Would You Recommend...

"Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly." ~ M.F.K. Fisher

I'm always flattered when someone asks me for a restaurant recommendation, but then a sense of responsibility rushes in and reminds me that my opinions won't necessarily be the same as the next person's. If it's someone I know, I'll usually make a few suggestions and ask for feedback on their experience if they go anyplace I've recommended.

Mezze Plate - Papa Zuzu's - Mt Pleasant, SC
If I don't know anything about the individual's preferences or lifestyle, I'm usually not comfortable telling them where to take their spouse for a special 25th anniversary dinner. I don't do the fine-dining scene all that often. I will tell you where you can get a really good taco or some bangin' tapas, though. If you want to know where to get some juicy Pernil Al Horno, or sweet Chicken Adobo, I'll tell you where I've enjoyed it. That doesn't mean you will.

When I'm selecting a place to eat, especially when I'm traveling outside my home city, I do my homework first. Consumer review sites such as Urbanspoon give me an idea what type of experience I'm in for, as well as what's good, what to avoid.

Hibachi Chicken - Shiki - Mooresville, NC
I love reading about places and creating a wishlist on Urbanspoon before heading to a new city, but I'm always willing to stray from the list when a friend suggests a favorite spot I may not have noticed. I'm mining for hidden gems when I'm dining solo, but when I have fellow diners to consider, I'm more likely to pay attention to the popularity quotient, and comb the reviews for local diners opinions.

Home or away, I do have a few standard criteria upon which I rate a restaurant. They are based on my personal preferences. I'd love to hear what you look for in a good restaurant experience as well.

Is the concept at all original? Is it fresh? Properly cooked? Is it real food, or did they rip open a plastic bag of sauce, drizzle it on some frozen protein, plate it with frozen veg medley and heat it in the micro?

Jibneh - 13 Gypsies - Jacksonville, FL
Do the flavors meld and enhance the experience, or is some seasoning or ingredient so predominant it blows your tastebuds out of whack? Does it look appealing? Are the textures pleasant? Temperature appropriate? Would I order it again? Is the cost in keeping with the value?

Are the ingredients locally sourced, and does the menu change with the seasons' bounty? A plastic covered menu is an early indicator to me that the food might be... institutional. I'm leery of those "glamour shots" of food on the menu. Put those on your website to lure me in. Once I'm there, let me imagine how the food is going to look, and be pleasantly surprised when it exceeds my expectations, not the other way around.

Here's where it gets a little subjective. I don't go for starched and formal. I seek out spots where I a feel welcome and comfortable - as if I'm visiting a friend (who happens to be a chef) in their home.

The Blue Fish -Jacksonville, FL
While I appreciate and prefer good interior design, I am not generally a snob about ambiance. I don't mind if the decor is less than stellar as long as the food quality makes up for it. I am willing to pay more for food if it served in pleasant surroundings. Just sayin'... But I would eat in a shack if the food is really good.

Similarly, cleanliness is essential, but I've eaten in places that were neat as a pin inside and out where the food was just one step above Alpo. I like a clean dining room, but my number one pet peeve in restaurants continues to be staff vacuuming or sweeping the floor while I'm eating nearby. If I can hear you sweeping, the particles you are stirring up are most likely going to make their way into my food. Let fallen french fries lie until the section is closed. 

Am I comfortable in the room? Are the chairs, tables, etc. clean and in good repair? Is there an off-putting odor? (Out the door, pronto. I've learned that lesson.)

Spinach Pizza - Libretto's - Jacksonville, FL
How is the noise level? Is the lighting adequate? Are their fresh flowers on the table or some dusty plastic arrangement? Are the plates and cups clean and free of chips, cracks, residue? (You'd be surprised how often that answer is no.)

I also consider the crowd. Are my fellow diners young, older? Hip? Conservative? What's their general mood? I like a diverse crowd, it tells me there's something to appeal to everyone here. When I'm searching for a good representation of cultures other than my own, I consider the ethnicity of the diners as well as the staff. If you're eating Mexican food and the other diners are Mexican, you know it's because they've found a taste of Mexico on the plate. If the language of the table talk around you matches the ethnicity of the place, you may be on to something.

Am I greeted soon after entering? Does someone acknowledge my quest for a seat? Will the wait be long, and if so, what are my options? Did the staff ask about seating preference? Did they honor my request for a light, sunny table?

Danny and Molly Armonyard - Owners
Bangkok City - Buckeye Lake, OH
While I am a fan of great service, I am also a student of human nature, so I am often entertained even when the service is less than adequate. Rude service, however, is never appropriate.

In my opinion, great service may help me accept a less than stellar meal, but bad service can't be helped by good food. If you put me in a bad mood before the food comes, how am I going to enjoy it?

Does the proprietor, GM or chef visit the front of the house, or do they lurk out of sight? If I'm a regular, do they greet me by name?

So that's pretty much it. If this system works for you, use it. If not, use whatever does. And if you want to discuss who makes the best tacos, pizza, Thai, seafood, barbeque or sandwiches in town, I'm your gal!  INCIDENTALLY - all the pics in this post represent favorite foods and places that were recommended TO me by friends and family! THANK YOU ALL for each and every suggestion - and keep 'em coming!

1 comment:

  1. Nancy - you're so right, it is entirely subjective. A place that seems fun and quirky to me might make another person uncomfortable. I prefer measured pacing between courses, whereas that may seem unacceptably slow to someone else.

    What drives me absolutely bonkers is when someone complains about the cost of the meal at a restaurant. With very few exceptions, restaurants in the Western Hemisphere generally post their prices on their menus, and sometimes even on their websites. If it seems out of your comfort zone, then DON'T GO. It is always possible to find wonderful food, served up in a warm, gracious, and clean atmosphere, regardless of your budget.


Thank you for your comment. I review comments on posts older than 30 days. I will try to post within 24 - 48 hours.