The Making of a Restaurant

Saturday, November 10, 2001

The New York Times' chief ethicist has the dish on waiter recommendations: "If you don't know how rich and zesty the pot roast is, say, 'I don't know; I've never tried it.' You can offer other honest information: 'The lamb chops are popular.' Or, 'No one has ever filed a written complaint about the swordfish.' Or, if you have different standards, you could say, 'No one has ever keeled over dead from eating the clams. On my shift.' But you must answer honestly or keep silent."
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Friday, November 09, 2001

What is it about barbeque joints? They're always the ones with the most charm, the best decor, the greatest... joie de vivre. Must be something in the sauce.

Way back I reported on Wicker Park's Smoke Daddy, a hole in the wall B-B-Q joint that evoked many of the same qualities I could see in our place. Wednesday night I visited what could be considered the west coast alternative to Smoke Daddy, a place in San Fran's Richmond District called, simply, Q. I was expecting exploding pens and bulletproof BMWs, but no, it seems Q is named after its cuisine. Like S.D., Q specializes in B-B-Q, though its menu ventures beyond the common staples of rib tips and pulled pork. The specials on the night I was there included a braised fish and an andouille soup. I went down the path of typical, ordering the spare ribs. This was for two reasons, mainly: 1) they came with garlic fries, which I adore and 2) when I asked the waitress what the restaurant was known for, her response was a confident "oh, definitely the spare ribs." The decision was merely academic.

While I waited from my ribs to arrive, I took down a few thoughts:

• We've already suggested using chalkboards to display the specials. Q takes it to the next level, turning an entire wall into a chalkboard upon which they can display special items, along with any other available news. If this is a possibility, we could implement the same thing. Then, for those seats next to the chalkboard wall, we'd keep a holster of chalk at the table, in case the urge grabs them to leave their mark. Call it controlled vandalism.

• Q also sells t-shirts. (As advertised at the top of the chalkboard-wall.) This is almost a given, and I'm surprised we haven't thought of it earlier. We must establish a brand, and that brand must be something our fans would be willing -- nay, excited -- to wear on their person. Then, If we could somehow get said person to fly to New York to yuk it up with Al Roker, we'd be set.

• The tables inside Q are little works of art. They're all about 5 inches thick, hollow and with a glass top. Inside each table is a different object or set of objects. Mine had a paper maché dragon. My neighbors' table had one of those toys where you move metallic bits around with a magnetic pen, creating designs on the picture beneath. It's a brilliant idea, and one I've never seen anywhere else. I don't suggest stealing the exact concept, but we should learn its lesson: don't treat any piece of the dining experience as a given. The more twists to the conventional, the likelier our customers will remember us for the next time their stomachs start calling.
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