Diners Behaving Badly: What Annoys You About Other Restaurant Patrons?

Annoying-DinersThe folks who run the food and dining section of the Chicago Tribune probably dine out a lot, so it’s not surprising that they’ve got a complaint (or 10) about their fellow diners. Judy Hevrdejs compiled the list, which includes people who linger at a table long after their meal has ended and diners who bring their own salt to a restaurant.

When I was a restaurant worker, I had a lot of complaints about diners. A LOT! As a diner, though, I have just a few, one being people who monopolize the wait staff’s time at the expense of other patrons. You know the people I’m talking about — the ones who ask question after question about the menu, the specials (“What was the first one again? And what did the other one come with?”), or the server’s personal life (“You’re from Texas! How’d you wind up in New York?”), while you wait and wait (and wait) for your check.

What do your fellow restaurant diners do that drives you mad? Has another patron’s behavior ever ruined your dining experience altogether? Tell us about it here or over on Facebook.

Well-Reviewed: Barbacco in San Francisco; Bistrot Bruno Loubet in the UK; Madhatter in DC; The Wright at the Guggenheim, and More

The latest of the greatest restaurant reviews…

* Michael Bauer reviews Barbacco, sibling restaurant to successful Perbacco, happily awarding it three stars. [San Francisco Chronicle]

* Miami’s Barolo Ristorante has reinvented itself, earning a couple of stars from Victoria Pesce Elliot. [Miami Herald]

* Bistrot Bruno Loubet in London is serving up deep-fried pig, and critic Giles Couren loves every bite at this terrific new restaurant that is “exactly what a bistro is supposed to be.” [London Times Online]

* The food and the service — not the scene — are the real stars at Bistro du Midi in Boston, according to Mat Schaffer. [Boston Herald]

* S. Irene Virbila makes an early visit to Culina, the new restaurant at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, and she’s pleased with what she sees and eats. [Los Angeles Times]

* Madhhatter in Washington, D.C., offers great food and great fun, according to Tom Sietsema. [Washington Post]

* Leslie Brenner of The Dallas Morning News reviews The Mansion Restaurant at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek and writes that “The Mansion matters,” thanks to chef Bruno Davaillon. [The Dallas Morning News]

* Chef Neela Paniz’s newest restaurant, Neela’s, is serving up authentic Indian cuisine with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and bright flavors in Napa. [San Francisco Chronicle]

* Preston’s in Dallas is turning out dishes that are super in more ways than one. [NBC Dallas-Fort Worth]

* Mexican restaurant Rustico Grill in Chicago gets a visit from critic Phil Vettel, who finds comfort and value in its menu. [Chicago Tribune]

* The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan has a masterpiece of a restaurant in The Wright. [Toronto Globe and Mail]

* Troy Unruh, former executive chef at Del Posto, has taken his talents to New Jersey’s Zylo, much to the good fortune of Garden State diners. [Newark Star-Ledger]

State Your Complaint: Restaurant Critics; Restaurant Designs; Restaurant Menus; Restaurant Websites, and Being Treated Like a Regular (Huh?)

State-Your-Complaint* Will a Twitter campaign take out your least favorite critic? Doubtful, but one tweeter is trying, taking aim at Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila. [Grub Street Los Angeles]

* Phil Vettel stews over restaurant design flaws. I would concur with the oversized menus being a problem. I never know what to do with them if I just want to enjoy a cocktail before ordering but am sitting at a tiny table for two. Suggestions? [The Stew]

* Menus are less-than-appetizing at many restaurants, as far as Baltimore Sun blogger Laura Vozzella is concerned. She doesn’t mention my new pet peeve, which is seeing the word “foraged” on menus (Way too precious and fetish-y for me, thankyouverymuch!). [Dining@Large]

* Restaurant websites come under fire for a few of the right reasons. [Eater PDX]

* Restaurants come under fire for all the wrong reasons, thanks to the Chicago Tribune‘s Christopher Borrelli and his resentment at (GASP!)  being treated like a regular (when he is, in fact, a regular). Here’s a bit of free advice, Mr. Borrelli: If you don’t appreciate that restaurants or the barristas at your local Starbucks are able to anticipate what you’ll order, stop ordering the very same thing every time you dine out or grab a coffee. Live a little! Try something new — but not out of spite, because that’s just plain silly. That is all. [Chicago Tribune]

Fondue or Fon-don’t: Does Melted Cheese Melt Hearts?

