Monday, November 8, 2010

Okay Diner Now Okay Plus

I love restaurants.  I don't enjoy cooking so I'm not very critical when I eat out, unless of course the food or service is extraordinarily bad--which it usually isn't.  It's especially fun to go to a new restaurant, though, because somehow a new restaurant seems to invite extreme criticism!  We start channeling Gordon Ramsey for some odd reason.

So the other night we happened to check out Kauai's newest restaurant, Tiano's--formerly Oki Diner--on their opening night.  We had no idea it was their first night.  Frankly I wouldn't have chosen to try them on their first night because heck, I've watched enough Kitchen Nightmares where the "made over" restaurants are given brand new menus and expected to perform to a full house that same night to Chef Ramsey's expletives-deleted accompaniment.  I figured they do that just for the TV drama because the producers hope for chaos to make "good TV."   Well they probably could've brought their cameras over to Tiano's because there seemed to be almost as much opening stress that night.

Delicious rolls were freshly baked!
Tiano's has an open kitchen, meaning it can be seen by diners,  In fact, as we waited to be seated, we could observe the directing of the food servers with a certain amount of stress evident.  I'll bet if they were behind a wall, there'd be some outright yelling going on!  I overheard one server asking, "Which table is table 2?"  I mean DUH!??!  Surely they were briefed before opening?  I could understand forgetting which was table 14, but 2??  Table 2, it turns out, was just ten feet away...the second table from the serving area.  Then I heard the manager saying "she's going to the wrong table!"  Fun stuff like that.

Chef's Chopped Salad...yummy!
When we got our table, I was relieved to see it was a good distance away from the serving area.  Our waitress came quite promptly to take our order, but way too soon.  We asked for "a couple of minutes" and ten minutes later she wasn't back.  It's not like she was that busy either.  We observed her wandering--not rushing--back and forth not even glancing in our direction.  When we finally caught her attention, it was obvious she had totally forgotten about us--no, we weren't in the back corner.  She also got Jordan's order wrong.  She's lucky she's cute and she did apologize nicely.

The meatloaf looked good.....
 Dinner took a loooong time to arrive despite the fact that we'd arrived relatively late and most tables already had their food.  Of course being the first night, I have to make allowances.  Another complaint I have is one that I always have:  Why do restaurants give us just one napkin and if we use it, our utensils have to sit on their bare table that's probably germ-ridden, judging from the fact they use cloth towels to wipe them?  No one else has a problem with that?  Only me and Howie Mandel?  It seems like 99% of the restaurants we've been to do this. 

The steak was done perfectly,
but Blazing Steaks is better.
So now the food.  We loved the freshly baked rolls we were served early, they were slightly sweet--like sweetbread--crusty and perfectly warm, served with butter.  The chopped salad was very good and we were able to share the small ($4.99).  It had romaine lettuce, provolone cheese, salami, and garbanzo beans with the right amount of dressing.  Good start!

This doesn't usually happen, but we all ordered beef that night:  meatloaf, hamburger steak, and steak.  Leonard absolutely hated the meatloaf and I didn't disagree with him because I tried it. School lunch meatloaf is better, IMHO!  He was especially annoyed because it was labeled "Mama's"  or something like that and he said you'd expect it to be good if it has someone's identity associated with it.  Maybe their Mama is a lousy cook, who knows really?   It seemed to be pure meat, but low quality gristle-y meat. The only positive was the generous serving.

Third beef plate: hamburger steak.
Yes, they all look alike.
The hamburger steak was slightly better, and the steak was ok (it was done perfectly and fairly tender, though a bit thin), but Blazing Steaks' $6.00 plate is way better.  All three beef dishes seemed to have the same gravy--very dark brown.  I didn't think it was bad, but Leonard said it tasted like powdered.  The garlic mashed potatoes were disappointingly un-garlicky and had a slight tang rather than buttery. 

I think Tiano's problem is that they're attempting the heroic:  low-priced gourmet. The food looked good, served on heavy plates, so you--perhaps unreasonably--expect gourmet.  For instance, perhaps they want to offer a gourmet meatloaf that has a lot of beef, but to keep the price down, they're using lower quality beef.  I say go ahead and use bread like the rest of us!  I could be wrong, but personally I like meatloaf that almost falls apart from the bread.  Same for hamburger patties.  I know for a fact that those "old-fashioned" hamburger patties that we love have a lot of bread in them.  (My grandma had a soda fountain in Palama and made very delicious hamburger patties.)  I do appreciate their attempt at trying to give us upscale for moderate pricing (the three beef dishes were around $11.99-$12.99), but they may be aiming too high. 

