Reviewing Eats – A tale of two restaurants

I haven’t reviewed a lot of restaurants.  Beth has reviewed lots and lots over the years and I think is very good at it.  With the blog now, and especially my interest in how our opposites have attracted I think I will try and review some of the places we go.  That being said I have been thinking about reviewing and how to write one.  What makes a meal good (or bad)?  Is it all about the food?  The service?  The atmosphere?  The price? This past week Beth and I went to one of our favorite short out of town places, Berkeley, California for a couple of days and ate out at a couple of places.  In thinking about them I saw an interesting and to me dramatic contrast.  Let me tell the tale.

On our first day we went to a well known local restaurant that specializes in Cajun food.  It was early evening and there were not a lot of diners when we got there.  We were seated promptly and the atmosphere was pleasant.  We ordered an appetizer and dinner and visited while waiting for it.  The appetizer order was simple, hush puppies and my expectations were pretty measured.  When they came out they looked ok, but when we tried them both our eyes grew wide as we tasted, they were delicious!  How can a hushpuppy be delicious?  I have eaten probably hundreds in my like, but until these I never thought of delicious.  I don’t know what it was about them but they were great.  As we ate I could not help but notice that our waitress was going to each table and adjusting the settings.  There was a knife, spoon, fork on a folded napkin for each setting and the waitress was carefully aligning the napkin for each and every one, then aligning each piece on the napkins.  She did this for all the tables.  I was amazed at the attention to detail.  I felt the same in her waiting on us.  She was very attentive without being in the way throughout the entire experience.  We ordered and when the food came it was very attractive and the portions were generous.  During the meal we were well attended and I don’t think my glass got near empty before there was someone there filling (I love this). There was plenty for sharing a good size taste of each other’s plate.  The food was very good.  This was one of the few times ever I have seen nothing left on Beth’s plate.  She always leaves a little bit of something!  And finally, when the bill came it felt ok.  Not a huge value, but I felt we got our money’s worth.  Overall, a good experience with some nice little touches and surprises.

The next morning we went to another well known local spot for breakfast.  It is as I said a favorite and pretty small so we had to wait a few minutes for a table, but the wait was very close to what they expected and didn’t seem long.  The place was in fact pretty full and felt a little claustrophobic,  We got a table in the back corner so at least we were not surrounded by people.  Our waitress was somewhat less than enthusiastic and took our order without much help and offered no information about the day’s specials.  We were advised due to part of the order it might take a few minutes, which I think was good.  While waiting I noticed that our waitress kind of disappeared, then I noticed she was working in the counter area and a new waiter seemed to be buzzing around our little area.  Well, my coffee cup emptied and sat for quite a while before the new waiter asked if I wanted more and brought some.  Then, after a good while a third person brought out the plates to our table.  The waiter checked back a time or two but for me it was too late.  Bad service.  I ordered a bagel which came before the meal and when it showed up it looked…well…small?  It was not bad tasting, but what stuck in my mind was small (not so crazy about small).  What was interesting was that I like lots of cream cheese on the bagel and usually run short, but not this time.  The attending portion of cream cheese was pretty big, and combined with the size of the bagel the cream cheese was ample.  Unfortunately, when the meal came “small” was also the word that came to mind.  I ordered an omelet with fried potatoes.  There seemed only a couple forkfuls of potatoes and the omelet looked like the one that came with the plastic set we got for the grandkids.  It was not bad, but very small.  Finally, when the check came it just felt like a lot.  It didn’t feel like a good value at all.

So, in talking about the two after the fact, Beth (an established expert) said she gave the second a “solid 3” and the first a 5.  She doesn’t give many 3’s and a “solid” 3 is a statement!  I feel the same and I think it was an interesting experience doing the two close together.  But is this accurate?  Fair?  Was our experience typical or exceptional?  Was the one really better because of an obsessive waitress?  Was the other not as good because we happen to experience a change of the station guards?  Does size matter?  I think it is really fun now to look at this.  I drink A LOT so keeping my glass up is important.  Beth drinks in drops.  It is rare when she finishes her original cup of water in a meal, so that is probably not an issue to her.  I’m not so concerned about particular ingredients, but for Beth there is always, What kind of cheese is used?  What kind of milk? Where did those green beans come from and who picked them? (well, maybe not that last one).  So, as we keep going I think it will be fun to think more about the places we go and trying to share those explorations with others.  I hope we can make it interesting!

How about you?  What makes a dining experience fun?  Good? Bad?  Quality, quantity, value, service, atmosphere?  What about pet peeves?  Take a minute if you will and let us know in the comments.

The pics.  While these are from the many, many, many pictures we have of eating, neither is from Berkeley?  Just ones I like (and could find).

2 thoughts on “Reviewing Eats – A tale of two restaurants”

  1. I definitely appreciate an attentive server. I hate when I’m paying a large amount for a meal but I had to wait to be seated, wait a long time to order drinks and wait an even longer time to order food. Recently Matt and I were at a hotel restaurant in Goma, DRC and we had not eaten all day. It took over an hour from the time we ordered to get our food, and although the food tasted good, the extra long waits killed it for me. I am happy with a quiet atmosphere, decent food that comes somewhat quickly (and in the right order) and a server who doesn’t avoid you like the plague. I feel like these are simple requests that get missed quite often

  2. Thanks Emma! Service is really a critical issue for me when eating. Good service can often make average food a pleasant experience. Poor service…well, I’m not very tolerant I’m afraid to say. Seems I wind up leaving either a big tip, or none. Thanks again for the comment.

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