Dear BA Foodist,
I like to order a restaurant's daily specials with the obvious assumption that the ingredients in those dishes are the freshest. But it occurs to me that the kitchen may just be trying to move old product. Which is true?
Alison Bates, Rancho Palos Verdes, California
At some restaurants, daily specials may be a way of moving ingredients that have seen better days, but most reputable places run specials for a number of more creative reasons. Specials often showcase hyper-seasonal ingredients--soft-shell crabs, heirloom tomatoes, or squash blossoms, for instance--that chefs have in limited supply. The ingredients are here today, gone tomorrow, and hence can't be put on the more permanent menu. Also, specials are often dishes that chefs are testing out, or that feature ingredients with limited appeal (e.g., sweetbreads, oxtail).
Having said this, a restaurant is a business, and it needs to move product. If a place stocks up on a particular fish for the weekend and, after Saturday night, realizes it has lots left over that won't last until Monday, it might run a bouillabaisse special on Sunday night. There's nothing wrong with this, as long as the fish is still fresh. The same thing goes for, say, the ground beef in a meatloaf. And remember: Specials often are not written down, and tend to cost more than regular items, so ask about the prices up front.
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