10 signs it's a good restaurant

When you go out to have dinner, restaurants are usually recommended by word-of-mouth. It is the most reliable form of advertisment for restaurant operators, and diners such as yourself, take it for granted as sound advice from a well-meaning individual. The acid test would be the moment you walk through the threshold.  So what do you look for? Here are the top ten signs that the restaurant you walk into is a good choice.
Busy, busy, busy - not necessarily jampacked, although that is an obvious good sign. What I mean is that the wait staff are busy attending to the restaurant, not just engaging in idle talk. We were taught in the industry that there is always something to do in a restaurant. Sort out menus, clarifuy reservations, sweep up the floors, organize the service station, etc.  This is one way you can tell they are actively participating in the welfare of its guests and the restaurant.
Lively guests - be it a jampacked restaurant or just a couple of tables, the guests should appear they are enjoying themselves. Do they appear to be engaged in a lively conversation, enjoying the food? How are they like when they leave the restaurant? Happy? Smiles all around?
Up to date menus - that includes the promotions, posters, come-ons, and specials. They should be timely and appropriate to the restaurant. Steer clear of Italian joints that are trying to pass of fish and chips a s a special. This also means the presence of tacky 'value meals'.
Clean bathrooms - as in spotlessly clean. Because it gives you an idea on how the restaurant is conscious of hygiene, be it front-of-house or back-of-house. Good restaurants have bathrooms that are well equipped with guest amenities as well as cleaning supplies.
Hot and cold - Hot food should be hot, and cold food cold. Their dishes should be steaming when laid on the table. Cold beverages should be frosted. Iced tea should be iced, and plates should at least be too warm to the touch.
Attentive staff - you are greeted at the door the moment you walk in. Greeted, not shouted at with a canned 'Good evening'. Attentive staff can read guests, and make menu suggestions well. Not push what needs to sell, but actually order for you and you would be fully satisfied. Bring you a fork the 5 seconds before it drops to the floor. Has a crayon and paper at the ready for fussy kids. Finds any excuse for you not to crane your neck or stand up to find some service. They have to be knowledgeable, not only of the menu, but of the local vicinity as well.
Maintenance - curb appeal works here. If the restaurant frontage seems in good repair, not necessarily brand new, but clean and presentable, chances are the restaurant isn't cutting corners. Furniture and fixtures are always in top condition, floor is maintained, and every piece of equipment is in good and working order.
Ambience - of course it would reflect your present mood. It should be appropriate with what you feel right now. Different elements should be in the same flow as your disposition. The right music, the right noise volume, decor; anything that would appeal to you. If anything is out of sync, you will notice it. And it will grate on your psyche like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Economy of movement - most seasoned restaurants, the more professional ones at least, hire professional staff who enjoy their work. They perform their duties so well and with such fluidity that you barely notice that they're there. No running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Everything they do is deliberate, with a sense of urgency.
Langniappe - they always let you leave with a lasting impression. And they come in different forms, such as the classic mint after dinner, or the leftovers wrapped beautifully in a tinfoil swan. Things that come as a pleasant surprise.

Have I missed anything? Let me know...


Pasta for mama! Mama mia!

It was a hot sweltering day. For Mother's Day we took Rossana to ‘The Old Spaghetti House’ at Market! Market!. We wanted to be off the beaten track, and since Rossana loves pasta, this place suited our purposes. The drive was short, even in the heat, and it was pleasant because we were looking forward to a good meal. Fast food and junk begone!

 Old Spaghetti House Walking into the restaurant, we had a hint of nostalgia from our childhood days, but this restaurant was just short of that. It had the decor, it had the food, but something was missing. I was afraid that we might luck out on this one.

The menu is as varied as ever. But the pretentious foodies who expect this to be an Italian pasta joint need not apply. It’s straightforward pasta, pizza, rice meals (OMG, that is so tacky to put it in there), sandwiches and desserts. They have a section for International Pizzas. More like fusion. More like East meets west. Pizza in itself is international.

As we sat down, me gorging on bottomless Ice Tea to quench my thirst and hide from the summer heat, we perused the menu after having waited a noticeable minute for the waiter to notice us as we walked in. It was mid-afternoon, and the  restaurant was occupied by only two other people. Slow for them, quiet and pleasant for us. After making our selections, the waiter took the menus, and we were left to look around. Maxine busied herself by vandalizing the paper placemats.

im-0191 First to come was the Pepperoni and cheese pizza. Thin crust, on a wooden chopping board. Topped with cheese and sliced sausage. The crust was crisp, despite the lack of ‘toastiness’ around the edges. The cheese was less than stringy, but was adequate in taste, complementing the sliced sausages. I would like to say pepperoni, but that was not pepperoni. Somebody must have switched the meat along the line. It was a good pizza though, better than what other restaurants are touting as pan pizzas or ‘chef quality’ pizzas.

