Thursday, May 8, 2008

Berate then plate?

What is the deal with going out to eat at a place where you get unfriendly service? A place with no atmosphere, but "amazing" food? A place where the food is supposed to speak all the niceties, I guess? Is there something about being basically berated by the waitstaff, ignored, given no choices and told what to do that makes the restaurant more appealing? Does it make the food actually taste better? In other contexts, these adjectives could be construed to describe torture or an abusive relationship. But, then again, we all know that many people in this world suffer from Battered Wife Syndrome where they exist in a relationship that is plainly and clearly unhealthy, yet they keep going back for more and, in many cases, even thrive on it. Foodies may have a similar syndrome when it comes to their favorite restaurants.

Did this start with the Soup Nazi episode on Seinfeld? Remember watching that and thinking how much you wanted to taste the lobster bisque? So much! Or perhaps it is based on the French model--fixated more on food, less on ser-vees (though, to be honest, I never had a terribly rude server in France), but that is the general stereotype.

I just read this article in the New York Times about Momofuku Ko, le restaurant de l'heure in New York. My friend Julie and I had a long convo about the place and the impossibility of getting a reservation (one must, literally, click one's mouse at precisely 10AM and pray to the gods of deliciousness that your internet is milliseconds faster than the internet of the other 1000 people trying at the same time to get the same table) and even recent drama that has ensued over getting into the place, it made me wonder: Does this drama, hype, difficulty, masochism add to the appeal? In general, do people enjoy going to a place more for the excitement of being at the "it" spot or for the food, straight up? Would anyone honestly go to a place with plywood walls that plays Led Zepplin without being enticed by others? Does being influenced make them linger longer over bites? It's an age old question, to be sure, but it says a lot about the mentality of the foodie world and also how much a critic's opinion can affect a business.

I want to linger longer over all foods, the gold and the bronze, the absolutely delicious complex types and the mediocre... to taste a food that is single, unmarried to spice or other influences and stands on its taste a banana, truly and genuinely, or even a cheeseburger from McDonald's. To taste for quality, for flavor, for your own appreciation. It's idealistic, but we fall into ruts of monotony in our food choices and we forget that the daily act of eating, even a simple lunch, can be a treat. Think about it: Eating is the only necessity that we have to do every single day that can give us that much pleasure. Here I go sermonizing again.

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