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December 13, 2006


Finnegans Wake

It's difficult for a small-town yokel such as myself to really speak on this issue, as my culinary options are far more limited. But as our gastronomic sensibilites evolve, I find one criterion that seems to emerge for greatness: the ability to surprise. Sometimes we are surprised by some new combination of ingredients, or by how a familiar dish is revisited and made new. There's a place near us that has a zuppa di pesce, and it's got a wonderful complexity and simplicity of flavors at once. There's always something dancing just ahead of your sense of expectation with each spoonful.

While I agree that enjoyment comes from the Gestalt of the experience, including atmosphere and intangibles, I still need to fend off my tendency to become bored with a menu. There are exceptions, of course, where the comfort of familiarity overrides repetitiveness. But we evolve. When I first started to love wine, all I needed was a big crazy carnival of a cab. Now, I want something that's going to work itself out on my palate over time. Perhaps we become less easily fooled?


One thing that I really like about certain restaurants is that I know what to expect, and I know that the food will always be delicious. One of our favorite places serves the very best shrimp that I have ever had...anywhere. I order it every time I go there, and it is always indescribably good. The atmosphere in this restaurant is also wonderful, & the service is impeccable, but I go for the shrimp. Another favorite is a hole in the wall small town diner. BUT it has the best burgers & dogs anywhere--ANYWHERE! We always want to go there every day for lunch when we're in that town for any length of time. Maybe it's familiarity, or maybe it's the comfort of knowing that the food you order will be really good. These are things that appeal to me.


I think my rating system would begin with a question: am I going out to be wowed, or am I going out to just enjoy myself? If I'm going out to be wowed, then everything has to be to my liking (the very best ingredients, expert preparation and service, surprising flavors,
zero attitude, great atmosphere, great company). The restaurant that has best met this rather demanding list is Manresa. However, if what I really want to do is just go out and enjoy myself, then my list is a little different: the very best ingredients, expert preparation, zero attitude, great atmosphere, great company. The restaurant that has best met this list for me is Bar Crudo. And then there are those establishments that just do something no one else does for me. These are McDonald's, Johnny Rockets and many a Mexican place (there's a place on Divisidero) I especially love.

Little Sister

hmm. i agree with jeff a little in it depends for me on what is motivating me to go out. some of my favorite places don't have the best food i've ever eaten or the best service, but there is something about them that makes me feel good, like i want to keep going back there again and again. others are definately about the culinary experience-where the food is divine, the service is ridiculously good and the occassion feels special. but if i had to pick one, hands down, i'd say i go for environment over totally stellar food 9 times out of 10.

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