Monthly Archives: December 2017

Phoenix Restaurant Review

The Sonora Brewhouse is the epitome of a good, clean, moderate, Phoenician pub/restaurant. Which means that I was really hoping for more. I was hoping that this place would be a little lived in, a little less polished, a little less new Phoenix. It’s kind of odd that big box chain food spots work at trying to get that aged look by throwing junk up on the walls and hanging it from the ceilings. Not at the Sonora Brewhouse, they’ll have none of that here, but that’s okay.

Yes, they brew their own beers and yes it’s good and more than decent. The food is better than average and always cooked. Even when you ask for your Kobe burger to be cooked medium with the hope that you’ll see some red, it’ll come out with no pink at all. Sadly, I wasn’t expecting anything different.

Do I sound disappointed? Do I sound like I’m sitting in a box of self pity? Oh woe is me, they FULLY cooked my burger. Oh woe is me, the beer is good and the steak fries have the perfect crispness on the outside and mashy-goodness on the inside. The quality at Sonora Brewhouse is what I expect at any of the big box chain restaurants like Gordon Biersch, but never get. The problem here is that they can be so much more. Food + Ambiance (personality) = Greatness. Sonora Brewhouse is missing the heart.

They’re polite and not offensive in anyway, walking the definition of middle.

This is both surprising and disappointing since they have been around for a while, but also because just a block to the east, Rosie McCaffrey’s is overflowing with heart and soul, more than you can imagine. If they can find it, tourists probably love Sonora, but remember, tourists often love going to another branch of the same TGI Friday’s that they have in their own suburbia, while on vacation in a different town.

Okay, so Sonora Brewhouse isn’t anywhere near the low level of a TGI Friday’s, but it’s almost as clean, boring, and devoid of personality, being almost completely unmemorable. Oh. They also probably have the thinnest Kobe burger patties I’ve ever seen, at least the steak fries and beer are good. My advice? Go a block east to Rosie McCaffrey’s and actually have a good time worth remembering.

A Restaurant Reviewers’s Worst Case

One of the most interesting things for a Restaurant Reviewer is having a pleasurable experience and then all of a sudden some unexpected thing occurs. After traveling around the United States and Canada for some 5-years I noticed that the service in some of the more respected restaurant chains was quite uneven.

Meaning not only was quality control at one extreme or the other or customer service hot or cold, but that consistency was quite varying from store to store or outlet to outlet. Sometimes the service was fantastic, sometimes ho-hum and on rare occasion horrific. Let me tell you some theories I developed after taking Restaurant News, Franchising Times and C-Store News for years, while also traveling and seeing it all for my self.

The theories of retail dining and the realities of what goes on are light-years from Ray Kroc’s motto’s for his early stores. First, one of the biggest issues is employee under-training, local store management and secret shopper programs as a catch all. Another issue is with employees who do not care or are simply oblivious to what they are doing.

One of my recent experiences to be discussed along the subject of; a Restaurant Reviewers Worst Case Scenario happened at a Chain Mexican Food Chain. The semi-Fast Food place was an hour from closing on a slow week-night. Getting a jump on the store clean-up I assume was the reason.

An employee came over to the trash area, just a ways from where we were sitting and started pumping ammonia cleaner into the trash can area and had the open trash can sitting between us and her, which was quite smelly. Next she sprayed down the trash can with the toxic fumes and left them there to soak in? Or for dwell time to help in cleaning.

Then proceeded to spray the area or soak the inside of the box where the trash can goes. This was getting quite hard to breath. Next seeing that the trash can had the cleaner dried on, she put more on to loosen it up and then wipe it with a rag, then hang the rag on the seat back nearest us?

Writing Restaurant Reviews

Writing informative and objective restaurant reviews can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for or how to structure the review. While everyone has their own level of ambition and knowledge the following guidelines will provide you with a solid base to write informative reviews which are useful to your readers. However, these guidelines can easily be modified for any kind of service or experience and equally well for any other type of media.

Anyway, the guidelines: Keep it centered on the food – Describe it with detail, use adjectives, mention the dishes original name but explain them if it isn’t obvious what they are. Other details to note:

  1. Surroundings – Location, view from window, neighborhood
  2. Atmosphere – Interior design, d├ęcor, cleanliness, other guests, sound volume, mood
  3. Menu – Menu and Wine list contents broadly described
  4. Service – Speed, presentation and demeanor
  5. Exclusives – What makes this restaurant stand out
  6. Make notes – Mental or in a notebook, if possible take pictures
  7. No novels – don’t work in yourself in the story, keep it factual and unbiased
  8. Don’t go too hard on failures – think of the possible reasons for the failure, is it just an “off” night
  9. Ask for information – make the staff tell you about the establishment, the food, the menu and so on
  10. Sample the courses – If you can’t sample the whole menu, try to sample a few dishes at least with the help of your friends
  11. Extras – You can nick (or ask for) press material, menus and so on to use as reference later, this is also often found on the restaurants website if they have one

And don’t forget to keep it personal! The review should reflect your experience there, it might sound counter-intuitive to keep it factual, unbiased and personal at the same time, however it really isn’t. What it means is that although the dinner might be a part of a big night out or some kind of celebration that you want to write about, those things should not be the backbone of the review even if they might be mentioned. The review is about the establishment, not you.

To illustrate my point I’ll finish with an example, an review of the Beirut Cafe in Stockholm. Although my knowledge of Lebanese food is not the best it serves as a good example for a nicely structured review of the compact type:

First off, Beirut Cafe is very popular so book your table in advance. My party showed up a Tuesday at 7pm and it was jammed! The host was very helpful and eventually managed to seat us in the lounge area. The locations is a little bit off, it’s not that it’s very far from the central parts of Stockholm, it’s just that there’s nothing else that way except fancy residences. There’s a mixed clientele although there’s mostly groups probably having some kind of after-work get together.

They have a wide array of mezes with a very good overall quality. The Kras Nana and Sojok stands out as the best mezes. The minced meat beef with mint and lemon (Kras Nana) is perfectly balanced and the lamb sausage with vegetables (Sojok) is without competition the hottest dish with the most punch served (in our selection at least). Most of the other ones just beautifully complement each other without taking over the show. The only thing not quite up on par with the rest was the Sojok bel baid (lamb sausage omelet), it was a little bit soggy and bland, maybe because I only sampled that one towards the end of our sitting.

The wine list is rather limited although they have an impressive selection of the Lebanese producer Chateau Musars champagne from 1956 and forward. A Merlot (Santa Helena Vernus Blend) and two red wines from Chateu Musar are available by the glass, the Merlot is fairly average while the least expensive of the Chateu Musars (can’t remember the name though) is very good, full of life without too much tannin and great value for the money.

I cannot stress how good atmosphere they have created, the interior design is just fabulous and never fails in any detail, the music is clear but never intruding, the service is very swift but at no point rushed and the service staff is helpful and friendly.