Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Food Vacation Part 2: Comment Cards

This second installment of my commentary on the trip to Brownwood, TX will focus on the last meal we had there.

For the post-graduation celebratory dinner we dined at The Turtle. The Turtle is the only "fancy" restaurant in Brownwood, TX. It is attached to The Turtle Gellateria, which serves yummy homemade gellato and sorbetto. We made a reservation for 7:00pm thinking it might be a good idea to reserve our spot since it was graduation weekend and it is the only "fancy" restaurant in town.

The Turtle's moto is: Slow, fresh food. Well, they got the "slow" part right.

The Turtle has apprx. 7 tables. It seats apprx. 34 people. The night we were there the restaurant was 3/4 full and it's staff consisted of 4 waiters. That averages out to 6 people per waiter. I have never been a waiter, but I tend to think that I could attentively serve 6 people with not too much trouble. Our waiter, whose name escapes me at the moment, was having a hard time with it though.

We experienced all the typical problems: draining our water glasses and having to wait an inordinate amount of time to have them refilled, having to wait an extremely long time to place our order, not having our bread baskets refilled promptly, etc.

Aunt Leigh ordered a glass of wine and wanted it to be brought to her before the meal thinking she would order another glass to drink with dinner. However, since the first glass she ordered didn't arrive at the table until our meal was served she only drank the one. Poor service cost them an extra $7 that would have been added to our bill.

I was especially annoyed. So, when the bill finally came (three hours after we sat down) I took the time to fill out the accompanying comment card.

I like comments cards. I like feedback. I like to give and to receive feedback. I think feedback aids most processes. So, I gave The Turtle mine. I was fair. I was not rude. I complimented and offered what I hope will be taken as constructive criticism. The comment card was full by the time I finished. I even used the back. But, I sincerely hope it helps. I like The Turtle. I just did not have a pleasurable experience this time around.

Two things I did take away from this dining out experience: One, I will have comment cards at my restaurant. And two, I will personally have each of the waiters I hire serve me and my sister Victoria as a trial run before I offer them a position. We have extremely high standards. We will only be satisfied with the best, most attentive, most professional waiters. We will be ruthless. Beware!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Food Vacation Part 1

This past weekend my family (which consisted of my mom, dad, and Aunt Leigh) and I traveled to Brownwood, TX to see my sister Victoria graduate Summa Cum Laude from Howard Payne University. It was an enjoyable trip and I am very proud of my sister and her accomplishments. Now onto how this relates to dining out...

Brownwood is a town with a population of apprx. 18,800 souls and is located almost smack-dab in the middle of the state of Texas. Suffice it to say dining out options are limited. Be that as it may, we did eat alot. In fact our visit so centered around what meals we were eating and when and where that my mom began to refer to the trip as a "food vacation".

Our first meal was at a Mexican food restaurant called Emilio's. (The name of the place just made me think of Emilio Estevez, which made me think about The Mighty Ducks, which of course made me think about hockey and Will Ledesma all in one fail swoop!)

Anyway back to Emilio's. I ordered the cheese enchiladas. The plate was described on the menu as being served with your choice of refried or borracho beans, Spanish rice and a salad. I chose the borracho beans, which payed off in the end, because they were excellent! Turns out that they are pretty much the sole reason my brother-in-law Sam goes to eat at Emilio's.

The enchiladas were disappointing. The main reason for this was the fact that the cheese was not nearly melt-y enough. And if it's not for the melt-y cheese then what's the point of a cheese enchilada?

But, the biggest let-down was the salad. The salad was not described on the menu, but I hoped, seeing as how we were at a Mexican food restaurant, that it would be a guacamole salad. I love guacamole. It was not. It was a regular garden salad. Strange and disappointing for a Mexican food restaurant.

Moving on to meal #2. This was the post-graduation lunch. We dined at The Runaway Train. It is a diner inside of an old railroad car. I do not mean a replica of an old railroad car. I mean an actual railroad car. The car is still on suspension. When the number of people inside exceeds the maximum capacity the door to the car will no longer open. Pretty cool.

As an appetizer my sister, Sam and I split a half order (6) of mozzarella. They were obviously pulled from the piping hot grease moments before they reached our table and were everything one could want out of a fried cheese stick. These lovely treats were only enhanced by the addition of Marinara sauce and Ranch dressing as dipping options.

As if that were not enough in the appetizer department, my mom, dad, Aunt Leigh and I split an order of fried pickles too. These were not the dill spears they so famously serve at Katz's Deli here in Houston, but thick dill chips coated in a crispy, salty batter. They definitely know how to use a deep fryer at The Train! These pickles were divine. The order of apprx. 20-25 pickles was served with Ranch dressing on the side. Nice touch!

