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#1 Laksa

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 08:33 PM

We just got back from a good restaurant which is well-liked here. I won't mention its name, it's not the point.

Things started out really well with great appetizers and bread, very enjoyable. Then the entrees appeared and at first taste were just great. But before too long we realized that all the flavor was completely the product of the mouth-burning levels of salt. I mean this wasn't just over-salted in the usual sense, it was at another level altogether.

My question is what do you do? True, we never communicated to the kitchen we would have liked them to go easy on the sodium, but how were we to know they would ladle it on like they did? Anyone whose taste buds weren't numbed by alcohol would have had the same reaction we did.

Anyway, parting with about a hundred bucks for the privilege of having your salt intake spike to the sky is problematic, to say the least. But thinking it over I just can't come up with another solution than sucking it up. You bring it to the waiter's attention and run the risk of having whatever else is pleasurable about the meal usurped by a fuss.

I guess you just never go back.

#2 nervousxtian

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 08:52 PM

Everyone reacts differently to salt. I can take quite a bit with no issue, my wife reacts to it at much lesser amounts.

Where were you, and we can tell you if it's normal.

#3 JoeDixon

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 10:17 PM

Send your food back. No serious restaurant will begrudge you if, after a bite or two, you let 'em know it's just too salty for you (this becomes a different issue entirely if you've eaten more than half of your dish). The chef may taste it in back and disagree, and there my be some mild shit-talking amongst the staff, but really, no one cares. Send it back. 99% or professional places aim to please and understand that mistakes are made/not everyone's palate is the same/etc. If a waiter actually makes a fuss, then you really shouldn't return. Otherwise, give the place a chance to right their wrong.

#4 Jill-O

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Posted 09 October 2010 - 08:03 AM

If you can't eat your food the way it is prepared, you say something and send it back. Over salted, over cooked, ingredients not mentioned on the menu you can't eat, etc. - doesn't matter. Especially at that price point...
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#5 Kristi

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Posted 09 October 2010 - 08:22 AM

We had a similar experience recently. Even my husband, who loves his food pretty salty, remarked that the kitchen had used quite a bit of salt. Granted, I probably should have sent my meal back, but for various reasons, I did not. I'm willing to give the restaurant another try and if the salt issue happens again, I will definitely send my meal back.

#6 ExtraMSG

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Posted 09 October 2010 - 09:29 AM

If you know you're salt-sensitive, you should warn the kitchen when you order. If you're not and generally aren't likely to react to salt anymore than any of your dining companions and it tastes really salty, send it back.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

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Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#7 Quo Vadis

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Posted 09 October 2010 - 09:31 AM

A lot of it depends on context, of course. Hard to say not knowing where you went.

Saltiness is completely subjective. There is no such thing as objectively too salty as body chemistry has a lot to do with how a person perceives salt in food.

All things being equal in a normal dining experience it wouldn't be fair to criticise a place after the server has asked you if your food is ok and you don't complain at that time. Best to send the food back. Exceptions being when there is a reasonable expecation that the food would be too salty/spicy whatever from the menu description or server warning and you ordered it anyway.

For example I have a dish on my menu that has in the description SPICY!. Bold font, all caps, exclamation point. If someone who isn't drinking tries to order it the server warns them that it is very salty, very spicy and very acidic and that most people drinking water don't enjoy it. If they order it anyway I see no reason to take it off the check. Those extreme cases aside it is usually safe to say the establishment wants you to enjoy your food.. you just need to give them a chance to correct things.

My advice to people who often find food too salty for them is to mention it before ordering- that you prefer your food lightly salted- some places will accomodate you, some won't.
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume

#8 polloelastico

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Posted 09 October 2010 - 12:04 PM

True. Sometimes saltiness is a feature, not a bug.

As someone who often over-salts my own food often to a fault, this is one sin I can empathize with. But the sin of omission often is brought up when I read critical reviews, and nobody wants to be accused of serving bland, tepid food so I guess I can see why salting can get heavy handed. Especially when a finishing of fine crystal salt can transform a roasted vegetable into a thing otherworldly. That said, if the saltiness exceeds the boundaries of reasonable expectations, Joe's advice seems right to me.
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#9 gturillo

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Posted 09 October 2010 - 12:51 PM

I would never accept a meal, no matter what the price point was, that was undercooked, overcooked, tasteless, or over salted. When you go to a restaurant to dine you are paying for a service and a product. If either don't meet your standards you should politely let your server, and possibly the manager, know what your issue is. Act immediately - as in, speak up after the first couple of bites, don't wait till your meal is 1/2 gone. Be polite yet assertive - don't complain unless you have a solution in mind: re-do the dish, order another dish, take the dish off the check, etc. Be patient. And... smile.

