March 9, 2014 – This piece originally appeared as 10 SIMPLE RULES FOR DINING WITH MY DAD in the March 7, 2003 Rocky Mountain News. I wrote it with the help of my son Hans. He is now a sophomore in college and he has developed a fine palate. He still brags about what I made him taste.
By John and Hans Lehndorff
When grown-ups find out that my Dad reviews restaurants for the Rocky Mountain News, they always say: `That must be the greatest job in the world!’
He does have an interesting job, but I think it would be cooler if my Dad played for the Broncos. He makes me and Mom go out to eat with him. If he invites you out on a review dinner, you have to follow the rules because it’s not like normal eating at all.
You have to taste everything even if it’s something you think is disgusting like jellyfish, pig’s ears and weird green vegetables. My Dad says he would never feed you something that wasn’t edible. You can’t be real picky otherwise he won’t invite you again.
When I was 5 he would just put a spoonful of food in my mouth. He would say: `Guess what it is?’ It always turned out to be something really weird like liver.
Now I ask what it is before I eat it. No matter what it is, I have to take at least one bite. My Dad says it’s school for my taste buds but I think they are only getting a C-.
During dinner, you have to pretend you are not doing what you are doing, which is reviewing a restaurant, especially when the waiters are around.
Never call my Dad `John’ or `Mr. Lehndorff.’ You have to use his secret dining name. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.)
Sometimes he will have you make the reservation in your name. Sometimes he makes me ask the waiter questions he wants answered, like, `Is that achiote or saffron adding a coral hue to the beurre blanc?’
No matter what you want, you can almost never order it. Even worse, you have to pretend you want to order whole steamed sea bass with lemongrass even when you really, really want to order sesame chicken.
On the other hand, you get to order grown-up stuff that tastes good, like calamari. Did you know that calamari is squid? I decided I like sushi with little orange flying fish eggs and raw quail egg yolk on it.
The nice thing is that kids don’t have to order from the kids menu. I like to order ribeye steaks and filet mignon. They taste really good.
You might get to order a steak, but you NEVER get to eat much of it. You have to let my Dad and everyone else at the table taste it.
Sometimes by the time you get your plate back there’s only one bite left and you can’t get mad if people stick their fork in your food.
My Dad says: `Remember why we’re here. This is my job.’ Sometimes people laugh when he says that.
You have to be patient. Sometimes it takes an hour to get there.
Dinner will take a really, really, REALLY long time. Make sure you come hungry. Everybody has to order an appetizer, then a main dish and then dessert. So if there are four people at the table and they all taste everything, how many things does each person taste? (They should put that question on a math test.)
Some restaurants bring you chocolates after dessert. My Dad says they do that so you won’t cry when you see the bill.
You always have to eat at some new restaurant you’ve never heard of with food from places that are far away.
One week you are eating Ethiopian food and the next week it’s Japanese. Even if you like the food at one place you never get to eat there again because Dad has to go to new places every week. He eats at each restaurant twice even if the food is horrible.
Nothing you say during dinner is `off the record.’
That means if you say, `These frogs legs are really gross and disgusting,’ he might write it down and put it in his review. Just like in school, we have to give the restaurant a grade after we eat there.
My Mom always checks out the bathroom and if there’s no hot water or it’s really grungy she gives it a D.
Always bring a backpack or, if you are a mom, a large purse, so that you can steal a menu for my Dad.
Oops, my Dad says it’s not `stealing,’ just `borrowing.’ He says he needs the menu so he knows what he ate.
You have to order dessert, even if you are full.
The only thing is, two people can’t order the same dessert even if there’s only one dessert you like. You might end up with something strange with fruit in it.
After dinner my Dad holds everybody hostage. You have to sit in our car and talk to my Dad about what you ate while he takes notes.
I think he calls it `disgorging.’ My Dad gets mad if you use bad words like `delicious,’ `tasty,’ `different,’ `yummy’ and `yucky.’ If you use words like `nuance’ and `infuse’ you’ll get to go home faster.
If you are a kid I recommend bringing your Game Boy Advanced with you…and better bring two games to play.
It will be a long night.