Tomatoes in Winter

What the critic loves and loathes at the 1,000-meal mark.

Elaine Cicora
If my calendar and calculator are to be trusted, nearly 1,000 professionally consumed meals have found their way beneath my ever-expanding waistband at this point in my tenure; and while I still inexplicably adore dining out, I've developed some pretty intense opinions about what makes for a good time. Here's a rundown of my personal passions and peeves.

I love warm greetings . . . wintertime coatracks, coat rooms, and coatchecks . . . prompt seating . . . smiling hosts and hostesses . . . complimentary valet parking . . . energetic ambiance . . . nonsmoking dining rooms . . . three-season patios . . . amuses bouches and mignardises . . . knowledgeable servers who can make informed suggestions . . . managers, owners, and chefs who know how -- and when -- to schmooze . . . purse hooks on the bar . . . fresh flowers in the bathrooms . . . small plates . . . artisanal breads and unsalted butter . . . homemade potato chips . . . cheese courses . . . real maple syrup . . . wines by the half-bottle . . . fresh pots of coffee, left on the table . . . dessert lists that venture beyond the tired triad of crème brûlée, cheesecake, and tiramisu . . . and a sense of value, regardless of price.

On the other hand, I could live happily without call-ahead seating, that misbegotten conceit that requires diners to phone in advance and wait for a table . . . having to drape a full-length winter coat off the back of my chair . . . outdoor tables plunked down in the middle of parking lots or on the edge of busy streets . . . kitchens that don't remove the tail shells from shrimp before adding them to saucy dishes . . . plates dusted with dried parsley or cocoa powder . . . half-raw stalks of unseasoned broccoli . . . tomatoes in winter . . . overcooked pasta . . . margarine, nondairy creamer, and instant iced tea . . . bent forks . . . televisions in dining rooms . . . restroom attendants . . . servers who pull up a chair . . . tavern staffers who don't know what's on tap . . . plate-splitting charges . . . soggy pie crusts . . . and quantity masquerading as quality.

Please tell me I'm not alone here.

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