Sunday, July 10, 2005

Prescription for a Queasy Stomach

A friend of a friend told me about the King County online restaurant inspection reporting system and how it, for a while anyway, completely affected the restaurants she would patronize.

Here is a listing of health inspection reports for restaurants on University Ave. in the University District at UW (note that the listing spans multiple pages). Be forewarned, however, that such listing could impact your desire to eat on the Ave. ever again. Below, I will review some of my favorite restaurants on the Ave. and their records of inspection.

But first, a briefing on the way these inspection reports supposedly work.

Inspections Overview
Inspections are based on regulations to eliminate risk factors for food borne disease. Every violation of these regulations is color coded and has a numerical value based on the amount of risk they create.

The red violations are the highest risk and pertain to things that cause food borne diseas, and the blue violations relate to maintenance and cleanliness of the restaurant. Most importantly, there is a scoring system (note that the lower the score the better).

  • 35 or more red critical violation points require a re-inspection within 14 days.
  • 75 or more red critical violation points require the establishment be closed.
  • 101 or more total (red & blue) points also requires the establishment be closed.

Those restaurants that are forced closed are allowed to reopen when they "have remedied the conditions that have led to closure" -- Whew, that's a relief!

Interesting Finds
What I've noticed from my brief investigations is that American food places tend to do very well (e.g. Schultzy's, Big Time Brewery, even Jack in the Box), each maintaing a near perfect health inspection report (no score over 10). Schultzy's is one of my favorite places on the Ave. so I am fairly relieved there and many of my fellow Grad students hang out/eat at Big Time Brewery. Cheers to them as well.

The most common citation among all restaurants was "Food worker cards not available or current," which presumably means that (a) the restaurant is not keeping good records of their employees or (b) restaurants are hiring illegal immigrants. Admittedly (b) would be more likely in California.

Disgusting Finds (e.g. Point Winners)

  • Honeybee's Cafe back in February '04 was cited with "Ineffective measures to control pests," a 13 point penalty (apparently). I'm not sure what this means exactly, but it cannot be good. It sort of has this implication that there is a pest problem to control.
  • Ichiro Teriyaki scored a resounding 49 points on their last routine inspection. Cited for, among other things, improper refrigeration of food, poor handwashing facilities, unclean food contact surfaces, and, our favorite, ineffective measures to control pests.
  • Never one to be out done, Aladdin Gyro-cery & Deli one-upped Ichiro Teriyaki by 7 points, scoring 56 points in 02/11/2004 for inadequate toilet facilities, unsanitary wiping clothes, improper refrigeration, inaccurate thermometers in refrigerators (the latter point here perhaps the cause of the former?). Of course, Aladdin really didn't learn much from that inspection given that one year later (02/10/2005), the restaurant scored 46 points. I hate to say it, but anyone who has eaten at Aladdin's (I have multiple times) probably isn't surprised by such a record. I'm not being perfidious, just honest.
  • China Express has scored above 37 three times (see Worst Restaurants Section)
  • Batavia just opened on the Ave and already received a 48 (see Worst Restaurants Section).
  • Tokyo Garden. One of the few places mentioned in this blog post that I have never eaten at and perhaps for good reason. Tokyo Garden received a score of 58 points on 02/18/2005 for not storing utensils properly, poor handwashing facilities, food storage.

Favorite Restaurants and how They Fared
My all time favorite restaurant on the Ave is actually on Brooklyn Ave. Cedars offers a fantastic selection of Indian and Mediterranean food -- a seemingly strange mix, but works quite well. I really like Indian food and this is the place to do it in the U. District. The only bad part about Cedars is the table wait on weekend evenings... and their apparent "presence of pests" which are "not controlled." Cedars consistently scores in the 10-20 range in their health inspection report, most recently because of said pest issue and because of separation of living quarters/employee area, inaccurate refrigerator thermometers, etc.

My two favorite Mexican places on the Ave are, Pepes and Chipotle (yes, I know it's owned by McDonalds, shhhhh I like to eat corporate food sometimes, ok?), both of which have flawless health inspection reports never scoring even one point.

Thai food on the Ave. is fairly popular only second in prominence to Teriyaki places. I like, in order of preference: Thai 65 (just opened in early 2005), Thai Tom, Thai Spice, Thaiger Room. Overall, I am not a huge fan of Thai food (it tends to be too sweet and I don't like peanut sauce) but it's hard to avoid on the Ave.

IMO, Worst Restaurants on the Ave. (and how they fared)
The worst restaurant on the Ave is a relatively new addition to the U. District and goes by the name Batavia, which tries to pass as an authentic Indonesian restaurant. Now, I've never been to Indonesia but I hope for their sake that Batavia's version of authentic is a bit skewed. The portions are incredibly small but the food is so bad, that's actually a blessing. I went there one time and that was more than enough. Batavia received a score of a 48, which is, imo, 27 points too small. It would seem that there is some people who disagree with me on Citysearch. My guess would be, however, that those reviews were written by the owners themselves (or their kin).

The second worst restaurant on the Ave goes to Hawaii BBQ Restaurant, which managed to give myself and two others digestion problems for an entire afternoon. I went to Hawaii BBQ for the benefit of a friend who wanted to try it out and when I saw the pictures of their food on the menu posted by the door, I had difficulty staying. But I did and soon regreted it. I'm not sure what Hawaii BBQ is supposed to mean but they appeared to only have three or four authentic Hawaiin dishes -- the rest was your standard Teriyaki offering found at a dime a dozen on the Ave. But I digress, they scored a 39 at their worst inspection and an 18 (most recent) at their best.

The third worst restaurant on the Ave goes to China First, which offers a $3.50 lunch making it almost worth it suffering through their cuisine. The food here is standard Americanized Chinese food, not necessarily bad but just not good. China First has quite the health inspection report though receiving 50, 43, 38 respectively for such things as: food stored on floor, floors not properly cleaned (maybe because there was food in the way?), room temperature storage dangerous (at highest bacteria breeding temperature)

Conclusion
I feel a slight sense of guilt actually typing up these health inspection reports and publishing them on my blog. I realize that many of the restaurants on the Ave are owned and operated by families and that they are doing the best they can. It is a difficult environment, lot's of competition and little pricing flexibility. An overwhelming portion of patrons are students and, therefore, there is only so many foods and preparations that can be offered at the $6-10 range.

1 comment:

Meredith said...

I was horrified by these reports, so don't feed guilty about writing about them. Perhaps to fix the situation the owners of these restaurants could could refrigerate their food and make their employees Wash Their Hands!! I may never eat at Nasai again.

I think storing your food on the floor (prior to cooking it) is one thing, but "Handwashing facilities not maintained, accessible, stocked. " sounds pretty bad to me. Do you think that means they don't have soap?