When the waitress brought the check, she neglected to tell us that the "cash only" message on the receipt was incorrect. After I had triumphantly, yet begrudgingly, scrounged $44.76 in exact change (including 11 pennies) I asked if this "cash only" policy is temporary and she said they do take credit cards. Since we were one of the late diners, I wondered how many times she'd had to repeat the "Oh no, we take credit cards..." to people. Wouldn't you think she'd learn to give the diners their check and say "Ignore the old Oki Diner message on the receipt, we do accept credit cards" by then? Maybe by next week she'll learn.
Overall I'd give the restaurant 3 out of 5 stars based on what we ordered and the service we received.  Oh wait, I just remembered that Oki Diner has an average of 3 stars on, so I have to revise this to a 3.5 stars.  Oki was notorious for it's filthiness and they're the ones responsible for the tacky "cash only, ATM machine located in restaurant" on the receipt (how can a restaurant with more than 10 tables expect to survive this way?).  One of the more generous reviewers in Yelp dubbed them "Okay Diner".  Tiano's has done a complete--and attractive--makeover and hopefully will keep it well-maintained.  Possibly next time we visit and order different items, I can give them even more stars.  For now, they're "okay plus". We are certainly happy to have a clean restaurant with the American/local "diner" menu that they have instead of yet another Asian/local "barbeque". 

To anyone about to open a new restaurant, I would recommend:

1) 2 napkins under the silverware unless you have disposable placemats.
2) Fresh flowers rather than plastic for the first few nights at least.  I sometimes wonder if NO flowers is better than fake?  How about dried instead? How about taking an idea from party centerpieces--there are a lot of nice ones that don't require any upkeep once you make them, except maybe dusting.
3) Give bigger portions for the first month or two because you're building a reputation and giving a little more is totally worth the good word-of-mouth recommendations you'll get, especially if you're not high end. 
4) Hold a class for your employees to teach them the table numbers--at the very least Table #1--and teach them how to look around at their tables as they pass by rather than zombie walking to get the water pitcher, zombie walking to get the check, etc. 
5) Pretend Howie Mandel is a regular customer because as Oki Diner probably discovered, a reputation of uncleaniless is very difficult to overcome.
6) If you inherit the previous owner's cash register, learn how to re-program it to remove tacky messages such as "cash only...ATM next to the karaoke machine."

If anyone wants to add to this list, feel free to comment and maybe I'll post the revised list later.  You never know who may be reading them!  Hi Chef Ramsey!


  1. Hi Colleen,

    I like reading your blog.

    7) When picking up the payment $ the server should say something like "Let me get your change" instead of "Do you need change?" I think the later sounds like they don't expect you to want any change. A subtle difference.


  2. Good point, Michael!

    Another pet peeve of mine (actually it's beyond a pet peeve) is that "for parties of 6 or more" higher tip addition. I actually wrote to Nadine Kam and a legal website to complain about it a few years ago. Supposedly restaurants feel large groups under-tip, but I know when I'm in a larger group everyone throws money on the table and it's always too much. In any case, I could understand them adding on the 15%, but not a higher percentage. It should be up to the customer whether or not the service deserved more than 15%.

  3. wikipedia says: [In certain situations, the restaurant may assess a gratuity to the bill automatically without customer input, which is called an "autograt."[40] The most frequent reason for this is for large groups, such as six or more, which many restaurants as a matter of policy add a standard predetermined amount (~18%) that may be labeled as a gratuity or as a "service charge" in lieu of the gratuity.[41] Reputable restaurants post their policy on a sign or the menu, or require servers to inform their patrons of such charges before they order. This charge can be verified by the customer on the bill to avoid tipping in addition to the service charge.]

    Regarding the automatically included tip, I say "If that's all they want, then that is all they will get". I agree with you that usually they could get more tip (at least from folks like us) if they didn't have that on the bill. I thought tips were customary but optional.

    While we're on the subject, another one is an unnamed restaurant in Koloa (and I'm sure others) prints on the bill a suggested tip amount for 15% and 20% (I forget the exact %), but they do the calculation AFTER the tax is added in, that's not right.



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