Fondue-or-FondontWe recently announced the winners of the OpenTable Diners’ Choice award for the Top 50 Most Romantic Restaurants. Of the 50, a whopping 12 were Melting Pot restaurants, where fondue anchors the menus. Two other winners, La Fondue and Simply Fondue, are also, as you might have guessed by their names, fondue-friendly eateries. The Chicago Tribune‘s food blog, The Stew, picked up on our list’s fromage factor and ran with it, while the clever folks over at Eater didn’t want to give a shout out to these restaurants when they generously covered our list, saying, “[F]ondue hasn’t been considered romantic since Three’s Company went off the air.” The fact remains, however, that many diners find fondue to be the perfect mood food for a romantic evening.

What exactly is it that makes love bloom over melted cheese and other cook-it-yourself delights? We weren’t quite sure, so we reached out to our network of diners over Facebook and Twitter. Bulbul Gupta says, “Interactive food is always a great date dinner idea, interactive anything is very romantic — you learn to share early on and can easily feed each other with a one-foot distance without it getting overly mushy…perfect!” Diner Teresa Miller concurs, “The Melting Pot in Larkspur is VERY romantic. The location is in an old brick kiln with lots of low lighting. Cheese is comfort food, hence the reason why romance blooms when bellies are satisfied!” Jennifer Kaplan, also a fondue fan, says, “My husband and I do find it romantic. The lighting is low and the tables are reasonably secluded. We enjoy lingering over our dinner and find the food to be very good.” Ryan Mathus tweets, “I find fondue/Melting Pot cool just because it’s not your traditional meal and more hands on. It’s all about us.” Fellow tweep Jen Fairchild notes, rather poetically (or erotically?), “Fondue is steamy and hot and thick and creamy and good…just like love!”

Perhaps the best and not-at-all cheesy cheese story we heard comes from OpenTable diner Cara Couture of Charlotte, North Carolina. She writes, “My husband and I go to The Melting Pot any time we have reason to celebrate — graduation, anniversary, new job, a Friday night — but our favorite reason was to celebrate our engagement. In between the limo ride and the chartered plane trip around the city of Columbus, Ohio, my then-fiancé made dinner reservations at our favorite restaurant, The Melting Pot, where a bouquet of roses was at our regular table with a congratulations card signed by the restaurant staff. To this day, that remains the most romantic night of my life.” Sigh. My husband’s marriage proposal is looking more and more lame the more stories I hear like this one (a chartered plane?). But, I digress.

To find out if the people from The Melting Pot had any insights as to why their dining experience is so aphrodisiacal, we reached out to Chad Hornik, who owns several Melting Pot locations, including those in Richmond and Virginia Beach,  which were included on our Top 50 Most Romantic Restaurants winners for 2010. Hornik says of his restaurants’ romantic appeal, “Dining with fondue creates an aura of romance. It’s a participation meal — you’re cooking, helping, talking. Even if the conversation gets awkward, diners can talk about the food.” Also, “The lighting is dim, and each table is designed to have its own intimate atmosphere. We even have curtains that block off some of our tables, and sometimes we have to knock before we enter!” The Melting Pot, though, is more than just cheese. Hornik adds, “The cheese is just the appetizer. It’s a relaxed four-course dining experience, and the desserts…well, dipping strawberries into chocolate is pretty romantic.”

Chad, you had me (and, most certainly, my chocoholic husband) at strawberries and chocolate. Perhaps a a trip to The Melting Pot will prompt a second proposal. And, yes, Curt, that means a second ring.