1968 S. Coast Highway, Ste 525, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Portrait Of A Perfect Restaurant

This article is part one of three parts: Part 1: Portrait of a perfect restaurant. Part 2: Portrait of a perfect hotel. Part 3: Portrait of a perfect retail store.

Obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect restaurant that all guests would agree on. That said, there is a specific set of elements and characteristics that would meet the criteria of a perfect high-end restaurant. Here are the characteristics that portray a perfectly fine dining restaurant:

  • Décor: The last thing you would expect is the kind of old-fashioned French kitsch that looks like the set of a Hollywood musical about Marie Antoinette. Modern décor offers so many beautiful options for a restaurateur to choose from, so that a fine cuisine restaurant in Paris might very well be a model of modernism.
  • Lighting: The idea that dark, dim lighting is in any way romantic is deploring unless it’s by candlelight in a wine cellar. Most of the great restaurants of the world tend to have lots of light, so as to show off the décor, the beauty of the table settings and food and the opportunity for guests to see each other across the tables. Harsh lighting is inexcusable but soft lighting is requisite for conviviality. Otherwise, in a dark restaurant you will find guests whispering, and fumbling to distinguish what is  set up in front of them. Modern light fixtures, recessed or tracked, offer all sorts of mood-lifting light.
  • Noise Level: The bane of contemporary restaurants, particularly in the United States, is a dining room whose decibel level of 90+ is the same as having a lawnmower go through it. Many restaurateurs are under the delusion that noise, with added piped-in music, creates excitement, when in fact, all it does is encourage more noise, impossible conversation and intense stress. Sonically speaking, no more than 65 decibels is considered to be “normal conversation,” which sounds totally appropriate.
  • Napery, silverware, glassware: Whatever is put on the table should reflect the same style and class of what surrounds it, so there should be some sort of amenable and appealing table covering. The silverware does not need to be the most expensive in the world, but it should not be cheap diner-class either. Excellent, thin glassware is quite inexpensive due to various imports from Eastern Europe. It is totally unacceptable to have wineglasses with thick stems and lips on the rims. 
  • Wine list: Most guests are much happier with a moderate-size, well selected wine list than a massive phone book-size list of trophy wines with 400 to 500 labels from California to Germany to New Zealand! There is no reason for an Italian restaurant to stock New Zealand Chenin Blancs or for a Greek restaurant to carry Argentinian Malbec! Create an exclusive wine list that can be nicely paired with the menu and have sommeliers and/or servers that are knowledgeable, and attentively caring about their guests’ needs and wishes. Finally, ice buckets should be set within comfortable reach of the guests, and decanting need only be done by sommeliers and/or servers for older wines that are known to throw off sediment. 
  • Wine temperature: This is critical, although one need not be drastic about it. Red wines at 55 degrees and white wines around 10 degrees cooler are ideal, but as long as the red wines are not at the temperature of a room that is over 80 degrees or the white wines are bone-chillingly cold, wine should always err on the side of coolness to maintain its quality, taste, and integrity.
  • Temperature of food: In many restaurants, this is a balancing act in the kitchen, but it is and should be the aim of a good kitchen to have all dishes come out at the right temperature. Chilling a salad plate and fork is appealing to guests, and a heated but not scalding plate for hot dishes is absolutely essential. Presenting a steak or fish on an “extremely sizzling plate” cooks the food beyond the interior temperature it should be and juices begin to coagulate.
  • Shelling and boning: Boning a whole fish is not the toughest task in the world for any server to master, nor is the boning of a filet like sole. But a good restaurant has servers who know how to do it with flair and quick dispatch so as to maintain the temperature. If a lobster is ordered with its shell cracked, or the meat extracted, that should be done quickly in the kitchen. Servers who try this maneuver at the table take far too long, and you end up with a cold lobster. The best thing to do is to inform the guests that the lobster and the claws will be cracked in the kitchen, then present it to the guests ready to enjoy!. 
  • Decoration and garnishes on the dinner plate: Extravagance on plates is a thing of the past. Today’s modern chefs  believe their best friend in the kitchen is a pair of food tweezers with which they spend a few minutes gussying up a dish. Anything that is not to be eaten should preferably be left off the plate.
  • Soup and Cheese: Although few guests order either soup or cheese these days, a perfect restaurant, except most Asian restaurants, should offer both, preferably as exemplary of the country region, state, province or governate that are featured on the menu.
  • A simple menu: Almost always less is more on a menu unless it is at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant! Indeed, a lengthy menu confuses and confounds guests, especially if the server insists on describing every dish already described on the menu. Most guests, unless they are new to dining or to the restaurant, do not care what a server’s favorite dish is! No guest wants to have to choose from a menu with 20 appetizers, 15 salads, 18 pastas, 16 meat dishes and 14 seafood options! A carefully crafted menu focuses on what the chef does best and what he believes will showcase his/her real talents, while appealing to his/her guest base.