Wednesday 27 June 2007

Carmel's Offers Class, Elegance

398 21st Street
Vero Beach, FL USA 32960

Where is it?

A little tricky to find but not impossible. From the main entrance, head into the left-most dining room and then turn right, towards the room's back wall. Once there, go left again and then take an immediate right, heading down a lengthy hallway leading to the back of the restaurant. The bathrooms are there.

And don't worry: In case you get lost along the way, the fine, friendly waitstaff here will politely provide directions.

What's it like?

Carmel's is one of Vero's more upscale restaurants, a place to hit more for special occasions than everyday dining. While I find the food good, I was not awed by it (a little too much reliance on sauces to cover ingredients that should be tasty enough on their own); having said that, the salads and wine selection were very impressive.

The decor is stately: Boldly colored walls decorated with various pieces of art (both original and prints), white table cloths, dark wood tables and chairs, clean carpets and more.

The loos extend the motif, offering a secluded, spotless environment in which to do your business. The decor here is tidy, modern, clean and simplistic, with elegant brown-red tiles covering the floor and part of the walls, and either off-white or matted green paint used in the remaining spaces. The walls are also dotted with old photographs fitted in oversized frames -- a touch that adds an air of sophistication and personality to the surroundings and at times made me think I was in an art gallery instead of an upscale restaurant.

The sinks are made of gleaming porcelain and the mirrors hang beside them in a stately manner, almost like art themselves thanks to their ornate frames. Paper towels are offered here, but they are held in classy holders to fit the decor.

The lone stall in the men's room has been set up as a separate room, not just as a stall, with a floor-to-ceiling door built in to offer complete closure from the rest of the bathroom. It's washing facilities, albeit smaller than the main one, still radiate with the same artfulness and warmth as found in the rest of the place.

The only drawback: The place uses store-bought hand soap instead of having a built-in dispenser here. But then again, this little faux pas adds a human element to the experience -- while it aims for perfection, the store-bought soap makes one feel that the designers knows the loo will always be a little short of that mark, and that visitors won't mind because the rest of the place reaches such heights.

Marks out of 10:

10. Artful and elegance through and through.

Comments to the Management:

Well done. One of the best strip mall bathrooms I've ever seen and experienced.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Goyan, Get Outta Here

Goyan Gip Korean Restaurant
(aka Gio Hyang Gip Korean Restrnt)
1400 W Oak Ridge Rd
Orlando, FL USA 32809

Where is it?

Seemingly simple to find but in reality considerably tricky.

From the entrance, head to the western wall of the restaurant and slip into a little hallway there marked "Restrooms." From there, you will find three doors, neither of them marked. Only one leads to the real bathroom. (Hint: Try the one to the far left.)If I were Frank Stockton, I would say there were tigers behind the other two doors. But alas, one led to a supply closet and the other to a water heater/plumbing area.

What's it like?

A bit on the scary side.

The restaurant has an interesting decor in that it's walls are covered with wallpaper featuring various Korean letters and its ceiling is made entirely of mirrors -- which means that when you look up, you see an endless array of Korean lettering. However, the cheap Formica tables and odd smell (almost exactly like that found in an Oriental supermarket), offset the charm to some degree.

The food is good, and of good quality (though there are a few better Korean places in town), yet that smell looms over everything. Yes, you get used to it after a while, but do you really have to?

The loos aren't much better. While they appear somewhat clean on the surface, closer inspection reveals many items here to be in some state of disrepair. The sink looks like it was picked up used from a street corner and left in the state it was found. The fixtures happen to be both shiny and grimy at the same time - a quality worsened by the fact that there is no hand soap here. (This, of course leads to the question: Which is worse, rinsing your hands without soap or touching the sink knobs?) The floor tiles are chipped. The stall feel oddly unclean. And, worst still, the ceiling has an open hole in it -- no doubt a light or fire alarm was moved and the owners didn't want to bother plugging the gap.

Even stranger is a homemade advertisement -- in Korean, no less -- for electronics found taped to the paper towel dispenser. What is the deal with this? Can't you at least afford a real sign? Does the person who put the sign up actually think he'll get business this way? Do people really call? Does the management know the ad is there (surely they must, right?) Does anyone think this is reputable? And.... what if the scheme works? Weird, just plain weird.

Marks out of 10:

3. Needs a serious revamping here. And perhaps a table out front to house actual ads and fliers for computer salesmen.

Comments to the Management:

Why not make the bathroom's design as clever-looking as the restaurant's interior (minus the smell, that is)? Also, I'll be curious to learn the success rate of the computer ad on the towel dispenser......