For the main course: the soup and half sandwich. A lunch combo that allowed you to pick a half of any of their sandwiches accompanied by a cup of soup of your choice. I chose the RR Club (RR = Railroad.) This delightful sandwich was served on jalapeno cheese bread (Delicious!), with turkey, American and Swiss cheese, a jalapeno smoked bacon (Bacon is always a plus!), lettuce and tomato. The original sandwich is dressed with mayonnaise, but I loath the stuff so a substitution of mustard was called for. For my soup I chose the baked potato soup dressed with shredded cheddar cheese, chives, and bacon crumbles. This was the absolutely perfect lunch! I found no fault at all with any of the food I was served.

And speaking of being served, both waiters I interacted with were young, male and tattooed. (One of them had a shaved head reminiscent of Derek Webb.) And yet they both had the calm manner of gentlemen who were at ease with themselves. An odd combination, but it worked.

Overall, The Train was delightful. The one and only drawback was that in the corner where we were seated there seemed to be a small heard of house flies. Our waiter came over with a fly swatter and took care of several of them, and then left the fly swatter with us, so that we would have some means by which to dispose of the distasteful creatures. I was sitting next to Sam and he gallantly took care of several more that were pestering me. No tattoos and he has hair, but my brother-in-law is also a gentleman!

I will conclude this post by asking you to please stay tuned for "A Food Vacation Part 2" in which I will describe Meal #3 in Brownwood and will unfortunately have to return to the topic of poor service.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Service and My First Review

Service, more specifically customer service, is absolutely critical when it comes to having an enjoyable dining out experience. Polite, friendly and above all efficient service can make or break a dining experience.

The level of involvement of the service personnel in a restaurant varies depending on the style of establishment, but even if it's just counter service and not table side service it should still be impeccable. I have extremely high standards!

Jason and I went to Beck's Prime this evening before our call time at 6:30pm. This is the Beck's on Kirby Dr. between Westhiemer and W. Alabama. (I'm going to rabbit trail here a bit and say that this location is infinitely easier to get to now that they have cut Kipling all the way through from Virginia to Kirby.)

Jason and I enjoy Beck's as a rule, although we do go back and forth a bit between it and Five Guys Burgers and Fries when we are trying to decide where to go for a non-fast food burger. But, today the service was less than stellar at Beck's. The young lady who took our order could not have been less thrilled to be there. She did not smile the entire time she interacted with us. She was not openly hostile or rude, but she was not exactly warm and welcoming either. Overall I would say she was just generally lackluster.

I guess she could have been having a bad day (I understand that.) or maybe she dislikes her job ( Some days I understand that too.). But, whatever the case she seem to be "over it".

Before I segue to talking about other sub-par services experiences I am going to write my first restaurant review!

Name: Beck's Prime
Location: The west side of Kirby Dr., between Westheimer and W. Alabama
Time Visited: Thursday, apprx. 5:30pm

Food: 4 stars - The food at Beck's is exceptional. This evening I partook of a cheese burger w/ cheddar cheese, cooked medium on a whole wheat bun with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. I split an order of french fries with Jason. The thing about Beck's burgers is that they are hearty. You do not walk away hungry, even if you don't have any fries.

Service and Ambiance/Atmosphere: 3 stars - The service and ambiance/atmosphere are really just average. There is nothing great to say about either one, but nothing overly critical either.

Value: 3.5 stars - I honestly think Beck's is a bit over priced. (Note to self: In the future add a link to an on-line menu if possible.) It's also a little pretentious which I am sure contributes to the over priced-ness. (Technically, I guess the bit about the restaurant being pretentious should go under the heading of ambiance/atmosphere, but I just had to throw it in here.)

Consistency: 4 stars - I have never had an absolutely wretched experience at Beck's. They are consistently slightly above average in all areas. Not necessarily something I would write home about, but I would never turn anyone down should they suggested we dine there...especially if they are footing the bill!

Overall rating: 3.5 stars - For a pretentious burger joint with nothing terribly distinguishing about it, aside from the fact that you won't leave hungry, I guess it does all right.

I've decided to save the rest of this post re: sub-par service experiences for another time. In fact, I am sure I will post on this topic frequently. There is, unfortunately, so much to say. So please stay tuned.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ranking...A System...Sort Of

So, as I was discussing my blog with Jason Bergstrom this morning I realized I wanted to do a post about how I will rank and score restaurants. This blog is not going to be an exclusive restaurant review site, but I would like to have some means of telling the handful of people who read this blog what I like and what I don't like and why.

