don’t know what “mustard fried patty” actually means, but I can taste the scorched mustard under the other sauces, and their combination with the extra pickles and the grilled onions was quite nice. It stuck to the paper it was wrapped in, but rather than hold that against them I chalked it up to ordering cheese-infused food from a place that wraps its food in paper.

But I’m now led to ask this question: why isn’t In-N-Out leading with that sandwich? Despite being made of essentially the same stuff you’d find in any burger joint, the animal style sandwich sets itself apart from other fast food offerings by tasting different. It’s the sort of thing that foodies at fancy restaurants might call a signature dish. It’s a menu item that will bring people back to your specific restaurant, assuming they like the dish, and want to put it into themselves a second time.

It’s not quite good enough to send me code-diving on a voyage of exploration deep into the In-N-Out menu, but I can now see why folks might do that, and how this pursuit would lead them to acquire the taste necessary to zealously insist that In-N-Out is the best. I don’t agree, but the double-double animal style is a tasty sandwich I’ll be having again.

My Best Meal Ever

The title of this post is a stake in the ground, and I recognize that it calls out something that is by definition a moving target. If, at some future date, I enjoy a meal that displaces my Thursday, August 21st dinner at Wild Sage Bistro in Spokane Washington, I’ll write about that meal under the same title.

I ate with Lawrence Schoen, Valerie Green Schoen, Laura Ann Gilman, Barbara Ferrer, and Gail Carriger, so I was in the company of intelligent, articulate people, but more importantly I was in the company of people who know how to appreciate good food. We shared bits of our respective plates with one another, and this enhanced the experience significantly.

I can’t describe flavors the way Valerie, a trained chef, can. I end up using words like “amazing” and “powerful” and “oh my mouth is in love,” which might tell you how I’m feeling about the food, but won’t say anything about the food itself. I’ll try to be a bit more articulate.

I ordered the tenderloin fondue as a starter for sharing, the seared scallops (a chef’s special not found on the Wild Sage Bistro’s menu) as an entree, a side of asparagus for sharing, and an orange clementine pound cake for dessert. At the end of the meal Valerie told me I have a gift for ordering well, but I’m quite confident that I’m merely lucky, and that there were no wrong choices on the menu. Also, Val may have been high on pound cake.

You laugh? I had an endorphin rush from the first bite of tenderloin and pear, and the neurochemical joy kept flowing until we’d finished our dessert. It only abated when I sipped the very ordinary and poorly chosen Kaliber non-alcoholic beer, a beverage I usually enjoy, but which was every last kind of wrong for the meal. I would have been better served by ice water.

The gorgonzola fondue sauce had just the tiniest hint of the earthy, oh-dear-this-has-gone-bad flavor that I adore in bleu cheeses, just enough to remind me of what it was. Everything else going on in that little pot was fey magic of the sort you read about in Tolkien. We ran out of things to dip in that pot before we ran out of its contents, so I began looking for other vehicles by which to transfer the fondue into my maw. I finally settled on my finger. The pot was returned to our server very nearly clean enough to serve other patrons with.

The seared scallops were, as the name suggests, raw in the center. I eat raw scallops at my favorite sushi place all the time, so this was a selling point, and was why I’d ordered them. It was the least of that dish’s exemplary attributes. The sauce, the accompaniments, the thing that might have been garnish but I ate it anyway—I consumed them all, pausing only to share, reluctantly, with our party. Fortunately for me, Gail ordered the scallops as well, so we were able to grant others a taste without too deeply depleting our own plates.

I got one bite of Lawrence’s pork shank. I very nearly declared him the winner at ordering, but that would have been premature.

Valerie and I argued a bit about the pound cake before I ordered it. I thought it seemed like a light dessert, probably subtle, and good for sharing. She thought I must never have been exposed to a proper pound cake, because they’re not light at all. We were pretty full, so I ordered just one to share between me, Gail, and Valerie, and I promised that if they’d help a little, I’d take care of the rest, and I’d lie to myself about how I only had 1/3rd of the dessert.

I did not get 1/3rd of the dessert. I got about a quarter of it. I have never had a pound cake like that before, and neither had anyone else at our table. I don’t have words for it, but that was the point at which Valerie told me I had a gift for ordering well. Also, I decided that I had “won” at dinner, pork shanks notwithstanding.

My Best Meal Ever was a title held previously by a dinner with Sal, Caryn, and Sandra at La Vecchia in Reno. I did not expect that meal to be displaced, because it, too, was accompanied by flavor-induced endorphins. They were spottier, however, and wore off by dessert, which was merely extraordinary.

Once, a long, long time ago, the title was held by a meal of crab legs and key lime pie at a Joe’s Crab Shack franchise. I remember that meal fondly, but I don’t expect to ever return to Joe’s in an effort to repeat that experience. The bar has been raised quite a bit.

Life is too short to always eat the same things. I’ve had some amazing steaks, but I no longer order the steak if there are weird options on the menu. I’m glad I have friends who will invite me out to places where so many of the options are weird.