Momo Ghar

Fruitful experience has taught me that Dr. Science knows all the best food places.  So when he suggested that we drive up to Morse Road yesterday, to try a place that serves authentic cuisine of Nepal and Tibet, I went along willingly.  And that’s how I discovered Momo Ghar, which promptly vaulted into my top 10 restaurants of Columbus list.

First, a word about the setting.  Momo Ghar is located in one of the endless number of strip malls on Morse Road, inside the Saraga international grocery store.  Momo Ghar is one of several independent food venues in the store, tucked into a tiny space back by the fresh fish section.  If you want to eat there, you need to arrive early or late, because there are only five or so counter seats and two tables.  Dr. Science and I got there a little after 1 p.m. and waited for a minute or two before seats at the counter opened up.

Momo Ghar’s menu is focused on dumplings, which are either served doused in sauce, as shown above, or on a platter with sauce for dipping.  The dumplings are steamed using contraptions on the stove, while the sauce merrily bubbles and simmers in the large pot located to the left of the cook in the photo above.  The proprietress said she makes the sauce every day.

We got three orders of dumplings — pork, chicken, and potato — and while we waited for them to steam up we gladly sat at the counter, taking in the sights and smells.  Three orders is a lot of food for two people, but Dr. Science was confident we could polish it off, and of course he was right.  We ate with greedy abandon and barely avoiding skewering each other with our forks as we shoveled the dumplings onto our plates.  The dumplings are fabulous — moist, savory, and delectable — but the sauce is a stone-cold killer that has to be tasted to be believed.  I’m not sure what’s in it, but it is an explosive combination of heat and flavor that bursts in your mouth like Fourth of July fireworks.  My heartfelt advice to anyone who goes to Momo Ghar is: for heaven’s sake, don’t scrimp on the sauce!

This food was spectacular, so I wasn’t surprised when Dr. Science said as we left that Momo Ghar has one of the highest Yelp ratings of any restaurant in Columbus.  And this morning I learned even better news — Momo Ghar is supposed to be opening up in the North Market some time this fall, within easy walking distance from the office.  Until then, I’ll be looking forward to introducing my office mates to the wonders of that fabulous sauce.

South Village Grille

When a new restaurant opens in your neighborhood, it’s always fun to visit for the first time — to take in the ambiance and setting, scan the totally unfamiliar menu, and try a dish that might, if things go right, become a special favorite.

Last night Kish and I went to the South Village Grille, which has been open for about a month.  It’s on Thurman, in the spot formerly occupied by Easy Street, which was a favorite of ours.  But where Easy Street was a classic neighborhood joint and good brunch and burger place, the South Village Grille has a different aim:  according to the hostess and our waiter, it’s looking to recreate a kind of New York bistro setting, with food (and cocktails) made from scratch.  The interior is open and airy — a far cry from the Easy Street days, when just about every inch of wall space was cluttered with things like Frank Sinatra’s mug shot — with cool light fixtures.  And large mirrors on the walls. I’m not sure exactly what New York bistros are supposed to look like, but this design was both intimate and visually appealing.

More important, the food was appealing — in fact, it was terrific.  Kish and I started by splitting six enormous raw Chesapeake Bay oysters, topped with a tasty Thai vinaigrette sauce of the chef’s devising, and then I went for the hanger steak and fries and Kish had a wedge salad and the short rib.  My steak was great — cooked just right to medium rare — and Kish’s short rib was moist and tender.  She raved about her wedge salad, too.

We closed things off with strawberry shortcake (it is summer, after all) that featured a crisp shortcake biscuit, ice cream, a kind of creme fraiche sauce, and spicy, seasoned strawberries.  I can attest that it tasted as good as it looks.

I’m pretty sure we’ll be adding the South Village Grille to our list of dine-around favorites.

Restaurant Closing Time

Sometimes, notwithstanding our wishes and hopes, we just can’t change or escape the basic laws of economics.  California restaurants are learning this lesson — one that so many other businesses have learned in so many other settings for so many years.

A number of California communities, including San Francisco, have decided that they should legislate substantial increases to the minimum wage, so that the minimum wage will reach $15 — a number that was picked not through the guidance of the invisible hand of supply and demand, but because it sounds goods when politicians promise it.  Basic laws of economics will tell you that if you increase the costs for a business, the business has only a few options:  either absorb the increase by cutting costs in other areas (or accepting lower profits), or increase their prices to make up for the extra costs, or recognize that you just can’t make the economics of the business work and close your doors.  In California, a number of restaurants have decided that the latter route is the only viable option.

o-restaurant-worker-facebookIn the Bay Area, at least 60 restaurants have closed since September, and as a result a number of line cooks, car valets, dishwashers, table bussers, and waiters — the people who were supposed to be helped by the $15 minimum wage initiatives, incidentally — have lost their jobs.  These results in the San Francisco area, where wages for starting workers are higher than in less affluent parts of the state, are leaving some Californians who aren’t living in economic dreamland wondering what the effects will be when a statewide minimum wage takes effect and inland areas, which already have higher unemployment numbers and where starting pay is correspondingly lower, are affected.

