At Your Service: Jan. 30, 2008

When one is a perfectionist, good enough is never good enough; there is the constant striving for something never achieved. I know from my own experience. Take this column, for example. Each week I go through life, in the back of my mind tossing about ideas and subjects. As one rises to the top, I mull it over and phrases begin to take shape. At the last possible moment that my schedule and deadline will permit, I sit down to my computer and write. No matter haw many times I then rewrite it; I am still not satisfied when I click the send button.
The flip side of perfectionism is that being one makes the pursuit of excellence a natural. In order to stay sane (at least I think I am still sane), one must prioritize the many goals inherent in each process. Thus, we create for ourselves a minimum standard that must be achieved before we can call any project “done.” What is accomplished beyond that point is usually defined by time – when it runs out.
Friday evening, I had dinner at Domenico’s. It was the first evening the restaurant was open for dinner, after opening for brunch the previous week. There was Richard Simms, a perfectionist to the bone, striving to make this tribute to Dom Rana (the chef/owner of Café on Main in the same location), a reality.
Our waitress was having her first experience in that role. She had a dozen people to serve at one table, one table after we did some moving around. To keep the orders straight, she created a somewhat novel system – she coded each order with our names. Thus, as each dish came out, she placed it before the person, calling them by name. How often have we dined with a group and had the question be, “Who ordered the tilapia?” It had a charming effect.
Additionally, her system made it very easy to settle up at the end of the evening. Having kept the orders separate, there was no wondering who had ordered what.
Of course the real test of a restaurant is the food. There was agreement among us that each of our meals was quite good. The chef, alone in the kitchen, had us all eating at about the same time and each was satisfied. One of the side dishes on my plate was a spinach and pine nuts combination that would, in itself, bring me back for more.
As is to be expected on the first time with anything, there were glitches. Silverware and napkins didn’t make it to everyone before the meal; a result of the tables being moved. One person didn’t get their soup until minutes before her main course was ready; a mixup between her and a person who had ordered the soup as a main course. The problems were all little things that will iron themselves out with practice.
As the evening drew to an end, Richard and his team sought our feedback. There were many more compliments than there were pointers about what didn’t work. They listened with the ears of those committed to continuing improvement. There will be additions to the staff that will make the jobs easier for everyone and eliminate some of the problems caused by a shortage of time and hands.
When one weighs what makes a restaurant worth visiting, the quality of the food and service are held in balance. On Friday, the balance at Domenico’s was right. The flavors and textures of the food were interesting and fresh. The portions satisfied without being excessive; plates were empty, tummies were full and faces wore smiles. The personal nature of the service washed away small inconsistencies.
It was not perfect; but, effort and a caring approach promise a brand of excellence that will have Dom smiling down upon us with pride well into the future.