I know a lot of people who like to go see newly released movies on opening day or soon thereafter. I used to be that way about restaurants-- maybe not within the first week of opening (after all, a new restaurant needs to settle in a bit), but at least within the first couple of months. As much as I enjoyed trying new restaurants, however, I rarely returned for a second visit unless the restaurant was truly spectacular.
More and more frequently, I am finding even that initial visit to a new restaurant to be more tedious than exciting. I catch myself bracing for the inevitable disappointment of poorly-handled ingredients or slogging my way through huge portions of mediocre preparations, at the end of which I am left with nothing but an expensive tab, not unlike a bad first date, and confirmation that I do not agree that this hot new place is all that. Chef/Author Gabrielle Hamilton said in an interview that she never bothers to try a restaurant unless at least three people whose opinions she trusts tell her she needs to try it. I wish I could adopt that approach, but I would have a difficult time coming up with three such people, even including professional restaurant critics and bloggers (chowhound, yelp, or otherwise) in addition to friends. Most diners do not know or care about what they are eating or how ingredients should be treated, and very few chefs will disclose their honest views about another restaurant to a diner (especially if they have less than a glowing opinion). I tell myself that I eat alone frequently because I travel so much for work, but if I am being honest, I would rather eat alone than with obnoxious foodies, people who rub chopsticks together at the sushi counter and create a wasabi-soy roux to dunk their fish, or people who order their meat well done. So not only do I have very few people whose opinions I trust, I have very few people with whom I am inclined to go to a restaurant.
In addition, while I am never opposed to paying for quality, dining out is not inexpensive. To give a couple of examples, I recently had the joy of eating a burned pizza with a soggy fried appetizer at a very popular restaurant, and the tab for two people, including wine but not dessert, came to $80 before tax and tip. (No one else seemed to notice such mishaps, as the place was jam-packed at 5pm and the servers were so slammed that I waited over forty minutes between my appetizer and my pizza. I was starving and ate everything, although not happily, and I still tipped $16.) I recently had dinner at a popular downtown restaurant with two other people, including wine and dessert, which totaled over $300. For that price, I had gummy gnocchi, sweetbreads that were so overcooked and rubbery that I could have bounced them across the table, and flavorless carpaccio.
This is why I find myself returning to my favorites rather than venturing out to sample the Best New Restaurants of 2XXX. Komi, Saison, and Manresa will never disappoint me.
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