Omnivore - Be nice or eat elsewhere

Attitude in ethnic restaurants

Image We paid yet another visit to Stir It Up in L5P Friday night. This Jamaican restaurant was included in my recent list of 10 favorites. Besides the flawless and inexpensive food, I love the ambiance and staff here.

So, I was kind of surprised to be greeted Friday night by this notice on the door: "This is a place of love and solace...so please check all attitudes at the door!!! We reserve the right to refuse service." Who in the world would hurl attitude in such a hospitable restaurant?

I asked owners Christopher and Vivian Williams what prompted the sign. Apparently, the restaurant was initially flooded with mistrustful Jamaicans who seemed certain the food would not be good. "But after they tasted it, they always liked it," Robert said.

"So, we're about to take the sign down." said Vivian. "But, still..."

This is a story I've heard and watched countless times. For example, a year or so ago, I took a Vietnamese friend to Chateau de Saigon on Buford Highway.

I asked him how the food was and he repeatedly shrugged and said, "It's not bad." He ate absolutely everything on the table but never got beyond "It's not bad." Of course, when I pressed him hard enough to explain his devouring ambivalence, it came down to, "Well, it's not my mother's food." I laughed, because no restaurant's cooking ever measures up to mama's, regardless of culture.

And then there's the common situation of restaurant owners and chefs who can never make their food "authentic" enough for their ethnic customers but feel compelled to turn it bland for everyone else.
I'm sure you've been to Asian restaurants where there's one menu written in English and another written in the native language. This is rarely just about language. The Asian menu usually contains dishes the restaurant's management assumes are too esoteric for non-native customers.

I've often found myself begging servers to translate dishes on the menu I can't read. Half the time they reply with, "You won't like." If I insist, I usually make some delicious discoveries...and some that definitely qualify for "you won't like."

So, be respectful and adventurous. You'll usually end up with a pleasant surprise.