Monday, April 27, 2009

On not having disappeared off the face of the earth

So it's been a while since I've written and I felt the need to remedy that. I have legitimate excuses for being neglectful of ye here blog--besides working six days a week, which I've been doing for more than two months now, I bought what I believe to be the sweetest condo in Portland and have been attempting during my limited time off to get it painted and settled in. Though I've made some progress, this has for the most part proved rather unsuccessful, as my bedroom currently looks as if a giant moving box got sick and threw up clothes all over the floor. Girl needs a dresser, stat!

One of my favorite things about all the change, however, is I am now proud owner of a kitchen in which I'm happy to spend time. The kitchen in the studio apartment I lived in prior to my condo purchase was hardly more than a sink, electric range and refrigerator in a row against a wall. Now I have this:

I bask in the glory of the gas range! HALLELUJAH! which I can do stuff like this:

pickin' parsley like a pro

...which results in things like this:

Linguine and Manila clams. Nomnomnom. Lesson learned, however: a pound and a quarter of clams is too much for one person.

The goal is to get my house in good enough shape for a housewarming thingy and lots of dinner parties. You know, all that adult shit that comes with homeowning. Plus I have a balcony from which my friends can curse drunkenly at innocent passersby. What fun!

Oh, did I mention the view?

downtown Portland as viewed from the kitchen sink

Yeah, I'm pretty fucking stoked.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Guide To Being An Awesome Diner told from the point of view of a kitchen monkey.

- Manners will get you everywhere. Saying "Please" and "Thank you" are incredibly underrated in this industry, and those simple words leave a greater impact than you might imagine, from the managers to the cooks. Being nice WILL get your food and drinks to you faster, and special requests will be much more willingly met. From my side of the line, I've had servers plead for an odd dish or made-from-scratch condiment in the height of dinner service, adding, "They're super-nice people." Personally speaking, I'm happier fulfilling their request, knowing that they'll likely appreciate my gesture.

- If there is something wrong with your food or drink, ask your server or manager to fix it. It is unfair for both the diner and the restaurant to not give the restaurant a chance to remedy the situation before going home and blathering to the Internets about how your experience sucked. Some people feel like "voting with their feet" is enough, but a majority of the negative consumer reviews I've read on Yelp, Citysearch and the like revolve around incidents that could have been easily fixed in a matter of minutes.

Where I work (and at any decent establishment), the staff will go out of their way to remedy the situation, especially if you're nice about it. Good restaurants take every bit of feedback seriously. I try to take the time to ask the front of house staff how everything is going on the floor, and if there's anything coming off my station that wasn't well-received, I absolutely take it to heart. If something is too salty, too acidic, too whatever, the cooks need to know about this so we don't make the same mistake the next time.

- Order appropriately. If you're watching your cholesterol, don't order the Parmesan-cream risotto, "light on dairy". If you're not in the mood for something salty, don't order the Caesar salad, "no salt". It's kind of heartbreaking to make a sub-par version of a dish; I think most cooks would rather come up with something off-menu to please a picky diner than to drastically alter an existing menu item. If you know your tolerance for a certain taste (salt, acid, sweet, etc) is low, make a note of it to your server before you order a dish so they can guide you toward certain menu items that may fit your palate better than others, as well as let the kitchen know your preferences.

- Mention your allergies and meat preferences right away. The dish may not list your particular allergen as one of the main ingredients, but there's only so much space on a menu to list descriptors. Your meat dish may have shrimp paste, your chicken dish may have lobster stock, your vegetable risotto may use chicken stock. If it's a very serious allergy, mention it when making your reservation.

- Make a reservation, especially for a party of five or more. It may be a slowish night, but a better prepared staff makes for a better experience for you. I'd like to put a big FAIL stamp on the foreheads of every douchebag who's wandered in with a party of eight 10 minutes before closing time. Even a quick call to the restaurant a few minutes before you show up can make all the difference to the kitchen staff.

- If you're in a hurry, let your server know. Your server can let you know what items are quicker to prepare than others, and will make a note of your limited time to the kitchen so they know they need to put priority on that ticket's timing. Oftentimes, especially on busy nights, the only logical way of managing tickets is to fire them in groups. That means the entrees for four tables may have been fired across a span of six minutes, but they'll be bunched together and come up at the same time. If there's a note on a ticket to rush a table, they'll get priority when it comes to timing.

- Don't camp if you can help it. Campers, by restaurant definition, are diners who linger for an unusually long period of time. No one likes to feel rushed when they're trying to relax, but there's a difference between that and staying an hour and a half after the restaurant has closed, thereby holding up your server, their manager, several cooks and the dishwasher. If you do plan on having a very leisurely dinner, do the following: 1. Come in early enough so that you're not keeping the restaurant open much longer after closing hours. 2. Let your server know you'll be staying a while so both the front-of-house and back-of-house staff will be prepared. 3. Pay your bill promptly when you receive it. And fer peet's sake, 4. TIP WELL.

- Don't get pissed when a table that sat down after you gets their food first. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Sure, you got there first, but they ordered a dish with a three-minute pickup time, and you're the one who ordered your steak medium-well. You should by all means say something to your server if you're legitimately concerned that you've been forgotten, but more often than not, it's thanks to the laws of physics that your dish takes longer to make than someone else's.

- Do I need to say it again? I think I do: TIP WELL. A lot of debate can be (and has been) had about this topic, especially because tipping is, technically speaking, optional in this country. Consider, however, that tips are a vast majority of a servers' wages, and that they give a percentage of their nightly tips to bartenders, server assistants, expediters and us kitchen monkeys. Also, keep in mind that servers have a keen memory for shitty tippers. Telling your server that your meal was amazing and you had a fabulous time is not enough... they're not waiting tables for the self-esteem, trust me.

Any other awesome diner tips I forgot?