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The ins and outs of eating out

By Randloph Schmid

Associated Press

"Turning the Tables: Restaurants From the Inside Out." By Steven A. Shaw. HarperCollins. 216 Pages. $24.95.

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Whether looking for fine dining or just good eats, there's plenty to savor in America that doesn't come from a chain.

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Food reviewer Steven A. Shaw takes a nibble at the restaurant business in his new book, "Turning the Tables," and he likes what he tastes.

Shaw's compact volume is jammed with helpful advice, from how to score a reservation at the top place in town (polite persistence) to how to make a complaint (find a manager, be courteous but firm) and avoiding bill shock (beware of bottled water, side dishes, off-menu specials).

This is no expose, though, but more of a fan letter from someone who loves eating in restaurants, has parlayed that love into time spent in kitchens with famed chefs, and wants to share what he has seen and learned.

To get the best treatment, Shaw advocates finding restaurants one likes and becoming a regular. "There are few things more comforting in life than hearing a waiter say: 'The usual?"' he writes.

Being known means the staff wants to keep you happy so there will be many returns, and usually includes an effort to meet reasonable special requests.

On the road, Shaw suggests, look for places the locals frequent.

"When a restaurant you've never heard of has a line out the door despite looking like a military fortification, there's probably something going on," he observes, whether it's barbecue in the South, pizza in Connecticut or a taco joint in Texas.

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