by Jules Older
There’s something to be said for stating boldly, baldly and in print the bases upon which a reviewer writes a review. After all, reviewing is personal, even when disguised as objective. Resorts lose their AAA stars and Mobil diamonds for things I find totally insignificant, like still using brass, not plastic keys; or even things I find laudable, like the absence of a noisy ice machine on every floor.
Well, AAA and Mobil have their tastes, I have mine.
Here are mine.
A restaurant or inn loses a full point if:
• Arugula appears on the menu. Knock off another point if the menu boasts “wilted arugula.” Or wilted almost-anything-else.
• Raspberries are served in any course except dessert or palate-clearing sorbet. Raspberry vinaigrette counts the same as whole fruit.
• Fish (almost always trout) is served coated in pistachio. These first three points are not meant to discourage creative chefs; they’re intended to penalize trendy chefs who follow any food fashion, no matter how ephemeral or awful-tasting.
• Vegetables are treated as a throwaway item. Overcooked beans, combined carrots and peas, soggy zucchini—each counts as a point against.
• A rural New England restaurant offering only zucchini in the month of August loses an additional point.
• Patrons are expected to use a single fork for salad, main course and dessert.
• Everyone in the dining room is whispering. My wife the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant calls this “a WASP restaurant.” No, a meal should not sound like a rock concert, but it needn’t sound like a funeral either.
• Llamas are present on the property. Llamas are yuppie Holsteins, an affectation whose presence, north of the Andes, should be actively discouraged.
• Servers call themselves waitrons, as in: “Hi, I’m Bill. I’ll be your waitron tonight.” Waiter, waitress, server are perfectly good words, as is chef. Waitron and chef person are vile.
• American waiters answer questions phrased in English in a foreign tongue (almost always French). In a restaurant in Manchester, Vermont, a conversation with the farm-bred waitress went like this:
“Do you have coq au vin?”
“Is the lamb sausage made here?”
“Why are you talking like that?”
“They make us.”
On the other hand, a restaurant or inn gains a full point if:
• Pot roast is on the menu. It’s a sign that the establishment is in touch with its roots.
• Portions are big enough to satisfy the hunger of a six-foot, 185-pound diner.
• At least a third of the patrons come from within a 20-mile radius. In a large city, a two-block radius.
• Servers smile.
• Servers know what’s on the day’s menu. Add another full point if they know what’s in the day’s dishes.
• Ice water is on the table and frequently replenished. When a hiking or biking group comes in, the tables should be amply supplied with jugs.
• The establishment has smoke-free zones that work. The test is simple: patrons never smell a cigar or cigarette from the time they enter the dining room ‘til the time they leave. In Vermont today, this is almost never an issue. Thanks to the Legislature, nearly every restaurant gets a free bonus point.
• Brewed decaf coffee and real, i.e. not herbal, decaf tea are available.
• On the menu, vinaigrette is spelled vi-n-e-g-r-e-t. Simplicity should be rewarded.
• Certain foods are left in their natural state. The natural state of fresh corn on the cob is with butter and salt. The natural state of Maine lobster is with drawn butter. Drawn curry butter or saffron butter or raspberry-vinaigrette-with-wilted-arugula butter is an unnatural state.
• Llama steak is on the menu. I take this as a sign of good faith that the innkeeper is disposing of the llamas in the yard.
You can find All About Jules at www.julesolder.com