Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What makes a Great Restaurant?

I saw an article that stated that Canada doesn't make the list in the world's greatest restaurants.   Normally I wouldn't agree but with some great restaurants closing down or their quality declining or the trend towards chain restaurants I feel that it may be time for a Restaurant shake up so that we can prove that we have great chefs in this country that pull from all the diversity that we have in this Country.

So what makes a Great Restaurant?   These are the things that I think should be on that list.

1. Consistently great food.  Not 1 good dish once in a while...but all dishes on the menu great.

2. Value for the Money.  I don't mind paying more if the value is there.

3. Great environment.  It makes you feel great when you spend time there.

4. Beautiful decor.  I like to see restaurants become inspirations for how decor should be. If I am going to leave my house I want to spend my time in a place nicer than my home.

5. Originality.  I live in an area that has about a dozen Sushi restaurants.  I can only think of one Sushi restaurant in the city that has stood out in excellence in preparation and presentation.  The rest are pretty much the same thing.  Restaurants start to follow a trend and then before you know it they are all serving the same thing.  With a country with the most diversity in the World we should have the most diverse food influences.  I would like to see restaurants develop their own food personalities that don't copy anyone else's.

6.  Great Service.  This goes without saying.  Even if you have a great meal it you may leave feeling less than satisfied.  I once sat in a restaurant where the wait staff bent over hand over foot to serve a woman that was sitting close to me but she totally ignored me and leaving me there to wait for the bill with no food on the table for over 20 minutes.  The woman that was served well even made a comment to me as I left so it was noticed by someone else besides me.  I will never go back there.

7.  Accessibility.   I know a great restaurant in Toronto that only has 40 seats so you can't eat there unless you plan well in advance.  I don't usually plan to go out to eat 2 months in advance so that doesn't work for me.  Restaurants that can't accommodate an event dinner like a Birthday party.  I tried to reserve a table for 9 but found it difficult to find a restaurant that could accommodate this on a saturday night.    People want to go out to celebrate occasions and sometimes want to go out as a group to a restaurant as a great meeting place.

8.  Clean.  Yes every restaurant should be clean.  In the front of the house and in the back of the house.  I recently went to a Sushi restaurant that looked like nothing had been done to it in 10 years or more.  The booths were set up so that it was probably difficult to clean them well even if they tried.  If a restaurant gets to that point it should be renovated.  It was the ugliest decor I have seen in a long time and could have used a fresh coat of paint and a good scrub up.

9.  Ambience.  There are a few restaurants in the city that are so loud that you spend the whole night yelling at your dinner party guests.  Leaving a restaurant without a voice and a headache isn't a great experience.

10. Menus.  One of my pet peeves are menus that are impossible to read.  The Keg has beautiful mood lighting but it's so dark that you can barely read the menu.  Other menus have fonts so small that you need a magnifying glass to read them.  And there are others that don't have a clue on how to design a menu that makes it easy to disseminate.  Red writing on a purple background doesn't work, so don't do it.  A funky scribble font that is in a light 8 pt font is impossible to read if you are over 40.  Give your menus to some grandmothers and see if they can read them in the dark.  If they can then they are good to use.

There are a few great chefs in the city that are doing great meals that should be applauded.  They produce great tasting food and rank very high on all the points in this list but they don't hit all of them all the time.

My picks of great Toronto chefs include:

1. Lynn Crawford
2. Roger Mooking
3. The chef at Frank's Kitchen
4. J.P. Chalet
5. Mark McEwen
6. Donna Doeher
7. Jamie Kennedy
8. David Adjey
9. Brad Long
10. Michael Bonacini

There are tons of restaurants in this city but a lot of them could use a lot of improvement.  In a city full of foodies it seems that the food trucks have the right idea.  Make quick, fast, cheap, original and tasty food.  Isn't that what we all want?

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