This restaurant closing effect shouldn’t be a surprise.  Many restaurants run on very thin margins as it is, trying to find that magic balance between quality food and reasonable prices and cool ambiance that diners are looking for.  They don’t have big profit margins that can simply absorb higher wages.  If minimum-wage legislation substantially increases their costs, most restaurants just don’t have the option of jacking up their prices because they know they are going to lose their more cost-sensitive patrons.  And there really aren’t many other areas in which restaurants can make up for increased labor costs.  Tinker with the quality of the food, or the ingredients, or the portion size, and you’ll likely end up losing your more discriminating patrons — and many restauranteurs who are passionate about food probably wouldn’t want to change how they prepare dishes, anyway.  So the logical option, unfortunately, is closing.

In short, the five-star joints, where there is less price sensitivity and where the wages may already be higher, will survive, but many of the more basic restaurants will struggle and close.  The cause-and-effect relationship is so predictable that a recent academic study found that every $1 hike in the minimum wage brings a 14 percent increase in the likelihood that a 3.5-star restaurant on Yelp! will close its doors.

The people who are advocating for large increases in the minimum wage no doubt are well-intentioned, but their efforts ultimately are misguided because you simply cannot ignore, or legislate away, the laws of economics.   How many times do we have to see this play before people start getting the plot?

Small Plates

Last night the Marquette Warrior and I had dinner at a restaurant called Amada.  It’s one of those tapas places that offers a number of “small plate” options that the diners can share.  (In our case no sharing occurred because the MW is a strict vegetarian and I go for meat options, so we didn’t quite fulfill the restaurant’s intent.)

Tapas restaurants have a good aspect and a bad aspect.  The bad is that there are lots of choices, so you end up carefully scrutinizing the menu and spending a long time thinking through your order.  The good is that you end up with very tasty food that is always well presented and served in moderate portion sizes.  The result is a fine meal where you don’t get plates groaning with food, and after you’ve cleaned your plates — which both the MW and I did, with relish — you rise from the table feeling satisfied but not uncomfortably stuffed.

We’ve got a problem with food waste in this country, and some of it results from unconsumed food left on plates that were overfilled at the outset.  At tapas places, that isn’t an issue, which is another advantage to the tapas model.

The Restaurant Canary

We’ve all heard about the proverbial canary in the coal mine.  In the days before air quality monitoring technology was developed, canaries were put into the mine shafts because they were especially sensitive to dust and gas in the air.  If you were a coal miner and you noticed that the canary wasn’t chirping any more, you knew it was time to grab your pick and hurry back up to the surface.

101815-cheese-foto4Is the restaurant sector the canary for the modern American economy?  Some economists think so.  They reach the logical inference — one that I’ve seen substantiated by personal experience in the past — that people are more likely to eat out when they’ve got cash on hand, and less likely to eat out when they know they’ve got to tighten their belts.  Going out to eat is one of the first “luxury” expenditures to hit the cutting room floor when times get lean because people can save money by making their own food and eating at home.

If restaurants are, in fact, a leading economic indicator, the canary may be indicating that tough times are ahead for the American economy.  Restaurant and bar sales have fallen in three of the last six months, and analysts have downgraded the stocks in the chain restaurants that are staples of the strip malls found at every crossroads in America — places like Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Cheesecake Factory.  One analyst says that the performance of the restaurant sector looks remarkably like what it was in 2000 and again in 2007, right before the last recessions hit.  Analysts also are noting that, in addition to declining consumer spending, restaurants are facing business and profitability challenges due to changes in overtime regulations and increases in the minimum wage.

The U.S. economy is so sprawling and multi-faceted, it’s hard to pick one area as the true canary.  But if the restaurant sector is the right choice, it may be time for the American consumer to start heading for the open air.


If you’re on the road in a faraway place, how do you know where you’ll get good food?  My theory is that you look for pie.  And, if you see a place with a sign touting the pie offerings, so much the better!  The concept underlying the theory is that anyone who has the patience to make a good pie with a light, flaky crust is likely to care about the quality of all the food she serves.  

It’s a theory that’s held up pretty well.

Here, in West Glacier, the theory was again put to the test — and I’m happy to report that the Glacier Highland Restaurant, right across the street from the west entrance to Glacier National Park, affirmed the theory with flying colors.  The grinning Cheri, proprietor of the Pie Bar, conveyed the truth.  Kish raved about the coconut cream pie, my apple pie a la mode, shown below, was excellent, and every morsel of food we’ve had there has been good.

We’ll be heading over there for breakfast tomorrow.  Say, have I mentioned that people used to eat pie for breakfast?