Via email from a reader, who I shall call "R":
While I was in San Francisco I dined at Bouchon and Chez Panisse. I had high expectations of both. Unfortunately I was unable to really enjoy my experiences because I ate too much! How do you prepare yourself for this kind of eating and traveling? How do you pace yourself? Also, I made the mistake of ordering a special of the day that looked good, tasted good for one bite, and became an entire food that I will now avoid because of the experience – it was just too rich, too flavorful, too much! And this was at Bouchon where the servings are not typical American-style biggie sizes.
Any thoughts? What are your experiences?
I've definitely had that same problem, most memorably in Las Vegas. My husband and I ate lunch at Mesa Grill, and while it was delicious, it was quite filling. That evening we had reservations at Bouchon and ended up disappointed with our dinner, in large part because we were too stuffed to really enjoy eating it.
In general, I try to avoid eating much during the day if I know I'll be going out to a big dinner someplace special, especially if it's the kind of place where I'll likely order the tasting menu and be eating for four hours. Also, I try to be cognizant of how rich of a dish I'm ordering. In Austria, because most of the main courses were meaty and heavy with cream, I opted for salad starters every evening. That way I wouldn't be full before the main arrived.
Another trick is exercise. I run or go to the gym nearly every day, and I find that gives me a larger appetite — and an increased gastronomic capacity — than when I don't work out. If I can't fit in a jog (because of travel or something), I usually try to do a lot of walking around before a big meal, so I'm good and hungry before going in.
I also try to pay close attention to how full I'm getting, so that if I'm starting to fill up soon (say, on an appetizer, or early into a tasting menu), I back off a bit. I don't finish every course, especially if I'm not that crazy about it.
Most importantly, I don't try to become a member of the clean plate club anymore. It took me years to break the habit from childhood of eating all the food I'd been served. But I realized that in a restaurant, I hadn't had any input into the quantity of food I'd been given, and therefore was not obligated to finish it. Being too full is the easiest way to ruin a good dinner, and though I'm not always successful, I work to avoid it.
Does anyone else have thoughts about this and suggestions for R?