I just read an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that gave various people's comments (I assume that people in SF know who they are, because I didn't) about what makes a bad restaurant. Let's just say that, although some of them made some sense--dirty floors, yucky bathrooms, rude waitstaff, etc--most of them were snotty. You know, things like "when fried calamari is on the menu" (I know plenty of good places that offer this) or "when there's a children's menu, not children's portions--this means that the place caters to the family crowd and that's the opposite of fine dining" (try going to Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor, ME--a children's menu and incredible food).
Anyway, I thought I'd talk about what I think makes a good restaurant--and I'd love to hear what you think. So chime in!
To me, cleanliness is a top priority. Sure, there are greasy spoons that are a little grimy, but have good food. But if I'm going to go out for a nice meal, I want the floors and silverware and dishes to be clean. If it's not clean on the table, it's not clean in the kitchen.
I want a relaxed atmosphere. Super fancy restaurants are fine--if the food is good. But I'm much more apt to enjoy my meal--really enjoy it, if I feel comfortable and can be myself--not worrying about if I'm doing something improperly.
A good restaurant has a menu that's changing with the seasons. If a caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella, basil) is on the menu in December, then I'm not so sure about that place--serve me tomatoes when they're in season.
I want a place that gives you food that makes you feel good--fresh ingredients, homemade pasta, food made to order. You know what I mean. Real food--not something processed or pre-made.
I want to feel welcome in a restaurant when you walk in. Have a server who genuinely wants to make your meal a good experience--and give you suggestions if you ask. I want to be able to sit and take as long as I need to eat without feeling like we're taking up space for the next party.
The bottom line with a restaurant, though, is the food. I want good food that's worth the price I'm paying for it.
Do I sound snotty, too? I hope not.
Some of my favorites...well, there are a lot of them. A lot of great places just in our area. But off the top of my head, here are some places where I'd go back again and again (some that I've done just that):
Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor, ME. This may be our favorite place anywhere. Relaxed and comfortable--you can dine in your hiking boots and shorts. Staff that's always friendly (Tony remembers Jake from year to year--and vice versa). A great children's menu with much more than hot dog or mac and cheese--real food. And a menu that takes forever to order from--everything is great.
Buddakan in Philly. Only been here once and it was probably the most expensive meal we've ever had. But it was also the best prepared, most delicious food we've ever had--all served by knowledgeable servers in an exciting setting. A great place to splurge for a special occasion. Just perfect.
Domani Star in Doylestown. Probably our favorite local restaurant. Friendly, fresh ingredients, homemade Italian food. Never had anything there that I didn't love. Mmmmm....soooo good.
Red's Eats in Wiscasset, ME. OK, not really a restaurant, but it's universally known to have the best lobster rolls anywhere. Basic--the lobster roll is a whole lobster's-worth of meat on a toasted hot dog bun (you can add melted butter). But man, it's just the best. We always stop there when passing through "The Prettiest Village in Maine".
There are so many others, near and far, that I'm forgetting. Help me out--where do you like to go to eat and why?