Bigger is usually not better. The Gobbler is a fan of some monster dining establishments, like Buddakan, but as a general rule, the bar area should not be bigger than a prison yard. If it takes more than five minutes to walk to your table, get the hell out.
Beware of blimp-size ceiling decorations. Again, there are exceptions, like the Mothra-size lanterns hanging at Matsuri. But if anything larger than a garbage can is suspended from the ceiling, you probably don’t want to be there.
Location, location, location. Certain regions breed mediocrity, like East 14th Street, York Avenue, and the entire Upper West Side. If you happen upon a fine restaurant in any of these death zones, smother it with attention or, like a flower in the desert, it will quickly die.
Beware of maître d’s who act like Secret Service agents. It’s not a good sign if there is more than one “hostess” at the door; nor if the hostesses are wired with flesh-colored mikes and ear pieces.
Check the butter. Fine, creamy butter is the essential reference point from which all culinary goodness springs. Good restaurateurs know this. Bad ones don’t want to spend the money.
Adhere to the Kobe ratio. This states that if the word “Kobe” is mentioned on a menu more than twice, chances are your meal will cost a lot of money, and will probably suck.
Inspect the wine list. Simplicity and variety, good; chattiness and over-selling, bad. Selling a bulk wine like, say, Far Niente Chardonnay ($35 retail) like they do at Mr. Chow’s downtown, for $108, is really bad.
Remember the “truffles-truffled” paradigm. When the dreaded term “truffled” (as opposed to the more neutral, less exhibitionist “truffles”) is mentioned on the menu, your meal will probably suck.
“Family-size” fondue desserts are a bad omen. Or flaming desserts, or desserts bigger, in general, than your mother’s handbag. — Adam Platt