In June I had an experience at a restaurant on NE Freemont w/ 2 friends. Service was outstanding. Drinks were brought promptly and were well made. The chef sent an amuse bouche to the table, the appetizers ordered were excellent. However, 2 out of the 3 meals were absolutely unacceptable. The table ordered 1 meat dish and 2 fish dishes. The fish dishes were real head-shakers. I immediately called the server over and pointed several things out. I did it quietly, I was pleasant, I was "professional". I told the waitress that I wanted those 2 entrees removed from the check and that when my friend finished his meal we'd all order desert & coffee - no worries - the person handling the fish was obviously having an off night. The executive chef came to the table & apologized. The entire check was comped. I didn't expect that at all. Because of the excellent customer service we tipped the waitress 20% of the bill's original total and we would all give that restaurant a second chance.

I never felt that I made a fuss. The evening was pleasurable. Had we choked down those 2 fish dishes and paid for them, well, that would have made the evening unpleasant.

#10 Laksa

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 07:17 PM

Much to think over, thanks everyone.

As I run my mind over what happened, I realize that there was more to the meal. The waitress was trying hard to be ingratiating, which had already reached the point of being grating by the time the main dishes arrived. She actually did ask how the food was after we'd realized how much salt there was but, Volvo-driving conflict-averse Hawthorne liberals that we are, we wussed and said it was wonderful.

But I'm not sure that wasn't the best thing to do anyway. When we go to, say, Nostrana, the dishes are sometimes more salted than we'd like but mostly they are just fine. And It seems to me that if the restaurant is trying to accommodate all palates the way to do it is not to salt everything heavily and let the customer complain but rather salt lightly and have a shaker on the table for the lushes and the salt-cravers. I agree completely that salt tolerance or craving is a question of body chemistry, but, again, you can always add more. This would have the benefit of awarding control over the salt content to the person who is actually putting the food into his or her body. True, whether salt is added during or after cooking makes a difference but a modest amount during complemented by diner discretion after seems to cover all bases.

And the food was seriously oversalted. It may have had something to do with the restaurant being a bar but, as much as I enjoyed the appetizers I doubt I'll be back any time soon. Probably for every customer like me there are ten who think the food's just great.

#11 nervousxtian

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 07:30 PM

Why the avoidance of naming the restaurant? We could tell you if this is a normal experience or not.

Also, salt added after it's plated is not the same as added during cooking.

#12 ExtraMSG

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 08:44 PM

Problem is, Laksa, that salt in integral to the perception of flavor. Most people don't add salt to an item if it's unsalted. They may not even know why it tastes flat. So instead of adding salt and adjusting it, they just think the food at the place is tasteless, bland, flat, lifeless, or whatever. Also, in most cases the best way to make something's flavors pop without making it taste "salty" is to salt the parts as you go. eg, if you salt beans at the end of cooking or after cooked, it really doesn't work. You have to add salt once the skins soften so that it can permeate the bean. With a soup or a piece of meat, that may not matter as much, but with many dishes it matters a lot.

I think you really have to give some allowance -- allow for some variability in saltiness -- to a restaurant unless they clearly over-salt. At least with expectations of whether you deserve a comp or should send it back. Obviously if a place doesn't season its food how you prefer and they can't make allowances for that when you order, then it's not a place for you.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#13 Quo Vadis

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Posted 11 October 2010 - 08:47 AM

And It seems to me that if the restaurant is trying to accommodate all palates the way to do it is not to salt everything heavily and let the customer complain

What makes you assume that they are trying to accomodate all palates?
Did they say that?
Do they have seperate menus for all dietary restrictions and allergies? A dish from every global ethnicity? Very rarely does an establishment try to accomodate all palates.

but rather salt lightly and have a shaker on the table for the lushes and the salt-cravers. I agree completely that salt tolerance or craving is a question of body chemistry, but, again, you can always add more. This would have the benefit of awarding control over the salt content to the person who is actually putting the food into his or her body. True, whether salt is added during or after cooking makes a difference but a modest amount during complemented by diner discretion after seems to cover all bases.


But this is where you need to understand that your preferences aren't universal. Take what you propose be done with salt and apply it to things that other people take issue with- fish sauce is a big one. Or chilis or garlic. You've already said the place was actually a bar- there's your first hint.

