Trouble With Toast

Dishing about Let’s Dish! | August 14, 2007

At the beginning of the year, I started eating lunch in our office’s small break room. One of the secretaries chowed down with me, and I noticed that her leftovers always looked and smelled great. When I asked her how she had time to cook (she has more kids and grandkids than I can count), she confessed that she “dished.” As in Let’s Dish!, a rapidly growing chain of retail meal preparation stores.

According to its website, “Let’s Dish! is an innovative store where you can make (or pick up) family-friendly dishes designed to be frozen and cooked when you need them.” Even though many of my colleagues raved about the food and the experience, I was a bit hesitant to jump in. After all, I love to cook—wouldn’t “dishing” be like cheating? I don’t have any kids (unless you count my boyfriend), so I felt like the concept wasn’t really designed for me. Nevertheless, in the interest of investigative blogging, I accompanied one of my officemates to a Let’s Dish! session in Fairfax, Virginia.

The first thing I noticed about the store was its operating room-esque cleanliness. “Wow,” I thought, “my kitchen usually looks destroyed before I’m even done chopping onions.” That is definitely one of the plus points of “dishing”—there is absolutely no clean up. If you spill all over the floor or the table, a staff member appears and takes care of the mess for you. Brilliant.

There are about 15 meal options each month, from which you can choose 4, 8, or 12 in advance. The packages cost $100, $180, and $240 respectively (which works out to $4.17, $3.75, and $3.33 per serving). Each meal equals six servings, and they can be split into two servings of three for smaller families (which is what I did, since it’s just me and the man). All of the meals can be grilled, broiled, baked, or sautéed—there is no microwaving involved. I chose an 8-meal package, and after tying my apron and bandana, I was on my way.

There is one station per meal, and all of the ingredients (which are either fresh or flash-frozen) are lined up logically with an appropriately sized measuring cup or spoon. The instructions are clear, and there are separate recipes for those who want to split their meals. Over the course of about two hours, “dishers” move from station to station (depending on what meals they selected), putting together the ingredients, storing everything in plastic and foil, and labeling the completed meals.

The dishes I chose for my first session were Chicken Casablanca, Frozen Strawberry Margarita Pie, Louisiana-Style Jambalaya, Pasta Pomodoro (vegetarian—I doubled up on this one), Sicilian Tilapia, Spring Vegetable Crostini (vegetarian), and Tropical Shrimp and Noodles. All of the meals were pretty darn easy to put together, and the ingredients were quite impressive in their quality. More importantly, I had a lot of fun and I didn’t have to chop or clean anything. I still wasn’t convinced, though. The real test would be cooking the dishes in my kitchen and then tasting them.

With the exception of the Tropical Shrimp and Noodles (which I knew I probably wasn’t going to dig, since it had mango and coconut in it, and I like neither mango nor coconut), all of the dishes were tasty. Some—like the Chicken Casablanca, Sicilian Tilapia, and Spring Vegetable Crostini—were downright delicious. I couldn’t get over how tender the meats were and how fresh the veggies tasted. The 48 servings of food lasted about two months, so I feel like I found a good balance between cooking from scratch, heating up the pre-made meals, and dining out. The meals that could be cooked straight from the freezer without thawing were wonderful when I ran out of the house without defrosting anything.

Since I was pleased with my first Let’s Dish! experience, I brought my culinarily challenged significant other with me to the next session. We had a great time making meals together, and he was impressed with how good everything looked and smelled. He also commented that, for the amount of food you get, Let’s Dish! is a pretty good deal. This time, we made BBQ Pork Tenderloins, Calypso Chicken with Grilled Pineapple (two of these), Spinach and Black Bean Enchiladas, Design-Your-Own Calzones, Southwestern Grilled Pork Chops with Black Bean Salsa, and Spinach Ravioli (two of these as well). So far, we’ve tried the enchiladas, which were VERY tasty; the calzones, which were pretty standard, but good; the ravioli, which was yummy and spicy; and the chicken, which had awesome flavor and was even better with the pineapple.

In addition to convenience, Let’s Dish! offers a healthful approach—most of the meals have been reasonable in caloric content without leaving me feeling hungry. My boyfriend and I are on a low-fat diet right now, and we’ve been able to choose dishes where the fat content doesn’t exceed the 15 grams that we’re allowed per meal.

While I wouldn’t go to Let’s Dish! more than once every 2-3 months, and while I do still love to cook and bake from scratch, I think the concept is an interesting and successful one. It is nice to not have to think about menu planning every day, and it is wonderfully un-stressful to have certain dishes prepped and portioned in advance. Does anyone else have experience with this type of business? What did you think?

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