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A reviewers life isnt all gravy

Inevitably, when a new acquaintance learns that my job is reviewing restaurants, a barrage of questions and exultations begins.

'So you get to eat for free? How many times a week do you eat out? And let me get this straight, the paper reimburses you for whatever you eat? What's your favorite restaurant? That's the best job in the world!' (The answers: Yes. A lot. Yes. It depends. That's what you think.)

It is a fun job, but it's not without drawbacks. When you dine out four times a week, minor annoyances become massive irritations. So while I try to emphasize the positive when I review a restaurant (really, I do, though some restaurateurs may disagree), please indulge the following rant.

Let's start with coat racks. Nobody has any. Very few, at any rate, and when you enter a restaurant dripping rain or wearing a long coat that will trail the dirty floor if slung over the back of a chair, that's a bummer. When you're paying $20 for a piece of salmon, you shouldn't have to sit on your coat.

The freeze-out. I used to waitress quite a bit; I know that busy restaurants like to keep the dining room fairly cool so servers aren't dripping sweat into the customers' short ribs. But some of the worst offenders in Portland aren't even busy; waiters are standing around, not sprinting from kitchen to table. Meanwhile, you're left shivering over salad, happy, after all, to have your coat handy.

Laminated menus. Appropriate for Red Lobster, but if a restaurant aims higher, sticking to plain paper is far classier.

Uninformed and uncaring service. As long as there are diners, there will be complaints about service, but some blunders are more offensive than others Ñ like when a waiter cannot enlighten you as to the contents of a cheese plate and neither can the kitchen. Worse, the server just doesn't seem to care that you really want to know what's in a dish.

Hungarian mushroom soup. You know what I'm talking about here. When other Portland businesses emblazoned signs with seasonal wishes last month, one stalwart restaurant shouted: 'Celebrate the holidays with Hungarian mushroom soup.' Can't think of anything merrier, can you?

Hungarian mushroom aside, the people need soup. This is Portland: It's damp and cold, and soup is needed. Sure, most mid- to high-end restaurants serve a lovely soup du jour, but wouldn't it be nice to have a few lunch places offering more than one or two varieties?

Verbose menu descriptions. At a time when every soy product you eat is almost certainly made with genetically modified soybeans, it's comforting to know that your burger is made from Painted Hills natural beef. But do you really need to know the exact origins of every shallot and vine-ripened tomato in your meal?

I could go on, but I feel better already.

Contact Christina Melander at

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