Dining is about pleasure. That’s it. There is no reason to pay a bajillion dollars to have a sub-par experience. But how can you tell you’re having a sub-par experience if you don’t know how to break it down old-school?

I recently ordered the Pan-Roasted Mary’s Chicken Breast at Red Tavern. Because the Tavern is known for quality meals, dining there offers a great opportunity to practice your restaurant critic skills. Here’s how to break a dish like this down:

First, take in the presentation. The overall presentation of Red Tavern’s chicken dish was simple, but nice. Very classic. The chicken was a perfectly cooked, juicy airline cut breast—a cut that includes the first section of the wing. This is a good point to ask yourself: does a fancy cut really add to the value of the dish? Or does it offer only “plate appeal?” I love getting the little drummette attached to the breast, and I think it offers a nicer presentation. On this one, the answer for me, is yes.

Then get down to the taste. On this dish, the spice rub could have been a little more exciting. Still, there are only a few places you can go in Chico for a very nicely roasted piece of chicken.

The breast sat atop a green pea risotto. I love risotto. I also love green peas. This is the part where personal interpretation comes into play. The chef preserved the tooth of each grain as anyone who appreciates risotto should. It was texturally correct, but I love whorishly creamy Italian risotto because it’s so slutty good. I wanted a little more of that. Does that mean the chef was wrong? No. He interpreted the dish according to his taste, training, and expertise. On a slightly more technical note, the risotto was a little over-peppered, so the sweetness of the early spring peas didn’t shine to their full potential.

The sautéed spring onion component of the dish and the homemade ricotta were fantastic. The spring onions offered that earthy sweetness I was missing with the peas, and the texture of the ricotta was right on. The balsamic reduction that rimmed the plate, however, was over-caramelized to the point of giving off a burnt hickory flavor, and therefore, couldn’t add anything more than a little presentation flair. Every element on a plate should be there for good reason: to be eaten and enjoyed.

It’s also helpful to keep menu pricing in perspective when dining higher-end. Sure, that steak you had might have been good, but was it $56 good? If you’re paying for pleasure, then you want to get your money’s worth. Ask yourself: were the flavors exciting? Did they work together? Would I order that dish again?

Go get ‘em, foodies.

Jen Cartier misses Chico! However, she has taken to the great beyond (er...The Bay Area) to be some kind of chocolate maven while simultaneously figuring out how the hell to navigate her long-ass work commute, and still kick ass at raising three munchkins, loving one soon-to-be husband, and keeping one rascally Brittany Spaniel in the damned yard. She loves Nutella, red wine, and American Spirits. She takes her dog along on runs to wear him out (sometimes he shits in someone else's yard - bonus!) and also to balance her own general consumption of all the fine tasty things life offers, ciggys included. Follow her blog at riceflourmemoirs.com