Is your waiter tempting you with a cool gazpacho as a refreshing appetizer? If it's the soup of the day, the chef may be trying to use up an abundance of tomatoes and other vegetables before they go bad. Same with any stew or casserole that's being touted as the special of the day: Monday's beef stew may be Saturday night's prime rib.
Smart chefs try to order carefully, but they also have to make the most of what they have on hand. For example, if a chef orders oysters, he may offer several dishes that include oysters to make sure they are all used. Buying asparagus in season may mean the vegetable goes on the menu as a side dish, an appetizer, a salad topper, or a soup.
So how can you identify a special that's really just the chef's way of using up leftovers? Look for an expensive item, such as lamb or duck, used in a way that minimizes its flavor. Pastas, stews, and soups are often suspect. Remember, sauces and gravies have helped cover up cook's mistakes for centuries.