It’s the simplest of all of Tara and my criteria for a restaurant to be great: Can you make an exceptional calamari?
Sure, sure, there are other aspects we look at. Certainly the quality of the decor comes into question, as well as how delicious the other foods ordered and consumed happen to be. But if the restaurant can’t deliver an exceptional calamari, the restaurant will always appear to us as lacking something.
Our theory is this – if a place cannot be bothered to put time and effort into making a simple appetizer an exceptional piece of work, then they’re not quite ready to play with the big boys.
Calamari is possible the easiest food to judge. When it’s bad, it’s readily apparent. Good calamari is often modest and easily forgotten. Great calamari is still easy to prepare, but makes us want to come back to the place again and again. (For the record, if you want to impress me, calamari is best pan fried in olive oil with a hit of sea salt and a dash of lemon, and most critical, the correct amount of time in the pan. We’ve only come across one great calamari hat has been breaded. But I digress.)
I’ve heard other people’s litmus tests for restaurants, and each is as different as the individual who applies them. Some look to see if breads or desserts are made on site. Others look at the simple house salad. Still others look to the cleanliness of the restrooms. Fail these tests, and it’s unlikely that the restaurants in question will be recommended to others.
From the point of the view of the restaurateur, trying to meet everyone’s litmus test is a lost battle. You can’t please everyone. But still, there’s logic to many of these tests. What separates a good restaurant from a great one is attention to theses same details that seem a bit anal retentive from other people’s point of view.
There is a term that most of us are familiar with that deals with all of these litmus tests – Quality Control. The issue here, as always, is that there is no one definition of quality. And sometimes quality is affected by seemingly unrelated variables, such as cost.
But these litmus tests still exist. Many of us have them, these little nagging variables that we look at. A restaurateur addresses them or dismisses them at their own risk.
Note: For places without calamari on the menu, Tara and I look for other things to note, as we don’t expect every place to have it. We’re not squid fundamentalists after all.