The reality is as I see it many salt sensitive people are noticing that most restaurants now salt more heavily than is to their taste (this from reading food blogs, industry reports and such). So if the mahority of places are doing it you can probably safely say that the majority of customers want it. Add on to it the bar factor. By and large when people are drinking they want their food slightly more salty to much more salty depending on the cuisine, the social context and so forth. So lets say 85% of your clientelle drinks. Are you going to change the way you do things overall for the 15% that by nature of drinking free water are spending less? That's not a very workable business plan.

The best thing to do in your case since you've already stated that you want less salt here is to start saying it when dining out. Most places will be happy to underseason your food and give you salt on the side. Any dish they can't do that with you can safely assume that the saltiness is essential and therefore the dish probably isn't for you.
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume

#14 Laksa

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Posted 11 October 2010 - 09:19 PM

Reading the above comments, which are very though-provoking, I have to consider the possibility that many restaurant goers' palates are vitiated by salt. Not just lushes'. It explains a lot. It even validates restaurateurs' defense of the use of salt--customers demand it and there's no way around that. But after the Morton's container has returned to base from its carpet-bombing run can we please agree not to call the result good food? Because I'm just not buying into the idea that objecting to excessive salt automatically makes somebody 'salt-sensitive'. In fact the term 'salt-sensitive' itself dismisses said people as the source of the problem. Maybe they just have relatively undamaged palates and are sensitive to other flavors too? Maybe these other flavors are getting drowned out by all the neurochemical frenzy of the sodium chloride? Maybe too the harsh reality is that certain restaurants and restaurant/bars are just never going to work for people with relatively intact taste buds.

#15 Quo Vadis

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Posted 12 October 2010 - 08:11 AM

Reading the above comments, which are very though-provoking, I have to consider the possibility that many restaurant goers' palates are vitiated by salt. Not just lushes'. It explains a lot. It even validates restaurateurs' defense of the use of salt--customers demand it and there's no way around that. But after the Morton's container has returned to base from its carpet-bombing run can we please agree not to call the result good food? Because I'm just not buying into the idea that objecting to excessive salt automatically makes somebody 'salt-sensitive'. In fact the term 'salt-sensitive' itself dismisses said people as the source of the problem. Maybe they just have relatively undamaged palates and are sensitive to other flavors too? Maybe these other flavors are getting drowned out by all the neurochemical frenzy of the sodium chloride? Maybe too the harsh reality is that certain restaurants and restaurant/bars are just never going to work for people with relatively intact taste buds.



Actually that comes off as very defensive, what with your need to attack people who are comfortable with a salt level you yourself don't/can't enjoy by claiming their palates are "damaged". While that can be the case with some others simply have the genetics, cultural upbringing or body chemistry.

What does it matter what it is called? If you are in the minority than yes, one would tend to call you more sensitive than others. If you want to call the majority "damaged" you can do that... but what difference does that really make other than to betray misdirected anger on your part?

In fact, while claiming salt lovers are damaged people you may want to make note that there are multiple studies showing that many people who enjoy heavy salt seasoning are supertasters- the exact opposite of what you are claiming. Here's one article, I'll let you google the rest:
http://news.health.c...t-supertasters/
(I posted another one on here a few months ago)
Point being- if your food is otherwise well prepared and delicious your food is most likely being made not by a lifestyle-addled cook but by a supertaster who due to their palate being more-not less sensitive than yours salts heavily to remove unpleasant flavours they perceive that you cannot.

Yes, some places will never be for you because of this perhaps.

But since you've done so well expressing yuor feelings on the matter here surely it won't be too much trouble to tell a server at the beginning of the meal that you'd prefer less salt in your meal?

I really am not trying to put you on the defensive here, but you are making claims that the science of taste perception doesn't back.

I've been hearing a lot lately about how alienated people get when their tastes are in the minority, I think it's come up lately a couple times in restaurant posts- how defensive people get about what they like/don't like.

Perhaps this falls into that.
It is an interesting topic.
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume

#16 jmatt

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Posted 12 October 2010 - 09:14 AM


Reading the above comments, which are very though-provoking, I have to consider the possibility that many restaurant goers' palates are vitiated by salt. Not just lushes'. It explains a lot. It even validates restaurateurs' defense of the use of salt--customers demand it and there's no way around that. But after the Morton's container has returned to base from its carpet-bombing run can we please agree not to call the result good food? Because I'm just not buying into the idea that objecting to excessive salt automatically makes somebody 'salt-sensitive'. In fact the term 'salt-sensitive' itself dismisses said people as the source of the problem. Maybe they just have relatively undamaged palates and are sensitive to other flavors too? Maybe these other flavors are getting drowned out by all the neurochemical frenzy of the sodium chloride? Maybe too the harsh reality is that certain restaurants and restaurant/bars are just never going to work for people with relatively intact taste buds.



