Paul Fehribach, chef/co-owner, Big Jones
I usually read the menu online ahead of time. You can tell a lot from the menu about how the kitchen cooks, and if it’s a chef-driven restaurant, you can tell a lot about how that chef cooks. If they claim it’s all locally grown or has organic this or that, but it’s November and they have strawberries on the menu, I’d avoid that restaurant altogether. When the menu is chef driven and a lot of the ingredients appear to be seasonal, then you want to see if the chef is one who can push the envelope and nail it. You want to see if the menu feels cohesive and subtle in a way that makes sense; nothing appears to be for shock value.
Then again, if you’re in some pubby neighborhood restaurant that doesn’t really use fresh food — and we all wind up in those places from time to time — go for something simple and popular. What you want to avoid are those chain restaurants that have spaghetti Bolognese and chimichangas and Asian chicken salad. You know they’re not cooking any of that food from scratch in the kitchen. – As told to John Kessler