Thursday, August 23, 2007

Restaurant Review: All of Them

Above are summaries of two L.A. County Department of Public Health[1] inspections of restaurants in Santa Clarita. Both inspections occurred less than four months ago and were recently posted on the Health Dept. website for public perusal. The similarities, as you can see, end there. One restaurant scored 100% (A grade) and has no listed violations. The other received an 80% (B grade) for violations like “Disease Transmission” and “Risk for Contamination”. One of these restaurants is BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery in the Valencia Town Center, and the other is the Burrito Factory in Newhall. I’ll tell you which is which at the end of this article.

Summaries of inspections just like the ones above are available for every restaurant, market, and food vendor in the Clarita on the LA County Department of Public Health Facility Rating List[2]. Every establishment that sells food—from the Pavilions Sushi Bar (100%) to the Way Station (93%) to Blockbuster Video (98%)—has been evaluated by the Health Inspectors. Indeed, there are numbers and reasons behind those colored letters you see in eatery windows.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, going beyond simple As and Bs can help restaurants. For example, a café might get docked for a number of little, forgivable violations like improper lighting or a greasy fume hood, and reading the inspection online can convey this information. The cleanest restaurants are helped too; businesses that get very high scores show potential customers that every detail is being attended to. And in a city where most restaurants receive As, the paranoid demand to know which are 100s and which are 90s.

Obviously the system has some limitations. Restaurants have off-days. Inspectors—only human—are not always the most impartial judges. Even this potential for variance, though, is allowed for and acknowledged. The date of the most recent inspection is given alongside dates/grades of past inspections (if applicable) so diners can see if the current score is a fluke or the norm.

While I somehow managed to escape working in the restaurant industry, I’ve had plenty of friends share their horror stories with me. Food has been lifted off the floor, rinsed, nuked, and then put onto a plate. Despite doors and traps, mice sometimes find their way into a kitchen. I’ve personally witnessed a case where the same person handling money proceeded to handle food. Still, a search of 91355 and surrounding zip codes yielded no grades below 80%; you’d have to travel to Sylmar before seeing a restaurant with a C in its window.

If you heart SCV as much as I do, though, you should suspect something diseased and sinister beneath this apparently healthful façade. And, indeed, your suspicions would be well supported. A search of “Recent Closures”[3] on the Health Department website showed that vermin- and rodent-related violations have caused temporary closures of A & B Chinese Express, Dr. Donuts, Moon Wok, and Yama Sushi within the past three-month period[4]. Thankfully, all of these restaurants responded and have shown that even the most distasteful violations can be overcome. A & B Chinese Express, for one, scored a 91% six days after reopening.

Below are details for a few restaurants in Santa Clarita. Grades are current as of August 24, 2007, and I recommend that you go here to re-examine scores as they can be updated as often as every five or six months.

Restaurants Opening This Year:
Garden Spot – A (95%) on 6/26/2007
Rosie’s BBQ & Grillery – A (93%) on 4/23/2007
Rio Rio Churrascaria – A (90%) on 4/16/2007

Nicer Spots:
Hyatt Vines Restaurant – A (94%) on 2/15/2007
Le Chene – A (93%) on 3/01/2007
Mojito – A (90%) on 5/15/2007
Salt Creek Grille – A (90%) on 11/21/2006

Highest-scoring Super-Market:
Ralph’s Grocery Store in Castaic got a 100% this May
Barely Bs--Restaurants Scoring 80:
Asian Garden Buffet, as of 8/24/2006
BJ's Restaurant & Brewery, as of 6/26/2007
Kaori's Kitchen, as of 6/05/2007
Little Quiapo Asian Restaurant, as of 6/26/2007


As the astute will have noticed, it was BJ’s that received the 80%, and the Burrito Factory that had a flawless inspection. During three inspections in 2006, however, BJ's scored in the low 90s. Thus, the precipitous drop appears to be more deviation than norm. Still, I wonder whether the change from Blue A to Green B has given anyone pause as they enter that ever-popular SCV eatery.

[1]The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
[2]Begin your foray into the world of inspections here
[3]Recent closures are listed on the Food Facility Closure List
[4]To be precise, A & B Chinese Express closed from July 5-7 for “vermin harborage”; Dr. Donuts from June 6-8 for “prevention of entrance and harborage of rodents; rodent infestation”; Moon Wok from June 27–July 2 for “prevention of entrance and harborage of rodents; rodent infestation”; and Yama Sushi from June 27-29 for “prevention of entrance and harborage of rodents’ rodent infestation.” Quoted from here.


Anonymous said...

Blech! I never ate at any of those places you said got shut down. Has anybody been to one and seen what its like inside?

Anonymous said...

Myh wife loves Moon Wok. It's one of her favorites. For me its to authentic, I like American Chinese food.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you review older posts, but Margarita's on Valencia Blvd. lost me when I saw a waitress go back to the Sunday buffet with her used plate. She proceeded to put more food on the plate, touching the already partially eaten food with the serving utensils. When I explained that was a no-no, she screamed at me that she had been through the food handler's course and didn't see anything wrong with what she was doing. My boyfriend and I bailed without eating anything. My first call the following Monday was to the health dept.

A Santa Claritan said...

Hahaha -- that's awesome (not the act, but the story). If people do that in front of you it makes you wonder what goes on behind the scenes.