im-0190 The spaghetti carbonara and pasta negra came next, delivered in deep bowls.  With toasted garlic bread. Even though the bread was not toasted properly (seems to be a recurring theme where dough is concerned) it was enough to sop up the sauce. The carbonara did lack the richness of the egg yolk. Bacon taste was a scale of 4 out of ten. What did they use? Canadian bacon? Bacon in a can? Pasta all around was ideally al dente, no doubt about that. The pasta negra, turned out to be as good as the authentic teeth staining kind, but lacked spice. Though the pastas were warm, I would have liked it to be hot enough that steam was wafting from the bowl when it was served. In this case, the dish got cold before we were halfway through the meal. The bowls being ice-cold probably helped.

im-0189 The remaining dish were the lasagnas for Maxine and Alie. Rich, steamy. Melts in your mouth. But it think it was a matter of convenience that they were simply nuked in the microwave rather than baked before serving. The lack of tomato and cheese spatters on the bowl indicated that it was cold to the touch as well, so the inherent heat came from within. Notice the lack of golden brown on the bread? Probably they did not have an oven to begin with. Hmmm.

The day ended with Rossana enjoying a small glass of Sugar-free chocolate mousse. Even though Maxine begged to have one, Rossana was encouraged to be selfish.

Overall we had a good time. The Old Spaghetti House is close enough to be an institution, but it will, as for the past years, not be foremost in my mind. The attention of the wait staff seems to indicate that they are just there to serve the food. The lack of attentiveness made us order what we wanted, not only to be safe, but also we did not know how the other items fare. During downtime, ironically, the wait staff were discussing their salaries unmindful of the guests that could here.

The food overall, could have been better. The appropriate heat from cooking the food would have been welcome, even though it was hot outside. Bread not toasted. Pasta lacking stem. Plates that are cold to the touch. Somebody must not have paid their gas bill. The drinks were cold, and no effort there. Maxine, even though a six year old, filled out the survey form, giving an overall rating of 3 out of 5. I asked ‘What was wrong, honey?” And she said “the food was cold.”

Despite the lack of attention to detail, we did enjoy ourselves. Because it was an afternoon that we were together. The minuses did not bother us that much. But it would have been a great experience if the food was up to par as what the ‘Old Spaghetti House’ has been known for. At least during my growing-up years.

Feel free to leave a violent reaction. Because I, as well as other readers, would like to know if this is just a one-time thing.

Grilled Zucchini Summer Salad

Zucchini salad This recipe is perfect for the summer. Zucchini flavor is further enhanced with the caramelization of its sugars from grilling. If you have the time, the zucchini slices are best used when dried out in the sun. It conncentrates the sugars. But if you are like most people who ironically do not have time, despite the advent of time-saving devices, the following recipe is almost as good.





  • 1 kg zucchini (about 6 pieces) sliced lengthwise 2mm thick
  • 60 ml Extra Virgin Olive oil

Brush Zucchini slices with olive oil on both sides. Place over hot grill and cook 1-2 minutes on each side, until almost charred. Set aside to cool slightly.

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 75 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 10 gr fresh mint, chopped
  • 50 gr cashew nuts, chopped and toasted
  • salt and pepper

In a bowl, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and mint. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour over warm zucchinis and toss gently. Can be served warm or let marinate for 24 hours. Top with chopped cashew nuts before serving.

Heat up…cool down! Easy recipes to chill with

image It is hot in the city! Scorching hot! We do everything to cool down. It get’s so hot that moving produces so much heat it brings us to the brink of despair. So we head off to the beaches, wade in pools, do things that would bring the temperature down to sane level. To be a bit more closer to home, here are a few food and beverage ideas to keep the summer heat at bay:

Icy Banana Freeze – boil 5 cups of sugar in 6 cups of water. When dissolved, let cool. Then Pour in the juice of 5 oranges and 2 lemons, 5 mashed banans and a large can of pineapple juice. Freeze the mixture to a slushy consistency, then serve in margherita glasses with dainty straws

Make your own ice cream and eat it too – mix 1/2 C whipping cream, 1/2 fresh cream, 4 tbsp sugar1/2 tsp vanilla essence in a Ziploc bag. Seal and place in a bigger Ziploc bag filled with ice and rock salt. Squeeze, roll, toss for the next 10-15 minutes. Eat direct from the bag with a spoon. Your kids will love it. To add variation, add 1 C fruit preserves you crave for. Just use the same proportions.

Avocado cool soup – place 3 ripe avocados (peeled, pitted and cubed), 3 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, a pinch of white pepper, 1 small chopped white onion, 2 C chicken stock in a blender. Process until smooth, then fold in cream. Place in a serving bowl, cover with cling film and chill for 2-3 hours.

Blueberry popsicles – place 2 cups Comstock Blueberries, 1 C fresh milk and 1 tbsp white sugar in blender. Process until smooth. Pour into Popsicle moulds and freeze until solid. Use other fruit preserves for variation.

Go have a picnic – cheese and fruit go together like lovers entwined forever in an embrace. you are only limited by your imagination. Pineapple, orange wedges, strawberries, peaches, grapes and blueberries create wonderful sensations when paired with Havarti, Cheddar, Monterey Jack, parmigiano Reggiano and fresh mozzarella.