Monday, August 31, 2009

Tipping, I've changed my mind

First, I think serving is one of the hardest jobs. No wait, good serving is one of the hardest jobs I know. Having seen the very best and the very worst at all levels of restaurants as well as doing a little serving myself, I appreciate the work.

The problem is tipping. My niece is a server and very good one. I asked her for advice since she has served at nicer to very nice Chicago restaurants. She said everyone tips 20% or more. I was dumbfounded. 20%? I was a 15% off the food price.

So here is the rub. Some servers expect 20% of the total bill including the tax. Others are expecting 15% of the total. Some of us are not willing to pay a tip on tax, that is dumb. But as I get older, 15% is tough to figure in my head.

Also 15% (or 20%) is really for excellent service. Excellent, not almost excellent or I would have if the kitchen hadn't screwed up excellent. It is for the whole package. If the kitchen is screwing up orders and you are taking the heat, find another job or scream at the kitchen manager. It isn't my problem.

So my new approach is to look at the bill and figure about 20% of the total (or so). On a great server, I'll make sure and round up. On an good server, I'll go to the easiest number and for a bad server, I'm still willing to start deducting for style points.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Search for Salt

One of the big lessons taught in cooking schools is salt. Yup, that lowly NaCl. I'm amazed at the reaction to salt. Once in Soups and Sauces class at cooking school, we made some soup. I tasted it before presenting it to the Chef/Instructor and thought it wasn't too bad. "Needs more salt" she replied. So I took it back and added some salt. Oh my what a difference, so again I presented it to the Chef and she said "Needs more salt". I mildly protested, but went back and added some salt to pan. It was 100% better. So again I presented the dish and she said "It really needs more salt, really". I really protested, but did as Chef wanted and added more salt. Oh Man was she right. The dish exploded with taste and not just salt. When I presented it again, she said, "See...".

So if there are all these good chefs, then why don't they know how to salt? I can see in a nursing home or retirement home (ok not really). We went to a well known restaurant in Wheaton that closed some time ago by two brothers. I'm sure you know who. The food was well good, but it needed salt. But no salt was at the table. Given what I know now, they probably thought that only a philistine would salt this great food. Well, this philistine has tasted perfectly done food and this wasn't it. It needed salt. I've salted the salsa at Front Street Cantina once and added my lime from a beer. That needed salt too. I realize that the 'great chefs' know how to salt (yeah right), but the line cooks who are the work horses of the restaurants and are great cooks may not have the 'talent' the chefs do.

Put salt on the table. It isn't a slight to your abilities and can be important to a great experience.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Downtown Restaurants or why I don't go

Naperville has a lively night life and is getting more restaurants and bars. Or rather bars and a few restaurants. But the restaurants aren't that good. Here is how to be successful in downtown Naperville. First, design a bar that appeals to 21-30 crowd. Remember the 30-50 guys who would like to be 21-30 will also go because well, they still think they can cruise the bar scene and pick up 21 year old women (yeah right). Because this is Naperville, it should have loud music, funny-fancy drinks and women. Even if you have to import them. This brings in the single guys. Since Naperville has liquor licenses that discourage a bar, you need to add food. And you need a certain percentage to qualify for the next level up, which is cheaper and easier to get. The more you can disguise your bar as a restaurant the better so add grill to your name. It would help if you were a 'famous' place from Chicago so people would think it is trendy to go.

The choice of food is a wide-enough menu to get people to buy a sandwich or even a meal. Remember a percentage of your take has to be in food to qualify for a different level of license.

The best way to make money from restaurants in Naperville is to own the building and rent it out. This way, the only people who can afford the rent would be cookie cutter corporate restaurants who can use a formula to be successful and can factor in the rising rents as one more part of the equation and price the drinks accordingly. Sort of the McDonald's approach to bars and restaurants. Yes, this works, but it is boring. How many appletini's can one stand?

Don't get me wrong, I do like Bar Louie's although I'd rather go to Bolingbrook than face Naperville traffic. But the glut of bars posing as restaurants just don't do it for me.

This is my opinion. If you are a 25 year old guy who is looking to go pick up chicks and needs a bar scene, so be it. But look at the price of that fancy drink you are nursing. Look at the decor and service. Watch everyone yelling over the music to talk. If this is fun, I guess I never knew what fun was.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Veg Harvest Restaurant

Last week, my wife and I went to try Indian Harvest's newest restaurant spin-off, Veg Harvest. Naperville has remarkably good Indian restaurants and I love Indian food. If you like Indian food, especially South Indian and street style food, then Veg Harvest is a winner. I like Indian Harvest, but this is a vegetarian only restaurant. This is also different because of the addition of chaats and other street fare, something you don't find in a lot of Indian restaurants. We had the Samosa Chaat, which is a samosa topped with an Indian 'chili'. Next we had Butter Masala Dosai and Navratan Korma. The Dosai was about 14" wide and filled with a great potato mixture. The Navratan Korma would have been a hit in any other restaurant, but here it was our third choice. We ordered too much. The Samosa Chaat and Dosai would have been enough for two people. So order wisely.

The service was very good. Indian Harvest does have good service and here is no exception. They kept water glasses filled and were attentive to our table.

This is relatively a new place and is closed on Tuesday. They do not have a liquor license. The sign outside is still Indian Harvest (this is the previous place before they moved across the street).

When I think about what was wrong with the restaurant, I don't have much to say. For a mid-level Indian restaurant, it is extremely good. All I want is good food, good service and a nice atmosphere. If I want fancy, I'll go to India House in Oakbrook. But this is a great place to get a excellent Indian food.

When we go to a new place, the thing that tells us we like it is when we are planning on the next visit, before we are done with the first. It doesn't happen all that often. Half way through the dinner, we were ready to come back. The other thing that tells us we liked it is when we see who we should tell or bring.

This is a winner.

Who am I and why should I write this blog

First let me introduce myself. I'm a 55 year old guy who loves food. I'm also a trained chef and have worked in restaurants, so I know a little about food and what it takes to make food. I also live in Naperville, IL and have opinions about what is going on here. Naperville is the 6th largest city in Illinois and when you combine Aurora and Naperville, it becomes the second largest area. That is a lot of people and a lot of opportunities.

Unfortunately, Naperville sort of fails us all. Because of greed and Naperville's willingness to accept drek, we have a downtown that attracts boring cookie cutter restaurants that cater to the college kids rather than to the food.

I should also state that there are good places in Naperville. I also believe that it doesn't have to be fine dining either. I happen to like places like Dino's and Portillo's for fast food. I like Buonaro's for casual dining as well. I don't need too crowded, too loud, too high priced dining.

My opinions are mine and mine alone. I don't accept anything from anyone. And I hope to call 'em the way I see them.