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Friday, March 23, 2012

Top 5 Ambience Dont's

Asthetics (what I see/smell and feel) will quickly determine whether I step another foot inside a restaurant, or bout-face out the door. Without getting into a lengthy diatribe of what subtle elements work together to create perfect ambiance, I will list five peeves guaranteed to make liking your restaurant a challenge . If you are an offender of any item in this list, and I haven't heard 100% rave reviews of your food I WILL NEVER sit down to eat in your restaurant. So please read, learn, and enjoy

#5 Fake flowers-When I see them I immediately think "fake flowers=fake food". The restaurateur who believes I won't know the difference between fake and real Ivy, will also assume I can't taste preservative laden bottled sauces and dressings. While this might not be true (I've had some of the yummiest mexican food in places that look like the "floral" section of Ben Franklin) there is no reason to send the wrong impression. Also, it's proven that real plants greatly improve indoor air quality. Putting fake plants withe zero purpose besides looking tacky in the place of hard working air scrubbing living flora, seems a grand missed opportunity to make my dining experience lovely and fully oxygenated.

Whats worse-unnaturally colored fake flora like all the late 80's pink and blue silk flower arrangements once adorning my mothers front entry.

#4 Institutional Ceilings- I don't know the official name of this type of ceiling but imagine being bored in elementary school, looking up, and lobbing a pencil into it among a sea of spit wads. Imagine being at work and doing (at least wishing to do) the same thing. Now imagine being at the gyno or the dentist and the lovely view you see while you are being unpleasantly probed. Are you getting the picture??? This ceiling does anything BUT convey comfort and entice me to enjoy a meal. It reminds me too much of all the places I'm trying NOT to visit. I must say however, that my irritation with this depends on the ticket price of the meals served. I'll forgive it in an in'n'out but not in $20+ french cafe's (yes I'm talking about you Cafe Campinile, ElDo Hills). If you run a restaurant located in a strip mall that features such ceilings PAINT IT. That's all I'm asking. If your land lord won't let you- look into fabrics that can be draped across the ceiling which can also be used in conjuction with clever lighting effects.

What's worse- Institutional type ceiling with brown water stains-GROSS!

#3 Bad colors-I don't profess to be a color consultant (although hiring one is a grand idea for any eatery owner), but there are a couple colors that are a bad idea so stay away. Minty hospital green is the first. I don't know what Behr calls its version of said color, but were they to name it Hospital Green, people might learn to steer clear and stop mutilating their dining rooms. There is never a reason to remind your diners about the single place horrid food is guaranteed.

The second is actually two colors put together-pink and light blue. Yo Chinese restaurants called Chinese Restaurant. I'm talking to YOU and 1989 called wanting it's pleather booths back.

Another color to be careful with is blue because natural foods never come in such a color except for blueberries which are more purple. Because of this, blue turns OFF appetite rather than stimulating it. You can use shades of blue but don't overuse them.

What's worse-hospital green walls with pea soup trim.

#2 Perfumed floor cleaner- I have only experienced this in a taqueria chain called La Fiesta and it really stunk! In a marketing class I learned that in Mexico cleaners are made with more perfumes than the same cleaner sold in the US because somehow the perception of clean got married to chemy perfume overload. La Fiesta- if you are reading this- you are in the USA and some of us are smell sensitive. This means that when we smell your beloved Fabuloso our eye's start to water, headaches attack, and no matter how much we love your burritos and salsa bar, we are physically unable stay inside long enough to order.

What's worse- The the person mopping has recently taken a bath in a drug store cologne knockoff.

2) Bad lighting- Ok ask my friends, I'm a bit nuts about this one. I once requested a complete table reassignment for a table of 8 because of inadequate yet intrusive lighting. To be fair it WAS my birthday which gives me certain inalienable rights of persnickitiness.

I will however move my table or leave the restaurant any day of the year if the lamp above the table is angled in such a way where I can see the bulb. I rarely dine alone and when I am with someone it's them I want to see. A jealous bald bulb come's between us and demands I pay more attention to IT than to my friend, my food, or even my thoughts. You can eliminate this problem by increasing points of light but reducing the wattage- for instance hanging strings of light across the ceiling like Cirino's on Main Street does. You can also pay more attention to reflective lighting like sconses or art display lights.

Also, ditch fluorescent-While you can get away with keeping themin a place where people love your food and order mostly take out, if you truly want people to enjoy a dining experience rather than feel like they are shopping in Wal-mart- get rid of institutional style, square ceiling tube lights. They make food look weird and people look weirder (who wants to look pasty on a date right?).

What's worse-a flourescant tube light that is ready to die and flickering in protest (epilectics beware).

What's worse worse- a dying tube light with a cover full of dead flies, moths, and mosquito hawks.

Dear Nevada County Restaurants

The world is changing and if you don't change with it you could be left behind. Take a look around you- Local is IN. Seasonal is IN. Serving food obtained from national produce distributors is OUT!

