By SUSAN ERICSON
While waiting for friends at Temple Gourmet Chinese in Red Bank recently, PieHole perused the menu and listened to our waitress describe the specials. But what, we wondered, had those people ordered?
A nearby table held a gleaming platter of golden fried rice lavished with sweet pineapple, golden raisins and cashew nuts.
It turns out to be a dish the kitchen will whip up for anyone who orders it. The secret? You just have to know it exists.
Checking in with a few local chefs, PieHole learned that indeed, most restaurants will prepare off-menu dishes for their customers.
“Having been at the restaurant for three years now, I have a very large repertoire of specials and dishes we’ve run. I’m always asked to pull an ‘oldie’ off of the books,” says Phil Deffina, executive chef at David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson. “Or even still, someone may ask me to just spontaneously create a dish, and I’m more than obliged to do so. For instance, I had a guest tonight that wanted my signature tartare. We made a 65 [day-old] dry-aged beef-and-buffalo tartare with shaved white truffles for him.”
Anthony Ferrando, owner and executive chef at Dish in Red Bank, said that the Carbonara Lemon Vinegar Chicken, once a nightly special, is often requested, although it doesn’t show up on the menu.
The off-menu menu is just one way that restaurants cater to their regular customers; it is part of what keeps them coming back again and again, chefs say. A certain publisher (ahem) mentioned that he frequents a restaurant in Red Bank [Front Street Trattoria] and pretty much orders the same item [Mexican calzone] every time, but he hasn’t actually seen that dish offered on the menu in a while [years].
“All restaurants have off-menu items available for their customers,” says Kelly Ryan, owner of the seasonal Red Bank fishery Boondocks. Referring to the Dover sole favored by an elderly customer, she says, “I always order it for him, and he knows to ask for it, but it doesn’t wind up on our menu.”
The “secret” fried rice dish from Temple Gourmet was a refreshing change from the same old, same old. We will be ordering it again. And that sriracha laced chicken cutlet dish shown above? If it’s not on the menu next time we visit, we’ll request it just the same. It had just the right amount of mouth-buzzing spiciness.