Actually that comes off as very defensive, what with your need to attack people who are comfortable with a salt level you yourself don't/can't enjoy by claiming their palates are "damaged". While that can be the case with some others simply have the genetics, cultural upbringing or body chemistry.

What does it matter what it is called? If you are in the minority than yes, one would tend to call you more sensitive than others. If you want to call the majority "damaged" you can do that... but what difference does that really make other than to betray misdirected anger on your part?

In fact, while claiming salt lovers are damaged people you may want to make note that there are multiple studies showing that many people who enjoy heavy salt seasoning are supertasters- the exact opposite of what you are claiming. Here's one article, I'll let you google the rest:
http://news.health.c...t-supertasters/
(I posted another one on here a few months ago)
Point being- if your food is otherwise well prepared and delicious your food is most likely being made not by a lifestyle-addled cook but by a supertaster who due to their palate being more-not less sensitive than yours salts heavily to remove unpleasant flavours they perceive that you cannot.

Yes, some places will never be for you because of this perhaps.

But since you've done so well expressing yuor feelings on the matter here surely it won't be too much trouble to tell a server at the beginning of the meal that you'd prefer less salt in your meal?

I really am not trying to put you on the defensive here, but you are making claims that the science of taste perception doesn't back.

I've been hearing a lot lately about how alienated people get when their tastes are in the minority, I think it's come up lately a couple times in restaurant posts- how defensive people get about what they like/don't like.

Perhaps this falls into that.
It is an interesting topic.


Overheard coming out of a kitchen somewhere in Portland last night:

"Listen to me. Those white lines you saw in the walk-in were NOT coke! It was salt. You see, I'm a supertaster and I was just keeping all my sense organs well seasoned."

#17 Twohearted

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Posted 13 October 2010 - 06:11 PM

Let's say this conversation were about a steak being over-cooked. I think we'd find both an objective and subject element. Some steaks should be cooked a certain way and it is strange to significantly deviate from that. I'm not saying it should be allowed, but there are just certain ways things should be done. Things like not cooking a filet well done or having salty food on a bar menu. There are definitely certain guidelines that different kinds of restaurants are going to operate within and I think it is reasonable to think that diners should be aware of that.

Anyways if I was served food that was disgustingly over-salted and I wasn't aware that it would be like that and I didn't think it should be like that, then I'd send it back. I dont think I've ever done that with regard to salt. I think the last dish I sent back was a potato doughnut hole at tasty and sons because the middle of it was gooey batter.

#18 nervousxtian

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Posted 13 October 2010 - 06:37 PM

On the subject of steaks, to those in the industry here, since a steak is one of the very few items that are cooked to a requested temp by the customer.. does it annoy you when people want medium or well done? It used to annoy me when my wife liked hers that way, and the only reason she did is because she was scared of it being pink.. now she wants it pink.

#19 justacook

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Posted 14 October 2010 - 12:43 AM

On the subject of steaks, to those in the industry here, since a steak is one of the very few items that are cooked to a requested temp by the customer.. does it annoy you when people want medium or well done? It used to annoy me when my wife liked hers that way, and the only reason she did is because she was scared of it being pink.. now she wants it pink.


Medium is just fine, mid well, while it hurts is just fine... Well done makes you shudder... It's the people that order it "extra well done", as if there is such a thing, that drive u nuts!!!( and well done people in general honestly...)

#20 Quo Vadis

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Posted 14 October 2010 - 08:16 AM

On the subject of steaks, to those in the industry here, since a steak is one of the very few items that are cooked to a requested temp by the customer.. does it annoy you when people want medium or well done? It used to annoy me when my wife liked hers that way, and the only reason she did is because she was scared of it being pink.. now she wants it pink.


You know, I never really cared. People like what they like.
I'd say if anything food blogs and Yelp and the internet have made me start being more prejudiced against these orders than I ever was before.

As a cook you run a very high likelihood of someone ordering something to be done in a way that is less than optimal and then goinig on line to complain about how it was, well- less than optimal.

One thing where I draw the line has always been special items. If I get something very special in I prepare it a certain way. If you want it prepared differently I won't do it generally.
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume