One of my colleagues wonders why I don’t eat – I often go until late in the afternoon until I take my first bite of the day. My simple response is that I don’t like to eat.
I don’t enjoy eating for nourishment. But I do enjoy dining and the entire dining experience.
I refuse to eat at any of the “chains” where they deep-fry you to death and the portions are obscenely giganormous. When a dish is served to me, I don’t like my first response to be one of intimidation as in; “Holy cow, I will NEVER finish THAT.” Ughhh…
Which is why it is rather sad that I live in Binghamton, New York – a nice but smallish city in Upstate,New York. Mind you, there are a couple of good restaurants in the area such as Number-5, Russell’s Steak House, Lampy’s, Chestnut Inn and Oak’s Inn – perhaps a few others. But the menu’s haven’t changed in it seems forever and they all share the same wine-list, which typically consists of a couple of each of the “colors” of wine. And the service certainly lacks sophistication enough to be considered “fine dining”. I guess the best you can say about the area’s restaurants is that “it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
Maybe these restaurants do know their clients and cater to them accordingly – a point which would no doubt lead to an entirely different conversation and one which I will not delve into further here.
But this article is about travels, exquisite customer service, and the gastronomical wonders that I have experienced over the past several months of trekking about.
In speaking with my peers – other consulting professionals from the United States – I have come to the conclusion that I am a bit outside the norm when it comes to travel. You see, most of my peers seem to travel to some distant place (be it domestically or abroad), arrive in time for their engagement and depart immediately afterwards for either home or their next engagement.
And most of them tell me that they enjoyed their visits and will “have to make it a point to go back there someday – perhaps when I retire and have more time.”
It puzzles me why they don’t take a day or so to explore the strange new lands whilst they are there. I mean, the bulk of the travel-costs have already been picked-up by either the client or the company. All a person has to do is shell-out a couple more dollars themselves for an extra nights stay and meals. It’s quite the discount on going it alone, if you ask me.
As for me, I almost always take the extra time whilst I have the opportunity and explore the place and its peoples – and I especially enjoy exploring the gastronomical delights waiting to be discovered
But you might be wondering what all this has to do with Operational Excellence. It’s simple – it’s about customer service. At the core of Operational Excellence is delivering to the customer that which is of value to the customer from THEIR perspective – not what YOU might feel is of value to them.
So I am devoting this article to highlight some of the finer dining establishments I have visited over the past few months and why I hold them as stand-outs.
Domestically (United States of America)
New York; New York City
129 East 60th Street, New York, NY 10022
I had the opportunity to visit Le Veau d’or whilst on an engagement in NYC. I was just wandering about Midtown after work looking for an interesting place to have a good bite to eat when I happened across Le Veau d’or. With its subtle façade, you really have to be looking for it otherwise you will miss it. Inside you will find around twenty tables and some of the most authentic French cuisine.
Part way through the meal, I discovered that the restaurant was actually featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” – a travel show focused on international fair as well as a personal favorite of mine.
I met the owner’s daughter, Cathy Treboux, who was more than happy to sit with me as the dinner rush subsided, and tell me the story of the restaurant.
A wonderful place with fabulous fair at a price that is surprisingly inexpensive for Midtown.
117 West 58th Street, New York, NY 10019
I first went to Nino’s Tuscany after an Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) event at the New York Athletic Club – having been invited there by a fellow member of the ACG and attendee. It’s a wonderful little restaurant with perhaps thirty tables or so and the fare and wine selection was wonderful. And you never know what celebrity is going to show. During my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Jackie Mason and his grand-daughter, who had just graduated from Binghamton University. Very nice folks.
But what makes Nino’s awesome is Irving Fields. Irving is a classic gentleman who is advanced in his years and plays standards on the piano for hours on end – all from memory and with no music. Patrons sing along and dance – pausing every now and again to regale in one of Irving’s anecdotes or jokes. I am certain that you would thoroughly enjoy a stop at this fine establishment.
New York; Albany
30 S. Pearl at Omni Plaza, Albany, NY 12207
Dale Miller is owned by very good friends of mine, but before you scream out “cronyism”, let me tell you that this is a first rate restaurant whose chef, Dale Miller, is quite acclaimed – and deservedly so. The wine list is extensive (be sure to order the splits) and the food is exquisite. I had the rainbow trout and it was served wonderfully – remember, with trout you eat the skin.
In the summer, weather permitting, they have bands play on the outdoor patio and the environment turns quite festive. The day I was there it poured cats and dogs, but the band played on.
