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(article, Liz Crain)

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Lisa Dillman wasn’t exactly married to a restaurant, but she sure felt like she was. Her husband worked long p.m. hours as a sommelier at a busy restaurant and she toiled at a corporate 9-to-5 job. Dillman spent so many evenings clockwatching, cooking for one and dining in restaurants alone, that she gained the nickname for which her blog is named: Restaurant Widow. 

These days, Dillman and her husband work at the same restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, where she is a server. She won't reveal the name of the restaurant, but she gets plenty of tasty material there for her blog.

[%image dillman float=right width=200 caption="Lisa Dillman" credit="Photo courtesy Lisa Dillman"]

p(blue). Blog: Restaurant Widow
Average posts per month: 25
Blogger: Lisa Dillman
Age: 31
Blog place of origin: Columbus, Ohio

Since 2005, Restaurant Widow has been serving up entries ranging from local restaurant reviews and service-industry insights to farm-fresh recipes and meditations on eating locally. 

Dillman also regularly posts about her CSA, bemoans the quick and processed tendencies of food television, and shares that one day she hopes to own a restaurant.

Do a lot of service-industry folks read your blog?
Yes. Most of my friends are in the industry, and they were among my first readers. It's always funny to have a server from another restaurant say their boss doesn't like me because I gave their restaurant a bad review.

[[block(sidebar).

h1. Liz's favorite posts

[[block(smalltext).

1. Service, Tipping and How to Be a Good Guest
2. Guest Author Husband Takes on the Task of Selecting Wine in a Restaurant
3. Chicken Under a Brick
4. Cheesy Grits with Bacon

]]
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I recently discovered that some of the city's "real" food critics have been reading my website, and I thought that was very interesting. They took me out to dinner, to figure me out; I don't know what they decided. 

The food critics in Columbus are all old rich men; I thought maybe I could have a fresh voice.

What do you like to see in a restaurant review?
I like a reviewer who has good taste, and isn't just wowed by plating or styling.  And I also like it when a reviewer admits that there might be things which are properly executed, but not to the taste of the reviewer. I discovered recently that I am not ready to embrace sea cucumbers, but that has nothing to do with the chef who prepared them for me.

A reviewer should also have some clue what goes on in a restaurant, because they can perpetuate misconceptions. For example, a local reviewer whined that his plate was hot — a plate which contained a steak entrée — and that a hot plate means that a dish languished under a heat lamp. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that a hot plate equals hot food. I worked for four years in a restaurant with no heat lamps, and the plates were always what we called "rocket hot."

What would you like to see change in the Midwestern food scene? 
I would like to see more people embrace the land and amazing agriculture we have. It's funny that people think of Columbus as a total cow town, but still purchase meat raised on some huge, soulless feedlot a thousand miles away. We have this great soil, we're surrounded by farms, and yet a lot of people don't even think about where their food comes from.

What's your response to those who ask, “Why bother blogging about food in Columbus, Ohio?”
Columbus has a huge "brain drain" problem — meaning although we have one of the largest universities in the Midwest (Ohio State), young people don't stick around. My husband and I decided to stay in Columbus and try to make it a better place. I think it's easy to flee for a city with an already established food culture; it's harder to stay and change it.

People like Jeni Britton, whose ice cream is winning national acclaim, are inspirations to others who can change the scene in their cities.

[%image promo-image float=left width=350 caption="Tiny ice-cream sandwiches from Jeni's Ice Creams." credit="Photo courtesy Lisa Dillman"]

If you could teach difficult diners one thing about the inner workings of a restaurant, what would it be?
It's really hard to prepare great food in an instant. People can be very impatient, and sometimes I just want to say "Look, we don't have a microwave here!  I can't make your steak appear instantly!"

I think everyone should be required to work at least one month in a restaurant. I'd like people to realize that I am (or at least I try to be) smiley and friendly no matter how hot, sore, tired, or grumpy I feel. Some servers could be Oscar-winning actors.

What have been your greatest food discoveries since starting your blog?
Bottarga (salted, pressed mullet roe), homemade pierogies from my favorite Polish deli, Vietnamese sandwiches, pho with beef tendon, Hangar One vodka, verjus (a vinegar-like condiment made from under ripe grapes), Kihachi Japanese Restaurant (my favorite restaurant in Columbus), and Greek yogurt.
 
How long have you had a CSA membership? How has it affected your cooking?
This is my second year with a CSA membership. My farmer, Sandy Sterrett, loves greens — kale, collard, mustard, chard — and she picks them when they are really young and tender. I have learned to incorporate greens into lots and lots of other recipes (they're really good for you). It certainly makes me cook more; I want to use everything so the work wasn't done in vain.

How often do you cook with cookbooks? Which cookbooks are your favorites?
I don't use a lot of cookbooks because, to be honest, I'm more of an intuitive cook. That being said, I love cookbooks from chefs whose work I admire — Judy Rogers of Zuni Café, Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington, Thomas Keller — these are probably my favorites. The book [%bookLink code=0471287857 "Culinary Artistry"] is a great "textbook" for learning how to cook intuitively. 

I've noticed you have a "tip jar" on your blog, where readers can donate funds for blog upkeep. Do people use it?
They actually do. Especially if they have a good meal at a restaurant I suggested.

What's growing in your garden this summer?
Mostly herbs, so far — oregano, lots of thyme, a few types of basil, tarragon, sage. There are also some greens like mâche and arugula. And I always like to let a few weeds thrive. Natural lamb's quarters are just coming up (sometimes called wild spinach), and I let that grow because it's pretty tasty. And free. 

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer in Portland, Oregon.


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