The Food Connection
Provide a slight prompt for Clark Troy, and he will reminisce about the best diver scallops he has ever had. Succulent, smooth, tender and luscious are words he uses, and his voice holds a certain tone of awe. He can manage similar enthusiasm for a fine steak he once ate.
The scallops were in St. Louis.
The steak was in Lincoln, Neb.
Mr. Troy is serious about food. He is also a business traveler, often on the road for Princeton Consultants, a management and information technology firm.
He, like others in similar situations, manages to find good food through a mixture of effort, serendipity, research and connectivity whether to the Web, a hand-held device with a comprehensive database, or by word of mouth.
But sometimes there is more to the equation than just the food, especially for business travelers on their own. If youre in D.C., which is very businessy, its acceptable to be alone, said Eldar Shafir, a professor of psychology and public affairs whose appointments at Princeton University require travel. In other places, you really stick out. A romantic place with candlelight is horrible. He has two solutions: succumb to room service, or take a book and eat well.
For Karen Donato, a nutritionist who travels twice a month as coordinator of the Obesity Education Initiative at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., solo dining is not so much the issue as the search for foods she wants to eat simple grilled meats, whole grains, plentiful vegetables and great salads, or a couple of appetizers that she can call a meal. The options for unhealthy foods are far greater than for the healthier foods, and sometimes you have to pay more for a better restaurant, she said. It takes a bit of knowledge.
Asking around is a fine way to acquire that knowledge, but, as Mr. Troy suggested, be careful who you ask: If you think theyre like you, and would eat food you like, then take their advice.
Jim Leff, a professional eater and the founder of chowhound.com, agreed. When you ask someone, Where is something great? and their eyes are dead, politely get away. One in 10 people is a chowhound, a person who is on a passionate search for quality, he says. Find that person.
For Jane and Michael Stern, authors of Two for the Road: Our Love Affair With American Food, and the creators of roadfood.com, a good road meal starts with some sense of the people in the region, and the specialties. If youre going to Buffalo, you know about Buffalo wings, Mr. Stern said.
But if you see a restaurant that advertises beef on weck or wick, and you dont know what that is, chances are you might ignore it. But if youve done a bit of research, you know that Buffalo is more passionate about beef on weck than wings. Beef on weck, Mr. Stern said, is one of the great roast beef sandwiches in the country very thinly sliced rare roast beef on a bulky hard roll, also called a kummelweck, topped with big-grained salt and caraway seeds.
Mr. Stern, unsurprisingly, suggested checking www.roadfood.com for restaurant and regional food ideas, and using the sites Roadfood Insider ($19.95 a year), which uses online maps, including Google Earth, to find restaurants. The service includes Roadfood Mobile, which is accessible via Internet-connected cellphones and mobile devices and uses global positioning systems to pinpoint sites. Also available is a road food template compatible with Microsofts Streets and Trips software.
The Chowhound site, a wide-ranging collection of discussion boards, is another research resource, and one Mr. Leff said he used frequently. If I have to go to Wichita and I need great eggs Benedict five minutes from the airport, Ill post on Chowhound, and within an hour Im going to get an answer from someone who has tried all the eggs Benedict, Mr. Leff said, still marveling at the passion that the site, founded in 1997 and now owned by CNet, has captured.
Mr. Leff said Chowhound can be browsed on a BlackBerry or a
Then there is www.zagat.com, the Web version of the popular dining guides, and Zagat To Go, its companion for hand-held devices and mobile phones, which is available for a $29.95 annual subscription. The mobile version is automatically updated, so it includes information from the companys post-Katrina guide for New Orleans.
Fodors, with reviews and quick takes on specialties like Cincinnati chili, is a restaurant source available as an optional secure digital memory card (about $65 for the North American version, through amazon.com) for
Search engines can provide general guidelines www.google.com/local, for example, will yield a listing of restaurants by category or by locale. Local newspaper Web sites sometimes hold restaurant reviews or demographic information that can point to a good meal. Maybe theres a story that says, Of all the Brazilian restaurants that have opened, and you think, Aha! Mr. Stern said.
Even the hotels Yellow Pages hold some promise, if travelers read the ads and read between the lines, he said. Its never a guarantee, but we look for a restaurant with a specialty home of chicken in a basket or the one-pound cinnamon roll or a motto.
The old-fashioned search and discovery technique used by Mr. Troy, the consultant, involves talking to locals, exploring indirect routes to the clients office and ignoring things like restaurant décor. Mr. Leff recommends leaving the center of town for the side streets, ignoring marketing and avoiding places that take advantage of their location.
But there is one more way to reduce the chances of a bad meal: Visit the restaurant and use all your senses.
Appetite is precious, Mr. Stern said. Walk into the restaurant. Look at the menu. Look at the food on other peoples plates. Look at peoples faces are they frustrated with empty plates? Its so simple. If it looks delicious, or if you smell fresh bread baking.
He stopped for a moment, then started again. If you smell roach spray, probably not.