Oh, and I just thought of another thing that might be fun. If you want you can post suggestions of restaurants for me to visit and then I'll write up the review. I love visiting new places and I like having recommendations from people I know because then I am less likely to be disappointed.

This is what I'm thinking. I think we'll go with the classic star rating system. And we'll max out at five stars. Categorizing the range of prices will be a bit trickier, but I am sure I can devise some system that makes sense eventually.

The categories will be as follows: food, service, ambiance/atmosphere, value and most importantly to me, consistency. I think consistency is super important because you might go to a restaurant once and have a wonderful experience, but the next time you go everything is awful. To make the grade a restaurant has to score consistently high, so I have no fear of ever sending someone there because I know that no matter when they happen go they will be in for a treat.

Consistency can work for a restaurant and also work against it. If a place has been consistently good and I go once and have a bad experience I will give them several more chances to prove to me that the one bad experience was an anomaly. If indeed the bad experience proves to be the exception then the restaurant will be restored to good standing. But in the rare case that a restaurant goes from being consistently good to consistently bad then unfortunately I will no longer visit and will definitely not recommend said restaurant to anyone.

I have a bit of a reputation as being the person to go to when one might be looking for restaurant suggestions. I enjoy this. I like talking to people about restaurants and food and I love to live vicariously through others dining out experiences. I also value my reputation. I don't want to send anyone, even someone I don't really know, to a bad restaurant. It hurts my reputation and I don't enjoy that. That's part of the reason why consistency is so very important. My reputation depends on it.

I will review new restaurants, ones I've never been to that is, but they will be missing the consistency rating. I might still recommend them, but I wouldn't necessarily stake my reputation on any of them!

So stay tuned to read the first of my reviews. Not sure which restaurant it will be covering but it promises to be an interesting experience.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Left-Over Mission

I just now took lunch. I normally eat later on Tuesdays because Sissy brings us kolaches and orange juice for breakfast before Bible Study. For lunch I ate left-over Mission Burrito.

Let's talk about left-overs. I'm actually not such a big fan. Most things prepared in restaurants do not lend themselves to re-heating well. There are exceptions however, and Mission Burrito is one of them.

First of all, we are talking a Burrito Bowl, not a regular burrito. Also, the best way to do this is to have it with chips on the side. Hatcher turned me on to this idea of chips instead of a tortilla on the side. Don't get me wrong, I love a warm, soft tortilla, but when you have the dip-like consistency of a left-over Burrito Bowl you need the crunch of the chips to give it that perfect texture. Plus, if you eat there you can have as many chips as you want from the complimentary chips and salsa bar. And if you get it to go they will jut bag up a generous order of chips for you to take with you.

Once you reheat the remnants of the Burrito Bowl and use the sturdy, crunchy chips to dip it out you have the perfect Tuesday late afternoon lunch! And nothing beats opening the decrepit fridge at Grace and seeing your left-overs sitting there with your name written on them and your signature bug doodle drawn lovingly by your wonderful husband-to-be! (Thanks babe.)

There will be more posts re: Mission Burrito. It is one of my fav places in Houston and Jason and I have a little bit of history with it as well.

P.S. Don't you just love the to-go bowls that they put the Burrito Bowls in? I think they are great!

All New To Me...

It's so boring in the Box Office that I decided to create a blog. I know what all of you are thinking: "She is SO ready to be finished with her 365! Why is she embarking on yet another project that she will invariably regret?"

But, there are some important distinctions between taking a picture of myself everyday and blogging about dining out. Number 1: I don't like taking pictures, but I adore dining out. Number 2: I don't have to blog about dining out everyday. Heck, that would mean I would have to dine out everyday and there's no way that's going to happen on a Players salary. Number 3: Blogging about the experience of dining out directly relates to one of my biggest dreams -- to own my own restaurant! (And just so we are all on the same page, taking a picture of myself everyday for a year in no way, shape, or form relates to anything I've ever dreamed about.)

But back to me's a new experience for me. (Fortunately, eating out isn't! Ha!) I am hoping this blog will help me with several things. I would like to learn how to edit. I tend to repeat myself. Alot. I do this when I talk and I will undoubtedly do this when I write as well. I would like to learn how to stop with this unfortunate, annoying habit.

Another thing I hope this blog will help me to do is to chronicle all my thoughts, ideas and inspirations regarding restaurants and the experience of dining out. I would like to be able to read back through this blog later in life when I am opening my very own restaurant! It's gonna happen...I just know's in my blood. But more on that later.