The Wine Bar and Bistro
200 Lark Street, Albany, NY 12210
The Wine Bar is owned by another friend of mine and I have enjoyed many a fine evening at his fine restaurant. The wine list is exhaustive but the Fine Wine Manager, Jonathan Stewart navigates the list with a dexterity and insightfulness that is simply amazing.
As the name implies, this is a Bistro – as opposed to a full restaurant. Most of the dishes are designed to be light-fare and the premises themselves are warm, inviting, and cozy (not to be confused with “cramped”).
If you get the chance, you can go upstairs and meet the chef himself whilst he concocts his wonderful dishes in a modest kitchen with limited real-estate. But don’t be fooled – the dishes served are some of my most favorite and the menu seems to change all of the time. Best of all, unless it’s the height of the dinner rush, he will gladly take the time to chat about whatever there is to chat about.
1 Skytop, Skytop, PA 18357
Skytop is not just a restaurant; it’s a resort – a resort in the most classic sense. The facilities are grand and hearken back to a time where people demonstrated etiquette and class.
For instance, a few years ago I was there with my oldest son and we went for a round of golf. Somewhere on the front-nine, I lost my digital camera. My son became distraught but I just knew it would be found and turned-in. When we came to the turn after the 9th hole, I stopped by the starter and inquired as to whether anyone had found a camera. Sure enough, another golfer had found it and turned it in to a ranger.
Something tells me that this would not have happened at too many other places – but I just knew it would here.
The fare at Skytop is fantastic and included in your stay (except alcoholic beverages) and certainly should be considered when looking at the room-rate. The breakfast and lunch buffets serve a good mix of hot and cold foods – with some items cooked to order – and vary from day to day.
Dinner is more formal with jackets required for men. There is a different menu for dinner every evening. The wait-staff are highly trained professionals who make the experience quite enjoyable and the Sommelier is more than happy to act as a Sherpa in your quest for the perfect pairing at the price you wish to spend.
850 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33139
I went to Café Milano whilst at an Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) conference – first going there with a very good friend of mine from Belgium , Dirk van Goubergen.
We were just walking the strip looking for a place to get a small bite to eat and happened upon Café Milano. The restaurant had prepared some of its prized dishes outside for the passers-by to admire. And one look at the seafood platter had us hooked and our appetites vigorously renewed. The bottle of Champaign was the perfect match. It was a most wonderful meal.
The service was fantastic and our waiter was the best I had ever had. After dinner, we felt like a glass of Port. The waiter went to sort our drinks and was gone an unusually long time. He soon returned and let us know that the bartender had dropped the only bottle of Port in the restaurant and it had broken – and that he was going “next door” to get a bottle from the neighboring restaurant.
We soon spied him returning with a large glass covered by a linen napkin – and he disappeared back into the restaurant. Soon he returned with our glasses of Port – which he announced was “on the house”. When I asked him what the story was, he let us know that the neighboring restaurant did not have a bottle of Port to spare, but that they would let him have a couple of glasses worth.
Talk about going above and beyond the call of duty. I have never seen such a focus on the customer in any restaurant before (or since) – and it was especially noteworthy because his efforts were unsolicited.
The Netherlands; Amsterdam
Some colleagues and I went to Amsterdam in May to host an Operational Excellence conference and introduce XONITEK’s European presence. For certain, Amsterdam has a reputation for various tolerances – all of which are well deserved. But what was of particular note was the abundance of fine places to dine and drink – from the restaurants, bars and bistros to the specialty markets where you can purchase breads, cheeses and meats. All of which were unique and exquisite in their own right.
I should have realized that Amsterdam was a gastronomically different place when I happened upon a pub where I hoisted a few pints several years ago in 2002 and the waitress, Sarah, remembered me! I promise that I didn’t do anything memorable – at least nothing noteworthy that I remembered.
I could probably devote another entire article to our experiences there (all of which are Rated-G), but there was one instance in particular which illustrates what customer service is all about.
Rick Hulse and I were walking Amsterdam one day and came across a Spanish restaurant (whose name escapes me). One thing you have to know about Rick is that he loves cheese – and I mean he really LOVES cheese. So he asks for some simple cheese with our beers and the waiter looks at him inquisitively as plain cheese was not on the menu and the waiter obviously does not really know what to do.
