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Desperately seeking perfect meal out

wong-jessica-52.jpg
by Jessica Wong, CBCNews.ca

A Toronto-based food writer and restaurant critic I know once admitted to feeling dread whenever someone asked him to recommend a restaurant — something I thought odd at the time, since he seemed to be an ideal person to question about eating out.

He gave several reasons: that kitchens never function exactly the same every night, that ingredients are inevitably changing and that so many atmospheric factors — including a diner's own mood or mindset — can affect the meal consumed. He also felt terribly guilty if later told his recommended venue failed to impress.

In the past few years, I've come around to his way of thinking.

Personally, with so much information available nowadays, I find it hard enough to decide where to treat myself to a dinner out, let alone to advise friends and family.

Aside from forever clipping newspaper reviews and magazine articles for my "restos to try" folder, I spend hours upon hours on the Toronto boards of sites like Chowhound.com and Yelp.ca, where readers exchange everything from rave reviews to horror stories about all manner of restaurants around town.

Despite my neurosis about picking a perfect restaurant as often as possible, one of my favourite meals out of late was pure serendipity. Ravenous from walking around all day, my partner and I stopped at a cheesy-looking New York diner and ended up wolfing down simple cheeseburgers (albeit thick patties cooked perfectly medium) and hot french fries, washed down with icy colas, followed by a shared slab of fresh coconut cake.

My research into the venue? We glimpsed the menu posted outside and peeked in the window a) to check out how many people were eating there and b) for a not-too-close look at how clean it was.

What's your strategy for picking where to eat out? Do you stick with the tried-and-true, venture out by word of mouth or are you always up for something new?

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Bill Lee

Whitby

How many women are eating there.
Women eat for flavour, men drink.

Posted October 30, 2008 04:27 PM

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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

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Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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