To be clear: The “secret menu” that Caviar, the local third-party restaurant delivery service, launched last month isn’t exactly hush-hush. Basically, it’s a menu of dishes from participating restaurants only available for delivery—you won’t find these in the restaurants themselves.
It’s a smart marketing plan. We sampled our way through all eight items and found a mix of hits and misses:
What to order
There were a couple of clear standouts. Poulet Galore’s fried chicken sandwich (dark meat fried in a spicy buttermilk coating, topped with habanero hot sauce, red cabbage slaw, crispy chicken skins and pickle relish) was really good. I’ve had the restaurant’s other delivery items previously, and can speak to their tastiness as well. There weren’t enough condiments to make the bun soggy, but enough to make this a legit sandwich I’d order again.
I also really enjoyed Lionhead’s fried rice: flavored with garlic and XO sauce, wok-tossed with big strips of duck meat, Chinese bacon, Maitake mushrooms, cubes of yam, pickled mustard greens, egg, and topped with crispy chicken skin. It’s not traditional, and it’s so full of stuff that you could get a few meals out of one portion. But it was pleasant, and totally fine to eat room temp. (Please, do yourself a favor and only eat those legendary eggplant fries in the restaurant, though—they don’t travel well, and they’re so perfect they need to be enjoyed immediately.)
What to miss
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Japonessa’s Raindrop Roll. The photo and description on the site sounded lovely enough: wild Alaskan snow crab wrapped with seared Atlantic King Salmon (served on cucumber slices) and drizzled with coconut mango glaze, teriyaki and raspberry soy glaze, garnished with toasted coconut flakes and tobiko. They call it a “showstopper.” But the reality of what arrived in that disposable box was so laughably disheveled it was unrecognizable. I tasted it anyway, and the flavor was fine. I’ve had good meals at Japonessa in the past. But I think this is the sort of thing where delivery isn’t doing the dish any favors—the fish and crab had come unwrapped, the discs of cucumber slid out from underneath, the sauce in a runny pool at the bottom.
The other big travesty was Mean Sandwich’s Buffalo-style potatoes. I simply adore everything I’ve had at this new Ballard hotspot—the sandwiches are spectacular, and the skins ‘n’ ins (fried chunks of baked potato) are crispy and salty and so delicious I’ve gone back for them on their own. The secret Buffalo Skins, though, are topped with hot sauce and white sauce, fried onions and chives, and unfortunately the sauces made them so soggy by arrival that they were left mostly untouched.
The other few items (from restaurants Stout, Humble Pie, Barrio and Feed Co. Burgers) were serviceable. The big takeaway here is that there is a direct correlation between a dish’s deliciousness and how far it had to travel. Few-block jaunt at lunchtime? Food arrives warm and satisfying. Cross-town haul during rush hour? Food arrives soggy and sad. Duh. Obviously this isn’t new information. This—coupled with the fact that restaurants don’t want to have drivers waste a bunch of time shuttling all over town—is precisely why places generally only service a small geographic area when they offer in-house delivery. I totally understand why Caviar is appealing: Cravings need to be satiated. But perhaps just because you can get your favorite food schlepped across town while you chill in your sweatpants doesn’t mean you should. It may even make you think less of the restaurant, and nobody benefits from that.
That, I think, is the most important thing to remember here: You can’t judge a restaurant by its delivery. It’s no fault of Caviar’s—they’re providing the people with what they ask for. And it’s no fault of the restaurants that put out good food meant to be enjoyed immediately. But travel time + inappropriate packaging + sauces (particularly when it relates to fried foods) is a recipe for unmet expectations. That said, I could go for one of those crispy fried chicken sandwiches right about now.