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dining

Two new places to notice

by Eric Jackson

The restaurant business is a hard way to make a living. Most new establishments fail because they are undercapitalized and can't survive that early period when a base clientele must be established; or because in their opening days they don't have it together to make a good impression that gets spread by word of mouth and results in a group of loyal regulars. Then, of course, we have the phenomenon of a restaurant showing early success and then a landlord deciding that (s)he is entitled to the profits of someone else's work and raising the rent to the point that the profit margin is destroyed. We also from time to time see a truly brilliant chef open a business, only to find that the culinary talents that make the restaurant worthy are not matched by the business skills needed to make it viable, and the various pathologies that follow upon that combination are unpleasant to even think about.

I recently visited a couple of new places, each of which has things to offer that have me rooting for their success. But will they get past the difficult initial stages? Only time will tell.

Amir

Is the formula for success really "Location, Location, Location?" This Lebanese and international establishment is located in MultiCentro on Avenida Balboa, a Colombian-owned shopping mall that because of its associations with Mireya Moscoso's kleptocracy, its owner's manipulations with regard to a landfill at the mouth of the Matasnillo cessriver, traffic difficulties out front and other factors have it losing the competition with the nearby MultiPlaza. Several good restaurants have already failed at MultiCentro.

Let us hope that that does not become the fate of the Amir. Yes, there are a lot of Arab restaurants in town, and most of them have a more extensive menu than this one does. But the few Lebanese things that they do, they do very well. On this visit a friend and I went heavy on the appetizers and split an entree. We were treated to a demonstration of how not all pitas, not all fried eggplants, not all grape leaves and not all chunks of grilled chicken and beef are equal. Not by a long shot. These people do it right.

City Grill

I had some business to do in the banking district, and while walking down Avenida Manuel Maria Icaza a young lady handed me a flyer for the City Grill. It's downstairs from the backpackers' hostel and the Christian night school, across the street from the notary public's office, kitty-corner from Jimmy's and around the corner from that block of Via España on which El Rey and Gran Morrison are located.

The flyer mentioned "Bufalo Wing," and given that lunchtime was approaching, I decided that after my business was concluded I'd see if they did the spicy little alitas the way I like them.

When I went in, the Buffalo Wings idea was quickly discarded. They had Italian sausage on the menu!

Now here in Panama, there are things they call Italian sausages, or Sicilian sausages, that are unrecognizable as such to palates that learned the concept in the United States. Real Italian sausage has fennel in it, while almost all of the stuff sold as Italian sausage in this country does not.

Ah, but the City Grill has a gringo owner, a man who indeed does know and cherish the American standard. I got a medium-spicy link of fennel sausage on a micha bun, smothered with fried onions and green peppers. It came with french fries, Pepsi and a little serving of potato salad, the latter which I left untouched.

Here we have an unpretentious place off the main drag --- but that rarest of Panamanian eateries where one can get Italian sausage! I sure do hope that there are enough people like me who love the stuff and lament its scarcity in Panama to become regulars at the City Grill and make it a success.

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