The growing awareness (especially in Nevada County) is phenomenal, of the dangers of hormones, antibiotics, GMO, herbicides, and pesticides. They are also now aware of the silly sustainability of trucking in beef from OHIO when several local and superior ranches can fulfill the need. Yet despite this only a handful of restaurants have understood the populations mandate which screams "we want fresh, wholesome, ethical, local food".

They are- forgive me if I am missing any

New Moon
Simplicity Bistro

Both Jernigan's and Simplicity Bistro are welcome newcomers to this list and they will thrive when word gets out that they use Niman Ranch beef for their burgers (Jernigan's), while charging the SAME as Tofenelli's crappy CAFO beef burgers. Or that only Organic produce will be found in a in Simplicity Bistro's Ceasar salad compared to Cirino's Ceasar Salad while the latter charges a whopping 3 dollars more.

It's not just a matter of economic and environmental ethics. It's a matter of taste. When people make a habit of eating quality food at home they can TASTE the junk that doesn't belong in food. They can taste if the dressing came out of a bottle full of preservatives, and if the beef is from drugged cattle. Their taste buds have learned to appreciate FOOD!

Basically I'm saying that cheap processed ingredients served in restaurants trying to pass themselves off as "fine dining" will alienate those who know the difference. Conversely, eateries committed to fresh local quality will only impress and earn the loyalty of those same folks- and please don't underestimate what that market segment can mean to you and your bottom line.

Yet despite this truth, some of you restaurants just sit on on your laurels- You might offer the patio and ambience to attract a constant stream of tourists, or perhaps your regulars are old school folks who think that the organic phenomenon is just "marketing to sell food at higher prices". If so, you will probably remain successful for a time, yet it's a shame because you have an opportunity to do better! YOU can support Nevada County Beef, or Four Frog Farm, or Chaffin Family Orchards, and YOU will create opportunities for them to thrive and keep employees-who will now have the dough to eat in your restaurant. YOU can be the one tourists will go home rave about sending future tourists in a beeline your direction. And I really believe YOU will make more money in the long run.

By doing this you will add a very loyal and committed group of foodies to your regulars- Food activists who TALK to each other every time they are impressed and who will chose you over your competition because it makes them feel good inside to support those who support their neighbors and who cook with a code.

If you refuse to switch because you are concerned about cost, create a smaller yet BETTER menu! this will save on labor expenses and on the cost of waste. Transfer the savings to quality food. Additionally, you will have less opportunities for your servers and cooks to "mess up" an order cutting down on dissatisfaction and food returns, and again- assuring customer loyalty.

Jernigan's Review

FINALLY! A local restaurant I can give my nearly full and complete endorsement.

Jernigans has by far the BEST burgers around. Their commitment to their ingredients is impressive, serving Niman Ranch hamburger meat on a toasted bun from duprees. (both local companies). As cool as that is to an organic/local activist like myself, the real reason to be impressed by this is because working together-the ingredients create the the juiciest, most flavorful delight your mouth will ever experience. I dare you to order a burger from Jernigan's and one from any other restaurant in town and taste the difference side by side.

Fantastic beer as well. I ordered what I think was called a 360 IPA which had a fascinating nuance to it that I can't quite define. I'm thinking a hint of juniper but I can't quite tell. Anyway its the first time the flavor of a beer has surprised me and I liked it!

We enjoyed laid back yet attentive service from our bartendress/waitress. She knew how to pay attention without being intrusive.

The only small problem with this place is that people have yet to catch on to its awesomeness as there were no other diners in sight at 7pm Wednesday night. I hope people wake up soon and get in there because this county cannot afford to lose burgers this wonderful.

One last thing though-its a pretty small dining room that's more of a bar actually, so expect super laid back unassuming atmosphere and a TV playing sports. Its a spot to hang with your bro's more than a place to take a first date to.

Tofanelli's Review

The other Sunday I visited Tofenell's to eat lunch with 2 friends of mine and their 3 year old daughter. I really enjoyed certain aspects of this restaurant but I left disappointed in the end.

Ambiance-There is no denying that Tofenelli's has the best patio in the county but even when it's out of season their two dining rooms are fantastic. One is a sunroom full of light, and the other is charming with original brick walls.

The French Fries are Perfect! I prefer thin cut crispy fries and this is exactly how they make them here so I'm impressed.

Nuetral- service (friendly but brought the 3 year-old's food out 5 minutes after the adults were served and all parents know that hungry children make for an unpleasant experience).

Cons- Medium rare hamburgers come out rare and the beef they use is substandard big agra beef. There is no excuse for that when Jernigan's makes their burgers with premium Niman Ranch hamburger meat. When such amazing quality beef nearly grazes in your back yard what is the point of using anything else.?Also- Cream should NOT come from those little packs. They make a mess of the table where you eat and creates unnecessary waste.

In summary- eat here if you don't have kids, and if the only thing you want to eat is french fries.