The Making of a Restaurant

Friday, February 15, 2002

Another Valentine's Day come and gone. (Or as we used to put it in our family, Valentooners Day. God, we were such a weird bunch.) While we were preparing breakfast at the Cafe yesterday, Cynthia mentioned that V-day is often the busiest for restaurants, as every member of the Hallmark-buying public takes to the streets to please their sweeties with a candlelit dinner. And as it is now when anyone speaks of restaurant trends in the course of conversation, the blog wheels kicked into motion.

Conventional wisdom dictates that we'd want to be prepared for this night more than any other. But since when have we been conventional? I propose that we seize on that other spirit that pulses through the hearts of millions on Februrary 14th. The one that can't stand for all the gooey lovey-dovey sweetness. I say we set up shop for an Anti-Valentine's Day celebration.

For all the people who are forced to stay in on February 14th -- and from all indications, there are a lot of them -- we'd cater to you. If you'd rather spend the night making googly eyes at your date from across the table, we'd kindly request for you to return another night. There are plenty of ways we could decorate the place up in anti-Valentine's Day junk, and we could even alter the menu some to include food that's soothing to the crowd at hand. (Serving a heart on a platter sounds particularly appropriate.)

But mainly, it'd be a way to offer salvation for that section of the populace who fear the annual coming of Mr. Cupid. After all, they need some lovin' too.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

ROME, ITALY -- Surprise, surprise: It's not difficult to find a good Italian restaurant in Rome. The area around my hostel is silly with trattoria, many with special pris fixe menus for tourists.

I chose I Leoni d'Abbruzio. Why? Because it's located in a basement, and one of its kitchens is visible from the sidewalk. When I passed it early in the evening, I saw a cook -- a classic Italian somewhere between Detective Sipowitz and Nintendo's Mario -- singing. He wasn't singing well, but he was having fun.

And I wasn't disappointed. The fettucini de mare did not taste like it did not come out of a box, as so much American pasta does, and the abbacchio al forno was just the way I like it. (Unfortunately, the bread was a bit stale. Already I miss the fresh bread of Aegina.)

So, our restaurant's kitchen must have a window visible from the sidewalk, and our cooks must sing. They don't need to sing well, but they must be having fun.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Ever wondered what it'd be like to dine in the crypt of an old, abandoned church? Take a trip to London's Brixton neighborhood, and you can find out. Geraldine writes in and points us to Bah Humbug, a restaurant which occupies the spooky underground of St. Matthews Church.

Religious allegiances aside, I'm not sure I'd be willing tempt the Man In Charge by setting up shop in his former stomping grounds. There have got to be scary karmic repurcussions involved there, wouldn't you think?

Monday, February 11, 2002

KYPSELI, GREECE -- When the moon hits your eye like a big spinach pie, that's amore, and I'm in love with Greek dining.

One thing I've noticed (and enjoyed) is the presence of cheap house wine. Eating without wine is about as expected as eating without a fork. At the restaurant we went to the other night, carafes of retsina, with napkins stuffed to stop each bottle, sat on every table. If a patron wanted wine, she simply pulled out the napkin and helped herself.

The wine is a natural lubricant for conversation, but there's added benefit for the restaurateur. It's not uncommon to have a series of appetizers instead of a larger entree, and after a few glasses (albeit small glasses, as Sandy has noted) the customer starts to lose her gustatory inhibitions. "Another plate of octopus? More fried feta? Bring it on!" By the time she's on her third carafe, the table will be littered with empty plates.

Affordability is more crucial than quality, and we should never forget the customer who doesn't want to pay more than $2 for a glass of wine. I fear, however, that I'm getting spoiled here. Driving through the hills south of Corinth, we stopped at a roadside stand and picked up 2 liters of wine and a large bag of oranges, all for about 5 euro. I miss it already.

On this weekend's episode of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, each of the panel members described, in the Bluff the Listener segment, three concept restaurant ideas. One was real, the other two fake. The call-in contestant was challeged to pick out the authentic one, which he did successfully. Read the following choices (or listen in Real Audio) and see if you can do the same:

1. An Ogalala Sioux couple, who operate an authenic pre-Columbian Native American restaurant in South Dakota, plan to add dog to their menu. They already serve antelope, jackrabbit and buffalo meat, but the addition of dog has the SPCA and local mayor's office up in arms.

2. A West African-born man in North Carolina is looking for retail space for an all-Jello restaurant. Menu items he plans on serving include Jello Popcorn, Rainbow Jello and Shrimp Jello with Bell Peppers and Onions. He's achieved moderate fame with the locals, who've taken to calling him Mr. Jiggles.

3. Clinton-bashing is alive in Dadeville, Virgina, where a local conservative has opened up Clinton's Corner, dedicated to all things anti-Bill. Walls are decorated with Clinton photos, news items, depositions and even the Starr Report. The menu lists such items at Fishy Whitewater -- trout in a light cream sauce -- and the Chinese Donor Duck.

Even though I was feeling down after host Peter Sagal called owning a restaurant "one of the most insecure livelihoods one can choose," I managed to pick out the right one. Take a guess, then look at the comments for the answer.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Welcome to all of you following our mention on Blogger's front page.

Blog of Note section from blogger.com

Thanks, Ev!




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