If he had posted a “Smoking Prohibited” sign, Chris Guerra’s new Mexican grill Cilantro would have achieved a perfect score on its health inspection as it opened for business in Westville.
Health inspectors deducted three points for that lapse, even though Guerra insisted he had already ordered the sign and it was in the mail.
The new grill on upper Whalley Avenue at Whalley Avenue and Dayton Street otherwise breezed through its recent health inspection. It scored a 97. Of 13 eateries scrutinized, 12 passed during the holiday-shortened Dec. 19 to Dec. 24 period.
His inspection revealed a curious rule unknown and, it turns out, not followed by many other restaurateurs: The posting a sign confirming a nine-year-old law that applies to all restaurants and has become a fact of life.
Guerra’s new venture abuts another restaurant he owns, Dayton Pizza, in the same building. He has been renovating the building for a year to make way for Cilantro’s opening. Cilantro, which specializes in what the menu describes as “fresh Mexican grill,” features green-tiled counters, glittery signage, and floor-to-ceiling windows that let in pleasant cascades of sunlight, along with all the action at the Hess gas station across the avenue.
City sanitarians inspect all of New Haven’s restaurants, groceries, bars, and other food-serving establishments between one and four times a year. Establishments that score less than 80 usually have two weeks to make the recommended corrections. The health department can also close a restaurant regardless of its score if the sanitarians suspect an immediate danger to public health. (Scroll down in this story for specific results from the latest inspections.)
Inspectors stress that a low score doesn’t mean a restaurant is always failing. Nor does a high score mean an eatery is always brilliant. Rather it means that at the moment of the inspectors’ unannounced visit, they found the conditions they reported.
That’s why Environmental Health Director Paul Kowalski calls each inspection a kind of sanitary “snapshot.”
Still, some people don’t like the snapshots, or making them public.
Guerra (who declined to be photographed) said he’s skeptical about the accuracy and fairness of the inspection process. He also bemoaned that a bad report made public can cost an operator thousands of dollars; he grumbled that the Independent has no business publishing inspections reports, which are public documents.
Guerra retained Karen Hanlon, a well-known restaurant designer, to help create the Cilantro space.
So Guerra did not want to post a boring, garden-variety “Smoking Prohibited” sign.
“I wanted a special sign, didn’t want a Home Depot sign,” he said. He claimed that sign was on the way when city sanitarian Ros Hamilton dropped by for Cilantro’s preoperational inspection.
Because state law requires such a sign be prominently placed in every restaurant, bar, and tavern, she deducted three points from Cilantro’s otherwise perfect score.
Despite the state law requiring “Smoking Prohibited” signs, a random check of four restaurants and bars found no such signs posted prominently, or otherwise.
Click here for a summary of the state’s 2003 Clean Indoor Air Act. It specifies that all restaurants, taverns, and bars without exception prohibit smoking and specifies even the size of the letters required in the sign. Only private clubs and tobacco bars are exempt from the prohibition.
Of the 13 restaurants inspected between Dec. 19 and Dec. 24, 12 passed. The one that did not was ordered to make required changes within two weeks. The following received passing grades:
12/19/2012: Woodland Coffee & Tea, 97 Orange St., Score: 80; Ninth Square Market, 72 Orange St., Score: 87; News Corner, 195 Church Ave., Score: 94; Cilantro Restaurant, 1158 Whalley Ave., Score: 97; St. Andrews Day Care, 1230 Townsend Ave., Score: 100; Valley Mart LLC, 589 Valley St., Score: 97;
12/20/2012: Southern Hospitality Soul Food, 427 Whalley Ave., Score: 80
12/21/2012: Christy’s, 261 Orange St., Score: 81; Zafra, 259 Orange St., Score: 80; Fresh Taco, 39 Elm St., Score: 83; Kumo, 7 Elm St., Score: 81; New Haven Elks #25, 524 State St., Score: 80
The One Needing Improvement
100 Elm St.
Due: 2 Weeks
• Don’t store raw eggs over ready-to-eat foods, over exposed food products
• Need thermometers in warmest location in coolers holding prepared hot foods
• Label products not in original containers
• Wipe baffles in hood system
• Brush up defective wall tiles, wipe wall tiles, wipe air vents
• Hang up mops and brooms
• Hair restraints
• Minimize bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods
• Invert single serve containers
• No drinking from an open container in a food prep area
• Don’t store raw ground beef over read-to-eat-tuna
• Don’t store in-use spoons in standing water
• Touch up defective ceilings, touch up wall and ceiling paint
• Don’t use paper cup as scoop in food products
• Don’t store food or drink on the floor
• Clean floors under and around equipment, touch up defective flooring
• Store wipe cloths in sanitary solution
• Seal floor/wall junctions
• Wipe interior of coolers
• Fix defective walls
• Don’t line equipment or shelves with tin foil
• Label toxic items in spray bottles
• Clean gaskets in doors
• Hand sink can only be used for hand washing, not used as a dump sink
• Follow label instruction on products that state “keep refrigerated” - - corrected on site
• Don’t store dressing in cardboard box in cooler