Hi.  Yes, I’m ready to order.  I’d like your double-cut pork chop with apple sauce, but instead of the braised cabbage, I’d like steamed broccoli.  And, rather than the shredded potatoes, may I have a house salad with ranch dressing on the side?  Great.  Oh, and the pork chop.  Please make that well done.  Wine?  Sure.  A glass of your house cabernet.  Thanks.

So.  What’s wrong with this order?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything.  Americans have become so picky and I-want-it-how-I-want-it that this type of ordering in our restaurants is almost normal.  The bad thing is that ordering like this, making substitutions, altering cooking suggestions and changing ingredients takes the artistry out of the dish and destroys the complimentary blending of flavors for which the food artist has strived.  We readily and happily change menu items in a restaurant.  But ask yourself this; would you go into an art gallery and ask for that Picasso, but request the eyes to be the same size and a little closer together?  Oh, and would you ask for that woman in the painting to be smiling and for her to be changed to brown?  No.  Art is art.  Oils.  Watercolors.  Sculpture.  Photography.  Food.  It’s all art.

Try it. You may just like it.

First of all, pork chops, like their red meat counterparts, are best prepared to tender medium rare to medium.  A well done pork chop has no moisture and more closely resembles a roll of paper towels than a scrumptious main dish.  You don’t think you like cabbage?  Think again.  Braising red cabbage properly preserves the natural sweetness in the vegetable.  And ask any of your Irish friends, adding luscious braised cabbage to apple sauce is heavenly.  Besides, steamed broccoli with apple sauce would taste horrible.  Now, for the salad choice.  I get the health implications of vegetables over starches.  Really, I do.  But if you live in a world of moderation, there is nothing wrong with potatoes, especially when they are shredded with just the right amount of butter, salt and pepper.  Adding them to the chop and accompanying cabbage and apple sauce adds needed depth.  Salad may sound healthier, but adding ranch dressing?  You may as well eat a whole stick of butter and wash that down with a glass of heavy cream.

As for your wine choice, drink what you like.  But, know this, the wait staff would easily, and accurately, suggest a pinot noir to pair with the pork, or a buttery chardonnay to perfectly accompany the vegetables.  Your choice of a house cabernet will overwhelm the dish, adding big bold flavors to even bigger and bolder flavors.  Go subtle.  Compliment.  There are pairing suggestions for a reason.

What’s the moral of this story?  You probably had that meal and were underwhelmed.  Next time, order off the menu.  Countless hours have been spent designing these dishes in order to make them pair properly and bring out the best flavors in all the ingredients.  Scared?  Then try this.  Go to your restaurant with an extra $20 or so.  Order two meals, one with all your changes and the other as the chef designed.  Try both.  Be objective.  I think you’ll be surprised.  Just ask for a doggie bag so you can have the leftovers from your altered meal the next day for lunch as you won’t be eating that one tonight.