Thursday 14 June 2007

Greek Flame Offers Tiny, True-to-Life European-Styled Toilets

Greek Flame Taverna
1560 N. Semoran Blvd.
Winter Park, FL USA 32792

Where is it?

The restaurant has taken over a former Pizza Hut, so the bathrooms are essentially in the same location as where they would be in a Pizza Hut: In the front of the building, beside the cashier and the opening to the kitchen.

What's it like?

Give this neighborhood joint some credit. Outside of some places, Orlando isn't really a town know for its quality ethnic eateries -- most of what we have is chain restaurants. So for a place like this to survive -- and in such a working-class part of town, of all places -- for almost a decade is something of a small miracle.

And granted, part of that success may be the fact that Greek restaurants don't stick around too long here. Outside of Olympa on Colonial Drive, most of the Greek places have been around five years or less. This one isn't exactly the best in town (that would be Mykonos in Longwood) -- and some of the food is hit and miss, it's still a charming little place, and if I lived in the area I would visit more often.

Having said that, the bathrooms here need considerable work. They are much too small. So tiny, in fact, that while in them I actually thought I was in a tiny, out-of-the-way toilet in Europe. Nothing against the Europeans, mind you, but (if I may stereotype) because Europeans built their buildings first and their bathrooms second (a logical progression, really), most of their restrooms (save the moderns ones or the ones in more luxurious areas) tend to be very small and tight-fitting (especially those in France). This restaraurant's bathroom fits that mold to a tee: A bathroom of this size could certainly not accomodate people as rotund as most Americans (how I managed to get in and do my business is still a great mystery!). And yet the designer (who really just revamped a Pizza Hut loo) has the gall to include (at least in the men's room) two stations here, when really there is barely enough for one.

Stranger still, people here enter through a main door and then pass through a sort of foyer -- really, just a two-foot-by-two-foot corridor that is barely big enough to squeeze through because you have to make room for the doors to swing open and closed on both ends. While passing through, I thought, "Geez, this is small, but at least the bathroom will by roomy, right?"

Wrong. Pass through the foyer and you'll enter that restroom that's barely got enough room for a toilet, let alone a toilet, urinal and sink. Everything feels jumbled and placed on top of itself -- which makes the idea of relieving yourself all the more difficult, since all the jetting-out fixtures force you to analyze the space around you (and how to use it) before you can actually get down to business.

Worse still, the room isn't nearly as clean as it should be. I found water stains on everything from the toilet to the urinal to the sink -- and the weathered-looking pics of the Greek Isles did little to make me forget about that. You'd think it'd be easy to clean the place up, given how small it is, right?

Marks out of 10:

4. Up from 3 simply because the appetizers were good enough to merit a return.

Comments to the Management:

It's Orlando, so perhaps adapting your restroom to the city's urban-sprawl model might make for a more enjoyable experiencing. Cleaning the place a little better would help as well. (Also, consider adding some flavor to your pastisio recipe, which is much too bland for it's own good.)

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Nissan Dealership to Public: Please Help Us Eliminate Odor (and Don't Forget to Buy a Car While You're Here)

Classic Nissan
1983 N. Semoran Blvd.
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

Against the back wall of the northern side of the main showroom, beside the copier and right before the glass-walled salesperson offices lining the far north wall of the place.

What's it like?

This is an older dealership that looks like it used to be a Pizza Hut or similar kind of business. Inside, the place looks like it needs a serious makeover, including a good paint job and some serious wall buffing.

The bathrooms are no different: Grungy yet functional and in serious need of a revamping. Water stains could be seen on the sink and urinal. The linoleum floor was noticeably chipped in places. The walls had a fair amount of grime on them. And the only decor was a limp-looking fake plant placed on the counter beside the sink.

Worse yet, I found a sign above the urinal reading, "Please flush to eliminate odor. Thank you." What exactly was that supposed to mean? Was there an odor there that was ever present and only flushing could eliminate it? (I didn't smell anything, so I imagine the order given on the sign was being put to good use.) Was the clientele of the dealership the sort that didn't flush regularly? Or did the salespeople and other employees not flush regularly? Or -- considering the griminess of the place -- was this the only sort of way the restroom got cleaned here, by asking the public to flush and eliminate odors?

