Second Helpings

Ve Haf Vays of Making You Eat: The staff at a casual eating spot in the tony Borgata could probably benefit from a couple of extra minutes of training, if you can believe one patron's story.

At lunch recently, she asked the young server what the soup of the day was. The waiter pondered for a few seconds, unable to recall the name of the cold daily special. Finally, it came to him.

"Gestapo," he announced triumphantly (meaning, of course, gazpacho).
The diner had trouble choking back her laughter. Good thing she did--employees reportedly were ready to administer the Himmler maneuver.

Good Vibrations: I don't have much trouble choosing a local restaurant when I have a nonprofessional meal out. That's because I'm familiar with the fare at almost every restaurant in town. But when I'm on the road, I have to rely on my wits. Choosing a restaurant in unfamiliar territory isn't a science. But there are certain ways to go about it.

Recently, I was hungrily wandering around San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter at dinnertime. There were scores of restaurants to consider. What made me decide on Panevino (722 Fifth Avenue)?

First, it was the friendly but not overeager proprietor, who saw me inspecting the menu posted outside. She came over and told me proudly, "We make excellent food." Her thick Italian accent contributed to her credibility.

Second, the menu itself was potently written, suggesting a kitchen that didn't cook by the numbers. Pasta is made fresh and embellished with great-sounding sauces fashioned from lamb, hare and wild mushrooms. Prices were in line, too. Third, the restaurant had an unmistakable buzz. Diners here weren't sedately refueling; they were actively having a good time. It made me want to join them. "This is the place," I told my wife, with all the assurance of Brigham Young pointing down into the Salt Lake basin.

The meal confirmed my impression. The restaurant uses freshly grated parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Our shared salad appetizer was divided back in the kitchen and brought out on separate plates. And the food was as tasty as the owner reported.

Sure, it's possible that restaurants with attentive owners, appealing menus and a lively crowd can send out dismal fare. But more likely than not, those traits are the best indicators of quality.

Goodbye, Mike: Mike's Golden Crust, one of the west side's best restaurants, has just changed hands. The restaurant started in a 43rd Avenue storefront. Success brought a move to larger digs at 15820 North 35th Avenue, just north of Greenway Road. And just a few months ago, the restaurant went big time, opening a second branch on Scottsdale Road. But health problems, says Mike, have made him give up the business.

The new proprietor, meanwhile, wisely promises not to do too much tinkering with the menu. He says the Greek-Italian fare will be supplemented by a few Mediterranean-themed dishes. The place is now operating a full-service bar, while the Scottsdale branch has been closed down. And even though the new owner's name is Allan, the place will still be called Mike's Golden Crust.

--Howard Seftel


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