On the heels of my post about the three diamonds from AAA comes this from the NY Times about Alain Senderens chucking his Michelin three star Lucas Carton and this from the SF Chronicle about Dennis Leary's Canteen where I had lunch a few months ago with ced from Le Blog de San Francisco.
The Times article points out much that is wrong with the Michelin system, mainly that in order to maintain your star(s) an inordinate amount of cash has to be spent on flowers, silverware, extra staff and other things which have no bearing on what's on the plate.
The Chronicle review asks why a Rising Star chef would ditch his job to slave away essentially by himself, doing breakfast, lunch and dinner in a lime-green diner. Elsewhere in the Chronicle food section is an article about the demise of dressing for dinner.
While I wish people would dress for dinner, my idea of what is appropriate may be different from others. It would be nice to see people put some thought into how they present themselves but that no longer means jacket and tie for men and no jeans for women. I think it does mean, comb your hair and don't wear a track suit if you're not actually exercising. But this is a distraction from the point. The point is the rules have changed. But some of the institutions haven't.
As Kudzu pointed out, you don't eat the decor. Yet in guide after guide, review after review much attention is given to the physical space. Granted, as a diner I'd like to feel comfortable, hopefully at ease and confident I'm eating somewhere where basic standards of cleanliness are being upheld. Kudzu's tale of Buster Holmes' wharf rat reminded me of this recent story . I also enjoy those over the top Kuleto creations like Farallon but it's certainly not essential to my enjoyment of the food.
I also really don't care about the flatware, unless it's a three-tined fork. Hate those. I don't assess the linens for thread count and if the glass isn't a dribble glass I'm happy with it.
Let me get back to dressing for dinner though. Just as it is now appropriate for diners to dress casually, it is equally appropriate for restaurants to present themselves casually. However, casual by design is quite different from casual by negligence.
What I'm getting at is why the hell is any of this still part of the equation when either critiquing a place, or deciding where to eat?
There are some relatively recent concepts in reviewing I agree with, like giving noise ratings. If I'm going out with friends I see all the time, I might not mind shouting a little. If I'm having a reunion with people I haven't seen for years, I want to be able to converse. I think these days people are more concerned with whether they can park nearby, if the place takes credit cards and if they are on schedule with their reservations than they are about the color of the walls or whether tablecloths are present.
Restaurants should be personal representations. Just as your appearance is a personal reflection so is the color of my walls. The best of corporate restaurants, as in places like Fog City Diner, Mustard's (before the buy-back), or any of the Lettuce Entertain You group in the Chicago area, come up with a person or persona and the restaurant expresses that person or persona. Indifference to the details is a crime. Attending to the details while breaking the rules is not.