Needless to say, it was a jarring sight and made me want to leave immediately. Though, in actually, I ended up staying at the dealership a while longer and bought my new car there. Clearly, the potential for looming odors shell-shocked me enough to want to drop several grand on a new car. (Hmm.... now I'm thinking this sign above the urinal might well be the greatest marketing ploy every created...... Even better than New Coke!)

Marks out of the 10:

4. Would have been lower were it not for the subliminal advertising effect.

Comments to the Management:

The practical side of me says your restroom needs a serious makeover. But the capitalistic side of me says you should keep up the good work.

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Surprisingly, Little Works at Lexus Dealership's Luxury-Based Facilities

Lexus of Orlando
Service Department
305 N Semoran Blvd
Winter Park, FL USA 32792

NOTE: This is our first review of this location. To read a review of our return visit, please click here.

Where is it?

From the main entrance: Head in through the main doors, go around the cashier desk located in the center of the lobby, past the classy-looking cafe, and walk towards the drop-off entrance. Before you get to the doors, look left and you'll see the bathrooms.

From the drop-off entrance: Pass through the double doors leading to the customer lounge, cashier and cafe and look to your immediate right. The bathrooms are there.

What's it like?

This is a classy, debonair-looking public bathroom that's covered in tan-colored marbel tiles and understated decor like fake flowers that look real and framed pictures of landscapes and other serene scenes (not car ads, to my surprise). The decor gives the place a feel of cool isolation and makes you feel miles away from the service area and garage, which are essentially right outside. The thick, black-metal stall dividers and doors further the fortruss-like feel, and the stately automatic faucets, soap dispensers and towel dispensers are just icing on the cake.

Having said that, two of the toilets were not working upon my visit, one urinal and one sit-down commode. This I found to be very ironic. This is a luxury car dealer's service department, after all, and people look at the place as a spot of surefire stability, a place where money does indeed buy quality. When you can't get the basics right, you start wondering what else they haven't got right. Lexus or not, it's a major oversight on the management's side. In fact, it makes the place look cheap and shoddy. Hell, if I want to visit an out-of-order toilet, I'll head to a Hyundai dealership, or Daewoo, or even Chevy. But not Lexus. At Lexus, as the slogan says, I expect "nothing better."

Marks out of 10:

6. Would have been higher were it not for the two "Out of Service" signs found on those two toilets -- and the social ramifications they implied thereafter.

Comments to the Management:

Come on, Lexus, your customers (people with money to burn on automobiles that are essentially just expensive Toyotas) expect your public bathroom facilities to be in top working order upon arrival. Imagine the letdown they felt when they weren't.

Worse still, what if there had been a mad rush for the toilet? Two wealthy people (or at least those pretending to be wealthy -- they could have been lease participants) would have been out of luck -- and who would cover their wash bills? Would you? Doubtful!

Monday 11 June 2007

Arty Flourishes Can't Hide the Fact that Theater's Toilet is Just Another Public Facility

Mad Cow Theatre
105 South Magnolia Avenue
Orlando, FL USA 32801

Where is it?

A long ways away. From the lobby, follow the "Restroom" signs all the way down the lengthy hallway leading past the black box theater here (there are two theaters here, one on each side of the lobby), around the corner, back through a few twists and turns, through a set of double doors and into the lobby of the office building behind the theater business itself. Then, head forward and stay right -- go left and you'll come face to face with three elevators -- and enter a little enclave there. The bathrooms are located there. Just look for the out-of-place-looking Chinese-style wall hangings for a sign that's you're close.

What's it like?

It's the public toilet for an office building, so it's pretty clean and well-kept and even somewhat stately in appearance. Marble tiles cover the floor and walls. Sinks and the paper towel dispenser are automatic. The stalls and urinals are spotless with solid, well-maintained metal doors between everything. The decor is light and elegant.

And while this makes it out to be a very well-kept toilet, it's also a very busy place -- too busy for any interior pictures, I'm afraid. That's because it's used not only by theater patrons but also the by the people who work in the building it's housed in and the various people passing by on the street who need to make a quick pitstop before heading somewhere else.

On one of my visits, a shabbily dressed drunkard walked in and utterred his amazement with the fact that the automatic paper towel dispenser went off when he passed it while heading to the urinal.

"Shit, that gets me every time," he said.

I just smiled and walked away, though the fact that he said "every time" kind of stuck in my head. I guess locking the building door would have been too much to ask?

