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How to spot a good restaurant


fresco
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What other places have you been to in the U.S.?

Well last year Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle and New York, year before that Boston, San Diego, Ann Arbor, Miami, San Diego plus a bunch of smaller places. Get about a bit! I have to say I have more trouble in the US than elsewhere, mainly because the people who write the menus are often more skilled at their job then the people who cook the food. But the menu is still the best clue you have, size, presentation, content, seasonality, paper, print/handwritten all give you clues.

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Is the parking lot full or empty, does it seem like the place is busy, you know people waiting around outside.

With that criteria, you're going to end up at the Olive Garden or the Cheesecake Factory. :blink:

That's what I was going to say.

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Okay. Now that I've read this... are we talking about fine dining or food? I rarely go for the former, and am quite happy with the latter. For great food, I like neon signs. I like Ma's. I like where the locals eat, unless they eat at chains. Diners are usually consistent. And I like to eat at the bar.

Another lowbrow post from Elyse.

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What other places have you been to in the U.S.?

Well last year Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle and New York, year before that Boston, San Diego, Ann Arbor, Miami, San Diego plus a bunch of smaller places. Get about a bit! I have to say I have more trouble in the US than elsewhere, mainly because the people who write the menus are often more skilled at their job then the people who cook the food. But the menu is still the best clue you have, size, presentation, content, seasonality, paper, print/handwritten all give you clues.

I've seen a lot of menus with misspellings ("Eggplant Parmagana" and the like), and they give me pause, even though I realize the kitchen had nothing to do with them.

But I'm somewhat astonished that you have yet to eat in a good restaurant with a parking lot in any of those places. Parking lots are kind of necessities in most of the U.S.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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But I'm somewhat astonished that you have yet to eat in a good restaurant with a parking lot in any of those places. Parking lots are kind of necessities in most of the U.S.

that does seem to be what the cook is getting at. although i think he knows he's full of it just as much as we do. or at least he realizes that many great restaurants aren't accessible by mass transit. or worse yet, perhaps he *doesn't* realize this. :blink:

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Very very few of the 'fine dining' restaurants in Portand have parking lots.

i suppose this begs the question: where do people put their cars during dinner?

Validated (or unvalidated) or valet parking?

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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But I'm somewhat astonished that you have yet to eat in a good restaurant with a parking lot in any of those places. Parking lots are kind of necessities in most of the U.S.

that does seem to be what the cook is getting at. although i think he knows he's full of it just as much as we do. or at least he realizes that many great restaurants aren't accessible by mass transit. or worse yet, perhaps he *doesn't* realize this. :blink:

Well of course some restaurants have parking lots and you can draw whatever conclusions you want from the assembled autos. But the closer you are to downtown in most US cities the less likely you are to have a dedicated lot that you can actually see, best you get is valet parking. Even it has got a lot you'll never see my car in it on the basis that a good meal kinda requires the accompaniment of a good wine which, for me at least, rules out taking the wheel afterwards. If I can't get to it by public transport (which usually means a cab) then I don't go. Yeah, I know it means I miss some good places but the original post was about finding yourself in a strange town, which implies transport is available.

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...but the original post was about finding yourself in a strange town, which implies transport is available.

this still makes no sense . sorry.

the "wine" issue you bring up seems to be a red herring.

But the closer you are to downtown in most US cities the less likely you are to have a dedicated lot that you can actually see, best you get is valet parking.

yup. and that applies to not-so-fine-dining as well. drawing conclusions based on the existence of parking lots in a city such as NY for example will leave you confused and at Olive Garden.

Edited by tommy (log)
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Perhaps it was Olive Garden that Joni Mitchell had in mind when she wrote, "They pave paradise/and put up a parking lot." I notice she herself used a Big Yellow Taxi.

Correction: It was her "old man" who cabbed it.

Edited by fresco (log)
Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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Actually tommy, I think we agree. I don't draw any conclusions from the absence or presence of a parking lot, or the mix of vehicles in it, although others claim they can tell something about a restaurant.

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Actually tommy, I think we agree. I don't draw any conclusions from the absence or presence of a parking lot, or the mix of vehicles in it, although others claim they can tell something about a restaurant.

you threw me off when you said

I've eaten out in some excellent restaurants throughout Europe and the US and can't remember the last time a decent restaurant had a parking lot

but, as long as we agree, you're no doubt absolutely right. :biggrin:

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We tend to eat at "authentic/ethnic" so the best places typically have flourescent lights, formica table tops, a language barrier ( menu NOT in english and the servers do not speak english) bad tourist posters of the region where the owners come from and the placed crammed with locals from the home country. When it is a "hit" it is fantastic but when it is a "miss".....

What disease did cured ham actually have?

Megan sandwich: White bread, Miracle Whip and Italian submarine dressing. {Megan is 4 y.o.}

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I will stroll in, ignore the parking lot, if there is one, and request a menu. After reading cover to cover I then proceed with a wine list. If it is enough to hold my attention, I'll grab myself a cocktail at the bar and take a look around. Does the food look good? (Not necessarily some architectual gravity defying sort either, but appealing to the eye and thoughtfully plated). Having scrubbed every micro inch of an entire restaurant, but surely not in one go of it (!) I will peer around and will see the signs of pride (read cleanliness) or a lack thereof. Then I rely upon what I'm smelling. As with everything, I run on a sliding scale. A little funky but some good smelling soulfull food, then I'll throw caution to the wind and take the health risk.

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I will stroll in, ignore the parking lot, if there is one, and request a menu.  After reading cover to cover I then proceed with a wine list.  If it is enough to hold my attention, I'll grab myself a cocktail at the bar and take a look around.  Does the food look good?  (Not necessarily some architectual gravity defying sort either, but appealing to the eye and thoughtfully plated).  Having scrubbed every micro inch of an entire restaurant, but surely not in one go of it (!) I will peer around and will see the signs of pride (read cleanliness) or a lack thereof.  Then I rely upon what I'm smelling.  As with everything, I run on a sliding scale.  A little funky but some good smelling soulfull food, then I'll throw caution to the wind and take the health risk.

and if the signs aren't positive you'll walk out and do it in another restaurant, and another, until you find a reasonable place? i might be inclined to go the same route, although i'd probably stop at McDonald's between restaurants to stave off my hunger.

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An interesting set of suggestions. Although I prefer to indulge in an obsessive amount of research before I arrive in any city, I occasionally get caught out by a sudden change of plans.

I would discount the 'look for a line outside' theory otherwise you would end up at Mothers in New Orleans!

I really like the short menu suggestion. Restaurants that have the courage only to serve a few appetisers and entrees are more likely to be confident of their ability.

Also I like menus that try not to span too many countries on the menu (or even worse in one dish).

One of the places that I did not hesitate to immediately walk inside and book dinner was a restaurant in Washington DC. I was attending a conference and went out for a mid-morning walk. Nearby was a restaurant and the staff were carefully cleaning the windows and tables. This was at 11am - but the restaurant only opened for dinner! I walked in and booked for dinner and we had one of the best meals of that trip. It was a place called Rupperts - well worth a try.

Roger McShane

Foodtourist.com

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