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What's happening with the DOH?

It seems like restaurant news is all about closings, bad grades, and vermin infestation these days. Places that have always gotten an "A" now have "grade pending" signs. Has the inspection process changed with our new mayor? Maybe new guidelines? Or has hygiene really gone to hell in 2014?

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    1. Just a quick note, folks, that we consider discussing specific restaurants and their health department reports off the table for Chowhound. A general discussion is okay, but please no naming names. Thanks.

      1. I mean, honestly, a huge part of it has to do with WHEN they choose to inspect a restaurant. A lot of restaurants suspend service entirely during inspections; some restaurants probably chose not to and thus take the hit when it comes to inspection points. If you catch even the cleanest restaurant at bad time, they'll be closed for violations, make no mention of a home cook's kitchen!

        It's worth remembering that the DOH issues violation points in sparkling kitchens for many things that most diners would see ridiculous—e.g., sous vide cooking, serving cheese at room temperature, or even a cook having a glass of water (which is ridiculously listed as "Tobacco use, food or drink in the kitchen"—because you know, tobacco use is the same as a line cook drinking a Coke).

        9 Replies
        1. re: loratliff

          "A lot of restaurants suspend service entirely during inspections"

          How would that work? After initial inspections, which are scheduled, aren't the follow up visits surprises? If you get hit with extreme shut down worthy violations, then you can schedule a revisit once the corrections are made.

          The requirements are standardized whether you're fine dining or a corporate chain, so that's part of the issue.

          1. re: sugartoof

            Literally, service stops. No more dishes fired, no plates served, etc., for the duration of the inspection. That immersion circulator gets hidden, bartenders don their plastic gloves for garnishing drinks, and so on.

            I knew a bartender who was bringing homemade orgeat to service, which is a violation of some sort. The instant the inspectors arrived, he "slipped" and dropped the bottle, shattering it. Oops!

            1. re: loratliff

              That's not my understanding of how it works.

              If you're in the middle of lunch service because your restaurant doesn't close and the inspector pops in for annual routine visit, you have to fulfill tickets. Obviously they quickly hide anything incriminating, and keep activity to a minimum, but service cannot magically stop.

              You will never hear "sorry we're closed, the DOH inspector just showed up", nor will you want to alert the inspector that you're putting on a dog and pony show or they might scrutinize you more than normal. Discretion is up to the inspector and certain ones are known for personal crusades, or being easy to schmooze out of a citation.

              Orgeat - they're supposed to be making it in a commercial kitchen, date the bottle, and store it properly. If a recipe involves fermentation or some other process, it could be subject to other obscure restrictions. If a bar doesn't have a kitchen, they're supposed to contract one offsite that meets all codes. If not, you do run the risk of an inspector asking them where they cooked down a simple syrup, or bitters. If you're making it in your NY apartment that would never get signed off on, it's considered a health risk.

              That story sounds a wee bit dramatic or like there's more to it though. A number of bars making their own Orgeat are also probably making their own grenadine, corn milk, or cookie dough bitters, and must either have a kitchen in the place, or get by saying they buy the stuff pre-made.

              1. re: sugartoof

                Well, I'm telling you my personal experience of what one Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan does. And yes, you will hear "Sorry, it will be just a minute -- we're having a health inspection" there. YMMV.

                And yes, the bartender I'm referring to (who is undoubtedly one of the best in the city) was making his orgeat in his apartment -- hence I said "was bringing it to service."

                As I said above, YOUR mileage may vary but my SO works in the industry, as do lots of my friends, so I go on what they tell me. They have no reason to lie.

                  1. re: loratliff

                    ""Sorry, it will be just a minute -- we're having a health inspection""

                    It takes longer than a minute.

                    It could take a half hour just to write up the report, and several hours is not unheard of.

                    Inspectors usually try (or are supposed) to visit during prep hours instead, but there are fairly recent anecdotes similar to what you're describing. No Michelin starred restaurant should stop service for the undetermined duration of unannounced inspections while customers are sitting there.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      I understand how long it takes, BUT I'm telling you what I know -- for a fact -- that some restaurants do. Whether you think it is right or wrong is beside the point. When you own a restaurant, you can run it how you see fit.

                      The real issue is the fact that the DOH is so stringent that the best restaurants in Manhattan can't conduct normal service without receiving violations.

                      1. re: loratliff

                        I worked for a high end restaurant group and they sure did close during surprise inspections. Lunch reservations were cancelled and no further tables were sat after the inspectors arrived. Any callers for later in the day lunch reservations were told that the restaurant was temporarily closed due to [insert some mechanical issue].

          2. I have no information to back this up, but my hunch is someone somewhere is making more money when the DOH issues more violations....

            5 Replies
              1. re: loratliff

                Wow- $45mil??? Sounds like incentive enough to me for the DOH's behavior......

                1. re: loratliff

                  So I am actually visiting the most famous recent victim of the doh in 2 weeks. I'm nervous that their second inspection will affect their cooking in the meantime. Like, doing away with sous vide and serving cheese too cold. Stupid stuff they have to do to pass.

                  1. re: Heeney

                    I wouldn't hesitate for a second. Have a great time (and don't worry).

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