Saturday, January 17, 2009

Restaurant Violations Belie More Than Food Conditions

Warning: Severe Stream of Consciousness Ahead.

Occasionally I visit the NYC Department of Health and Hygiene's site for restaurant inspections. Usually it's before contemplating a visit to an establishment that's new, at least to me. On these visits, I inevitably peruse the other restaurants around our neighborhood (although a search with 11220 can bring up restaurants on Smith Street - go figure), and that can be quite enlightening. And disturbing.

I ran across Lai Lai Gourmet's inspection on January 8th of this year. It earned 103 violation points, well above the 28 points required for compliance. The first violation listed (and the list is long) is "food service operation occurring in room used as living or sleeping quarters." I don't know why, but this violation bothers me more than evidence of roaches or mice. Maybe not more than the hand-washing facility or soap not provided, but it comes really close. The previous inspection was way back in 2007, so I suppose Lai Lai Gourmet slipped a little in its quest for perfection.

What I picture, which may be quite far from reality, is rumpled sheets on mattresses in the corners of a room used to chop/prep food. Or maybe a busy kitchenette in the corner of a room used by several restaurant workers as a crash pad. So romantic, I know. (And no, I don't mean that sincerely.) I picture that because I was lucky enough to get "lost" on the way to the restroom in another restaurant on 8th Avenue, and it DOES have a rumpled mattress in the corner of a room with a make-shift chopping table a few feet away. At least it did several years ago.

Kind as it is of a restaurant owner to provide sleeping/living quarters within easy distance to a job, it also reminds us that situations that we may only see on Law and Order episodes about indentured servants and unsavory work situations are, in fact, very close to home. Most people are aware of the stunningly similar to sweatshop conditions down on 6th and 8th Avenues, as well as closer to the water. But what self-respecting New Yorker wants to think about abuses that might interfere with their take-out/delivery/night out activities. Food is sacred.

And that's where my mind goes when it sees violations on the NYC DOH website.

Other local establishments that had very high violation points as of today were:

D&F Restaurant on 50th and 8th Avenue with 76 violation points, McDonald's on 5th Avenue and 51st Street with 62 violation points, and Noodle Station on 8th Avenue and 52nd Street with 48 violation points. That one surprised me. Probably because it's not seafood (several seafood places on 8th had points in the 40's).

You can search for your favorite restaurant here: On-Line Inspection Site

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