Monday, June 23, 2008

How to Find a Good Eatery

If there is one thing I hate more than bad advertising is a bad restaurant with great advertising. And I have been duped more than my fair share by the shiny lights and catchy jingles that have preceded wilted lettuce, watered down drinks, grumpy waitresses and half-cooked chicken. Even thought I am not tricked as often, I am still occasionally fall for the coin behind the ear.

I am like most people. I often visit restaurants that have an established food standard and menus that rarely change. But every now and then I get a wild hair up my posterior that causes me to stray badly. It starts by a yearning for something different as my insane explorer side takes over. So I sit down and try to decide by surfing the internet and reading reviews of the different local eateries, wrong move. Surfing for a restaurant is like test driving a car you found in the newspaper by flapping the pages. But after years of hitting and missing like a Ford with bad cylinders, I have realized something…I have been going at it all wrong.

First, restaurants that have that certain je ne sais quoi do not need much introduction; their customers speak for the quality of their food. They often have an abundance of customers that are loyal and are fat professional eaters. This restaurant will not be found on the front page of any culinary magazine, nor do they care. They have excellent service as well as awesome food. These restaurants are true diamonds in the wood pile and they do not use the phrase je ne sais quoi.

In order to find these gastronomical diamonds you have to go on a physical search. This search includes driving around the restaurants that offer your favorite style of food and waiting for the noon or 7:00pm rush. If there isn’t a rush, then more than likely there isn’t much to the eatery. If there is a rush, look at the age of the crowd, the physical size of all parties in the crowd and if there are any families. The rationale is because young people are often weight conscious and that equates to boneless, skinless, fat free cardboard cut-outs of chicken and steaks, skinny people eat skinny people food which equates to a huge salad bar with vegetables galore, fake bacon bits and fat-free salad-flavored water, and if there are a lot of families then there is a variety of food. However the presence of older people is a plus. They represent reasonable prices and fatprofessional eaters are a gold star because they mean the food is flavorful and abundant. So look for the fat old people.

Next, walk up to the restaurant and inhale. Can you smell the food? You can’t imagine the restaurants I have been to where there is absolutely no odor coming from the exhaust. Like an idiot I went inside and the food was just as odor-free and tasteless. And that has happened a lot. But there have been restaurants that have made me drive in circles until I found the origin of that wondrous smell.

Lastly, go inside the restaurant. Who said you had to eat a full meal? Order a drink and a cheap appetizer. This is where a decision can be adequately made. I have very rarely had a bad appetizer and a great meal or vice versa because both are born in the same kitchen. Notice everything about the restaurant, look at the waiters and waitresses are they busy or on their cell phones. Slowly eat your appetizer and look at the meals being served. This should give you a full picture of what is going on. I know you are asking, “Who has the time for this?” And I say, “You do.” Because there is nothing worse than paying for a horrible meal and the gas it took to get there.


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