Marks out of 10:

6. Would have been an 8 or 9 were it not for the vagrancy factor.

Comments to the Management:

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I guess locking the building door would have been too much to ask?

Friday 8 June 2007

Hot Dog Joint's Bathroom Doubles as Shrine to Chicago Cubs

All-American Hot Dogs
861 N Alafaya Trail
Orlando, FL USA 32828

Where is it?

Simple enough: From the from entrance, walk along the right wall of the place all the way to the back of the store, past the dining room, kitchen and supply room. You'll find the bathrooms in the small enclave located there.

What's it like?

The place's name may say "All-American," but this hot dog spot specializes in Chicago dogs -- that is, all-beef weiners covered with relish, mustard, pickles, sport peppers, tomatoes and celery salt. Really, in my opinion, one of the better styles of hot dog found in the U.S.

Of course, Orlando already has one great Chicago dog place in town, the unique Hot Dog Heaven, which serves great dogs and has the best fries in town, but it also only seems to be open only when its owners feel like showing up, which is rare indeed. Thankfully, All-American Hot Dogs equals the dog quality of Heaven - and the fact that it was open when we arrived quickly boosted it ahead of Heaven in the standings, at least for now.

The bathrooms take the place's love of Chicago one step further, offering a cozy environment that pays homage (or better yet offers a bathroom-housed shrine) to the town's beloved Cubs. (Of course, my friends from Chicago say that Cubs' fandom of late is regailed to tourists only, and real Chicago sports fans lean towards White Sox, but that's a debate for another forum.)

The walls here are painted in Cubs' red, white and blue (and no doubt allude to the restaurant's name as well) and framed pictures of famed Cubs players line the walls, like Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood, Ryne Sandberg and the rest. It's a kitchy, cool environment that even Steve Bartman would love!

One drawback: While the surfaces of this loo looks clean, closer inspection showed bits of weathering and mildew in the more hidden-away spots (under the toilet rim, beneath the faucet). This leads me to think the employees (most of them teens) aren't spending as much time cleaning the toilets as they are the other parts of the restaurant, which looked spotless.

Marks out of 10:

7. Would have been higher had it not been for those bits of grime found in the hard-to-reach areas.

Comments to the Management:

Time to get your employees to use a little elbow grease and get that bathroom spic-n-span. If you don't, then the Cubs will have another losing season, guaranteed!

Thursday 7 June 2007

Ill-Conceived French Quarter Aims for Gulf Coast But Comes Up With Hamptons-Lite

French Quarter
1920 14th Ave
Vero Beach, FL USA 32960
(772) 770-4870

Where is it?

A bit tricky. From the parking lot, head through the outdoor dining room and into the restaurant's interior, where you'll step into a bar area that doubles as a wine cellar. Head towards the bar (rear of the place), then turn right at the first passage way, which leads to the dining room. Just as you pass through, though, take an immediate left and head down the hallway there. The bathrooms are at the very end of that hallway.

What's it like?

This stylishly designed restaurant aims to capture the pulse of Florida's Gulf Coast cuisine, primarily the Panhandle area in the northern part of the state. However, one look inside, or at the menu, and you'll see that the real focus here is on New Orleans' culture and cuisine -- (heck, the name alone gives that away). While that gives the place some ambitious, if not admirable, goals, it ends up backfiring in the end as the eatery ends up trying too hard to capture both personalities without quite hitting the mark on either. Broiled grouper, a Florida standard (both on the Gulf Coast and on the Atlantic Coast), came out dry and tasteless. A bouliabaise filled with Gulf-based seafood was lifeless and held too many vegetables and too little seafood.

The bathrooms offer similar set backs. Yes, they're clean, tidy, cozy and peaceful (especially with their isolated locale) , and they try to capture the nautical spirit of Florida's Gulf coast (the interior mimicks that of a boat's bathroom, and pictures of yachts line the walls here). However, the the wood-lined walls and middle-of-the-road color scheme screams Hamptons wannabe, not Panama City mainstay.

Give the restaurant credit. At least it's trying something. However the execution of those ambitions don't quite work. One gets the impression that if the chef focused more on making the food and decor simpler, the food and atmosphere would really shine. As it is, it just seems like an attempt to stay fashionable, nothing else. All style and no substance, if you will.

Marks out of 10:

6. I can tell you're trying hard here, but it just didn't work. Sorry.

Comments to the Management:

Like the rest of your menu, you may need to refocus and regroup here -- and when in doubt, keep it simple.