Despite all this talk about how we eat everything and like everything, we are not willing to pay for everything at the same rate, and that tells you something.
Sprig-type operations drain agency and expertise out of the world. They centralize, aiming to build huge hubs with small spokes; their innermost mechanisms are hidden. They depend on humans behaving as interchangeable units of labor.
In a study of more than a million Yelp restaurant reviews, Mr. Jurafsky and the Carnegie Mellon team found that four-star reviews tended to use a narrower range of vague positive words, while one-star reviews had a more varied vocabulary. One-star reviews also had higher incidence of past tense, pronouns (especially plural pronouns) and other subtle markers that linguists have previously found in chat room discussions about the death of Princess Diana and blog posts written in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In short, Mr. Jurafsky said, authors of one-star reviews unconsciously use language much as people do in the wake of collective trauma. “They use the word ‘we’ much more than ‘I,’ as if taking solace in the fact that this bad thing happened, but it happened to us together,” he said.
Another finding: Reviews of expensive restaurants are more likely to use sexual metaphors, while the food at cheaper restaurants tends to be compared to drugs.
The logical consequence of molecular gastronomy is haute-mechanisation. If the best way to cook meat, for example, really is to vacuum-seal it with some herbs and spices and cook in water at 55 °C (131 °F) for 48 hours, then as soon as a suitable, cheap sous-vide cooker is available, there is no reason why a novice chef in a local pub, or anyone else for that matter, couldn’t collect it from the butcher and do as good a job as anyone else.
It’s about expectations and consistency. Whatever I expect from a four-star restaurant has become unachievable. […] If the food isn’t delicious, everything else will just seem annoying, and that happens quite a lot.
The laughing and the smiling will set in. Beware! That’s when you need to stop going.
I attempt to explain how this came about, in the podcast and in one chapter of my forthcoming book An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies.
I will read this book.
Why New Restaurants Are So Noisy. Hardwood floors, plain walls, exposed ceilings, no tablecloths.
You should just sit down, there should be a bottomless thing of chips and really good salsa and then your meal starts. This whole thing about sitting down and ordering chips and salsa and paying $5.00 for it is insane.
Every night is different. We get a lot of drunks; you just have to know how to handle them. You gotta have a go-get-them personality. And you’ve gotta pray.
Eating out can be incredibly frustrating. Take this dinner at Shaun’s. Good chopped liver. Followed by a well-prepared pork dish that I forget. Decent? Yes. Worth the price? Hell no. Like I did when considering finishing books vs. finishing movies, here’s some idle theorizing on why I often walk out of restaurants disappointed:
- I choose crappy restaurants vis-à-vis my preferences (strong, spicy flavors in high volume in a casual atmosphere).
- I have absurd expectations.
- I am bad at ordering. (I wouldn’t discount this one.)
- I have shitty taste buds.
- I’m generally not given to extreme opinions, but experience most things as more or less average. Thus, I feel disappointment when my expectations are validated at an high price.
- I don’t have the technical/aesthetic knowledge to appreciate the skill that goes into sourcing, preparing, and serving a fine dish.
- Truly exceptional meals are just as rare for the cooks themselves are they are for us, cooking at home. I like this theory a lot, myself. Nobody can be transcendent on a daily basis. For many folks in the kitchen, it’s just a job. They may absolutely love it, sure, but they do it 40+ hours a week. You can’t expect awesome hundreds of times every month.
I’m to make my first trip to Los Angeles in just a couple weeks. I will bring my elastic pants.
Manhattan may boast the highest concentration of high-end restaurants in the world, and Singapore hawker centers may pack more joy into each square inch, but Los Angeles is the best place in the world to eat at the moment, a frieze of fine dining overlaying a huge patchwork of immigrant communities big enough and self-sustaining enough to produce exactly the food that they want to eat.
Dinner at El Bulli: The Greatest Restaurant in the World. I love the way photos and captions and videos are all blended together here, capturing a 30-course meal at El Bulli. It’s great storytelling + food porn.