The manager comes over and Rick explains that he just would like a couple of slices of cheese on a plate. Soon, the manager returns with a plate of cheese slices. But instead of just a boring couple of slices on a plate, he took the time to roll them, sprinkle them with some seasonings, and put a toothpick with a black olive through each – adding character and presentation to what was expected to be a drab dish.
This is the culinary experience of Amsterdam.
Lange Niezel 24, Amsterdam 1012 GT
Rick and I were walking Amsterdam in the evening and looking for someplace interesting that might offer some cuisine which we might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience – and we came across Tibet Restaurant.
The restaurant itself was nothing much to look at. It wasn’t particularly fancy or otherwise appealing – and didn’t have a wine list of which to speak. But it had character and was certainly full of characters. Allegedly, this was the meeting place for the Government of Tibet in exile and their monthly dinner meeting was taking place.
There were a bunch of Tibetans seated around a large table. One Tibetan chap in particular was playing a sitar while singing naughty lyrics to a non-Tibetan lass who didn’t seem to mind and was playing a guitar herself. When he half-jokingly proposed to her and asked if there were a Priest in the restaurant who could marry them, I stepped forward – I figured, why not join in the fun. We all had a bunch of great laughs and shared some drinks native toTibet which I was not going to ask about – fearing the answer might kill the vibe.
I told my waiter that I was interested in something spicy – and not the wimpy-spicy but full-throttle. He suggested a few dishes and soon a wonderfully delectable and zesty feast was in front of us. The flavor was incredible and the heat of the spice built slowly over time. Simply wonderful.
However, the next morning brought a whole new meaning to “Free Tibet”…
Alte Oper Frankfurt Restauration
Opernplatz 1, Frankfurt/Main 60313
Whilst on “vacation” in Germany this summer, I decided to steal some time and have a couple of business meetings. One of the things I enjoy the most aboutEurope is that they enjoy having business meetings over meals – preferably at an upscale restaurant or a “hidden treasure”. In fact, I don’t believe I have ever had a business lunch at “Starbucks” or a business dinner at any of the “Yum” brand of dining establishments while in Europe. Nope – the Europeans enjoy their business meals and tend to linger – even having a few glasses of wine or beer. Ahhh…
I was to meet a gentleman from Frankfurt about partnering and he suggested we have a lunch meeting at Alte Oper. And since another gentleman also wanted to meet with me the same day, I decided to have two lunches at Alte Oper. So, I made two separate reservations.
This restaurant is FABULOUS. It has an indoor section and an outdoor section which affords a tremendous view of the Square in front of the Opera and all of the goings-on.
The food was outstanding – wonderfully presented with flavors that danced on the palette. The wait-staff was exceptionally well-trained in the art of fine dining. I didn’t even notice the hours that went by and one meeting ended with moments to spare before the second began.
And both meetings were successful.
The Carron – Art Deco Restaurant
20 Cameron St., Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, AB39 2HS
This is the most recent addition to my list of wonderful places to dine having been here at the end of August – and I would certainly be remise if I did not include it in this article.
We have a few Operational Excellence projects with Royal Dutch Shell in Aberdeen and decided that we should visit with them (and the UK XONITEK leadership) before the weather in Scotland returned to its legendary frightful wintery self.
Now, Scotland is not necessarily known for it cuisine – except for haggis. And they make and serve haggis everywhere and all the time in Scotland. And although I didn’t actually see any, I am certain that somewhere you can get haggis ice cream. No thanks, none for me…
At the recommendation of our host at Shell, we did all go to The Carron in Stonehaven, which is about 30 minutes or so from Aberdeen. A wonderful evening was had by all. In addition to the regular menu, the restaurant offered a considerable number of specials across all courses. In addition to the obligatory haggis, there was all manner of delectable choices from the sea, land and air. And the wine list was quite nice – we settled on a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape.
The presentation of the food was superb and the décor and history of the restaurant added significantly to a warm and cozy ambiance. The wait staff was very professional and enjoyable – making you feel comfortable and at home as naturally as if you were a relative come a-callin’.
Although I don’t expect that you have enjoyed reading this article nearly as much as I enjoyed visiting these fine places and their noteworthy restaurants – I do hope you have the opportunity to call upon them should your travels take you nearby.
And if your travels don’t take you near any of the fine places that I have mentioned here, I certainly hope you will take the time to seek and discover your own oasis – in whatever form might suit your fancy. Don’t wait until “someday” as you may not make it that long.
By Joseph F Paris Jr
Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence.
He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 25,000 members.
For more information on Paris, please check his Linked-In Profile at: http://de.linkedin.com/in/josephparis