According to UrbanSpoon, there are 231 places for me to get a bite eat in the city of Fairbanks. So why is it that when I’m trying to think of a place to have dinner on a Friday night, I can only think of 10 places to eat? Clearly, I haven’t fully explored the culinary landscape of the Golden Heart City. I think it’s time for me to start a new project: Operation Eat It, where I visit 1-2 restaurants each week until I eat in all 231. I still haven’t eaten at Ajimi, and that’s just the beginning.
Here is the list, according to the Spoon, of Fairbanks eateries in order of popularity. Now, mind you, this list is a biased list, comprised only of the opinion of people who care to eat out, and those who bother to post an opinion on UrbanSpoon. The top ten rated restaurants are:
- Chowder House
- College Town Pizzeria
- Azucar Fina
- Thai House Restaurant
- Lavelles Bistro
- Lu Lu’s Bread & Bagel
- Silver Gulch Brewery
- Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine
- Taco Azteca
Before I get started, perhaps I should explain how I’ll be judging these restaurants. I’m not sure of the criteria by which most Fairbanksans judge things, but here are my criteria:
How is the atmosphere?
Look, restaurants should understand that above all else, they are delivering a performance. I eat out to be entertained. If I were just looking to fill my stomach, I’d eat at home. I’m a decent cook and it’s far less expensive to eat at my own table. But I’m easily bored by my own repertoire, and dinner conversation tends to be mundane or exist not at all unless I have guests over. Atmosphere is the personality of a restaurant, and I can forgive a guy with bad breath as long as he has a nice personality. For instance, the food at Big Daddy’s tends toward average to poor depending on how busy it is. But I keep going back. Why? I like the feel of the place. It reminds me of the South. And they serve beer.
But that’s not to say a restaurant needs to have a particularly fancy. Clearly, my tastes run toward the lowbrow.
Is the service in proportion and appropriate to the rest of the experience?
Service is a sketchy issue in Fairbanks. I waited tables or tended bar for more than 10 years in this town and Fairbanks, you are a hard crowd to wait on. You’re demanding, mealy mouthed, and some of you can’t calculate 15%, let alone 20%. But I loved you anyways.
If I go to a joint that I know is going to cost more than $30-$40 a person, my expectation is that my needs will be attended to from start to finish; if it takes 15 minutes for someone to get me a glass of water and a menu, we have a problem. But if it’s a $12 meal, and the place is hopping, I might be able to forgive slow service. But rude, forgetful, or incompetent service is never welcome.
I can always forgive one or two bouts of bad service. But, in my opinion, if a restaurant gets 3 strikes the owners clearly don’t care enough to pay for and keep good wait staff, and my estimation of the place goes down proportionally.
Of course, there is the rare case of the Seinfeldian Soup Nazi in the Pomegranate on 2nd Avenue. I thought it was a joke at first. The lady behind the counter, she was so… mean. But then I had the Hungarian Mushroom soup she had ladled cruelly into my bowl. It was so wildly delicious that I forgot all about the Soup Nazi. But this is a rare and exceptional case. I’d better have a serious foodgasm if I’m going to forgive service that bad. (I’ve been back since then and the service was great, so it must have been an off day.)
Are they serving what they’re selling?
What are they selling? Restaurants tend to have a theme. The theme should be obvious from the minute you walk in the door and the menu (and its prices) should reflect what’s promised by the atmosphere. If the atmosphere is Upscale Alaskan Fish Fry (think: Silver Gulch Brewery) then the menu should contain those kinds of foods and the prices should be in line with the theme. But ultimately, the food has to make good on the promise.
What are they serving? Well, this is the central question isn’t it? How is the food? First of all, if the food is cold when it’s not supposed to be, you could have Mario Batali in your kitchen and I don’t really care. The food is cold. Does it taste good? Are the ingredients fresh? Are the portion sizes appropriate? Was the meal timed well? Were appropriate cooking techniques used? What lands on your table should be the meal that was promised by the atmosphere, the menu, and your server. If you give me a C- meal for A+ prices, I’m going to be pissed.
That’s it. Those are my criteria. Let the eating begin.