The litmus test

It has been said – many times by many people – that you can discern a cook’s abilities by tasting his (or her) roasted chicken. As a a general rule of thumb, this probably works. It’s basic, but tests a cook’s prep, seasoning and attention to detail. A person who can’t properly roast a chicken is probably going to bollocks up gumbo, eggs benedict or chicken vindaloo. But what about restaurants?

If I go to a steak restaurant and the server responds to my question about wines with “Oh, we serve California wines,” I am in for a lousy experience. This actually happened. Same with an Italian restaurant whose idea of antipasti is a bunch of iceburg lettuce with salad dressing (listening, The Rome?). I’m sure there are others, and Blog Well Done got me thinking about this today with an argument for a phad thai litmus test for Thai places. Reasonable, if you ask me.

What are your instant crappy-restaurant signals?


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

16 thoughts

  1. Beef and broccoli is a good bet at a Chinese place. Fried vegetables (okra, cauliflower) at a fish shack? The beans at a bbq place?

  2. Little plastic containers of vegetable oil spread served with the bread instead of butter. Instant bad sign.

  3. You know the old adage “you get what you pay for” really is less and less true in the restaurant business. The last two steaks I’ve had at Chris McD’s were terrible. Instead of steaks, I now refer to them as grocery store horse meat. So is gauging a restaurant based on how busy they are. Blue Moon is a great little place for Thai food and I’ve never seen it more than half full at lunch and it’s usually less, which is a shame.

  4. My Chinese place litmus test is the jasmine tea and hot and sour soup.

    My pizza place litmus test is more geography based- if it’s west of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon line , it’s most likely going to be bad. The pizza I grew up with (in PA) was made by two Sicilians named Jo and Joe. Best. Pizza. Ever.

    As far as burger places go- I’d avoid any that serve burgers that can do this:

  5. Ryan, you rippin’ on horse meat? ๐Ÿ˜‰ My gripe with CC’s steak the last time I had it was portion size. I’d prefer to not be served a giant, seemingly pound-and-a-half steak. It was ridiculously big, and though I took 3/4 of it home, it’s never as good leftover.

    Good recommendations from Anon, Observer as well.

    Another sign you will not be eating well: anytime the servers do the organized clap-and-sing routine for a patron’s birthday.

  6. I had the Caesar salad test for years…(FYI – best was the tableside prep at churchills….which failed one of the other personal tests – if the place was located in a hotel.)

  7. Reuben’s a good one, but I’m not sure I can agree with the hotel one. Drury Inn/Holiday Inn, sure. But many great restaurants in big cities are housed in hotels. I like Bistro Bis in D.C.’s Hotel George very much.

  8. @ Amy- I’m interested to know your reuben test. What constitutes a good reuben in your opinion and where in town serves the best?

    I really haven’t met a reuben I didn’t like! But I’d say the worst offense is when they don’t put on the Thousand Island dressing!

  9. “Another sign you will not be eating well: anytime the servers do the organized clap-and-sing routine for a patronโ€™s birthday.”


  10. And I’m absolutely rippin’ on horse meat, especially the kind you pay $28 for served with under-cooked fried shoestring onions and roasted garlic mashers that have little to no garlic, milk or butter.
    ***Side note*** The salad was good. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Treating tea with respect. Lukewarm tea water in a cup and only either Lipton or Celestial Seasonings bags are a very bad sign.

    Another one: vegetables served in season, i.e., no sweet corn in February.

    Barbecue places: the burnt end sandwich.

  12. dang! Frank stole my tea bit…although I am all about iced tea and Tellers wins hands down for best iced tea in town; great flavor and perfectly strong-no brown water! yuck!

    My mother has always said, never trust a skinny chef or one with a manicure…shows they don’t eat or work with their own food ๐Ÿ™‚

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