Sunday, October 20, 2002

Tricks and treats of dining out



By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Where to go trick or treating:

Every restaurant has tricks and treats. Dining out two or three times a week for six years, I've put up with some of the tricks and I really appreciate the treats.

My least favorite tricks mostly have to do with the ways you get charged more than you bargained for. This happens most often with drinks.

A friend told me about asking for iced tea and getting a bottle of Republic of Tea mango iced tea, which cost $3.50, instead of the $1 or $1.50 he expected.

Your server asks if you want still or sparkling water in such a way that you find it hard to say, "just plain free tap water, please." Or you ask for a glass of sauvignon blanc, and instead of being shown a list with prices, you get a glass that you don't know is $9 until the bill arrives.

Sometimes the server tells you everything about the nightly special, including the provenance of the olive oil, but doesn't mention how much it costs.

Sometimes these are just out and out methods of extracting more money from you.

More charitably, they sometimes happen because it can be awkward to bring up the question of money during a nice dining experience.

Diners who don't want to feel gouged often have to be the ones to sound crass and ask how much the martinis are. (Because they can cost $10).

I don't always have room to mention details of treats in reviews, but they really can make a difference in an overall dining experience.

Aside from wonderful food, I don't think there's anything I like more in a restaurant than comfortable chairs that you can sit in from drinks to dessert without going numb. Bella's are comfy, so are Beluga's.

Other treats:

Good bread, like the interesting selection at Brio Tuscan Grill, or the baguettes with wild mushroom butter at Jeff Ruby's.

Servers who really know the menu, and give useful suggestions, such as steering you away from an appetizer and entrČe that are too similar.

Servers who treat children like they're people. (Customers could help by making sure their children act like people.)

Those little amuse-bouches that chefs send out at the Celestial or Daveed's, or the petit fours at Maisonette - partly because they're extra and free, partly because they're little and cute.

Really hot water for tea. Come to think of it, I've never had tea made properly at a restaurant. Have you?

Good music, whether it's the live German bands at the Black Forest, Van Morrison on the sound system at Claddagh Pub or the singing servers at Vito's, it can set the mood or be the main attraction.

True accessibility for the disabled: ramps, wide doors, good lighting, and waiters who don't get weird when a customer is blind or hard of hearing, or otherwise disabled.

E-mail pcampbell@enquirer.com