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Dining Web sites

 
Watch as I avoid discussing Valentine's Day or foods related to the Day. OK, just one buy (or make) chocolate.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I did a review of Chipotle over in Newington and mentioned the cool Web site where you can order online. I also mentioned Domino's and its Web site where I recently discovered you can actually watch the progress of your order on this wacky sort of thermometer thing that glows red at each step. It even tells you when the pizza left the shop, so I basically knew when Weston (also mentioned as my future delivery person) would show up at my door.

Crazy.

But as someone who used to be in the Internet game oh so long ago, and now again as I've taken on the task of producing and editing a new Food and Dining Web site here at SMG (stay tuned!), I do appreciate a good Web site; and as a food writer I'm cruising many restaurant sites. In my world, all restaurants would have a Web site so I could peruse the menu, check out the chef and generally figure out if I want to go there and spend my money.

A restaurant Web site doesn't need lots of moving parts made with flash technology, nor does it need music unless it's easy to turn it off before it drives me nuts, but it does need some basic information. I can't tell you how many times I've been to a site and couldn't find the phone number. That's just crazy. There are certain things I do want to see. I'd like to know a bit about the restaurant in terms of what kind of food I might be getting myself into. Like, "We're a family spot you can bring your kids to and no one will get upset." I saw one restaurant site where they actually came out and said that kids under 8 years old wouldn't be welcome. It's good to know that ahead of time! It would also be good to know if the place is so fancy I have to drag out my tiara from storage.

I also want to see the menu and in a world where many menus change each month or with the seasons, this might be hard to keep up with for some of the more technology challenged chefs who are doing their own sites (good with whisk, bad with html), but I think it's important to have the current menu up. I've seen menus on sites from two years ago and if they haven't changed their menu since then, well, that's a whole different problem.

I also like to see prices so I can figure out if I can afford the place or not. And I want to see the wine and cocktail list. If the wine list isn't so great, I can bring my own. I do want to see photos. There's a term for alluring color photos of gorgeous plates of pasta, gleaming cubes of pork belly and spun sugar layered cakes � it's called "food porn" there's a whole Web site dedicated to itand some of the pics can make you drool. It shows me how artistic these chefs can be or it shows how much food I might be getting.

The chef's "pedigree" is also important to me. I want to know who's making my food. I'm not all into if the chef went to CIA or Johnson & Wales but I do like to know about culinary influences like, "Chef so and so spent three years in Italy working in an olive grove" that tells me much about the chef's attitude.

I also want to know where he or she has worked because not only do I find out what other cuisines the chef is familiar with and who he or she has been influenced by, but it's sort of culinary gossip for me.

Some of my daily phone calls here are spent in conversations like this: Me: Chef Jodi did you hear that John "Popper" Medlin is now the sous chef under chef Gary Caron at The Dolphin Striker?" Chef Jodi: "What??? What happened at the York Harbor Inn?" Where chefs go and their behavior is sometimes fascinating.

I also like to know the basics � hours, directions � and I think it's great to be able to reserve online, especially through OpenTable.com, which only a handful of our local restaurants use. I hope more try it out. Events are cool too. If there's a special wine dinner or fun event coming up I want to see that, and even better I'd like it sent right to my e-mail via a newsletter or html e-mail with all the details. And that's all I need in a restaurant Web site, that is until there's a way to get aroma through the Internet.

The Dish

There are some great new wine classes at La Cave a Vin in Exeter. Subject matter includes the basics of wine tasting and evaluation as well as classes focusing on a particular region, grape varietal or theme. Classes run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and the cost is $20 per person which includes informational handouts and samples of wines. Depending on the class, light hors d'oeuvres or artisan cheeses may accompany the wines. Call 777-9996 or e-mail Laura@lacaveavin.net. Some of the classes include wine essentials, making "scents" of wine, organic wines, wines of Portugal, Pinot Noir, and Easter wines. These are great, fun, intimate classes and you'll learn a lot!

Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Portsmouth. Her restaurant review column, Dining Out, appears Thursdays in Spotlight magazine. Hear her on Wine Me Dine Me-the radio version with co-host Susan Tuveson at 6 p.m., Fridays, on WSCA-FM 106.1. She can be reached by e-mail at rforrest@seacoastonline.com.

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