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Old 02-19-2007, 03:48 PM
citanul citanul is offline
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Default High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

I like to consider myself a bit of a gourmet. Perhaps "foodie" is more appropriate. I enjoy cooking, finding cool new restaurants around town before the crowds (and Time Out) make it impossible to get in the door, and a few times a year, eating something remarkable at a high-end restaurant. I'm sure there's many of you who do the same.

By high-end, I'd like to restrict discussion to places where you can very reasonably expect your bill for food only to be >$75 (pre tax and tip). The range of discussion may include things as "pedestrian" as a good steakhouse and things as "snooty" as Per Se.

I'd like to discuss what you expect before you walk in the door of any such place, what you look forward to, perhaps what you don't, and also hear reviews of specific places, and how they stacked up both to your expectations of that particular place and your personal concepts of high-end dining.

For instance, I expect the food to be excellently prepared, never have to send anything back, ever, the wait-staff to be knowledgable and good at their jobs, the space to be clean, etc.

There's also I think probably two main categories of such restaurants:

1) Serves food that everyone is likely to like/love everything they order. Traditional preparations, perhaps jazzed up or just prepared with super-great ingredients.

2) Serves food that they are pretty sure most diners will not really enjoy at least one part of their meal. Food tends to be more experimental or "experimental" or whatever the word is, and the menus tend to be ordered "as a menu" as opposed to as individual plates.

As examples:

A couple weekends ago I ate dinner at Spiaggia, a traditional Italian restaurant in Chicago, which somewhat routinely wins awards for things like "best restaurant in the midwest. When I walked in, I expected fantastic service, great surroundings, white tablecloths, fresh pasta, great wine list, and in general, the sort of filling Italian meal, with ingredients you normally can't find outside of Italy, that you don't expect to find outside of a nice place in Italy. I was not disappointed on any aspect of this. This would be a type 1 place, even though they do have complete menus for ordering, we ordered individual dishes.

Last year, I ate at Aureole in Las Vegas with a couple of other degen poker players. We expected semi-nightlife buzz to the place, women in cat-suits climbing a tower of wine, and somewhat more "experimental" food, with good service, obvious large wine selection, etc. What we got was significantly different. Though we ate at about 8:30pm on a weekend, the place was very quiet except for the bar area, there was no one climbing the tower as far as we could tell, and though we took abut 2.5 hours for dinner, the place was entirely empty when we left. Though the service was great, and the tablet-PC wine ordering is cool, there was at least one dish that when the waiter brought it to table he said "as a warning, almost no one likes all 3 of these things." (He was referring to a plate containing 3 preparations of tuna tartar, one rolled in chocolate (fairly disgusting). On the whole, a good meal, but clearly a different experience than Spiaggia.

So, which type of high-end food do you prefer? Are you open to both? What do you "get" out of the experience? What are some of your favorite high-end places?
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  #2  
Old 02-19-2007, 04:04 PM
limon limon is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

for what i would consider "high end" i expect more than i expect. manhattan does this much better than l.a. when you go to a place like gotham or babbo you just leave saying wow, i had no idea... when you leave spago or ivy you pretty much feel like you got what you paid for it was worth it but not transcendent. when mario opens osteria mozza in l.a. in a few weeks well see if he brings the manhattan food experience to l.a.
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Old 02-19-2007, 04:36 PM
XXXNoahXXX XXXNoahXXX is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

Before I even consider the food, one of my primary expectations is the service will be impeccable and the server will be able to comment on pretty much all aspects of every meal. I never want to be at a high end restaurant and have a waiter that doesn't know exactly what an ingredient is, how something tastes, what goes well together, etc.

Our society has chosen that servers will be tipped not based upon length of meal, times they refilled our drinks, but solely on a percentage of the price of the food. I could spend near the same length of time eating at a family restaurant and pay $10 tip as at a high-end restaurant, paying $35 tip. Just as the food is more expensive because it is of a higher quality, the service is more expensive, and thus should be of a superior quality.

I have rarely been disappointed with the service, and I've even been wowed a few times with how much the server seemed to know about everything. Basically, if I'm paying a couple hundred for my girlfriend and I to eat, I want a waiter that is a professional, not some summer job teenager. I'm still a student myself, so my budget only allows a few of these dinners a year, so in addition to be very special occasions, they are also learning experiences. I don't want someone to bring food from the kitchen to my table, I want a guide on that journey of food exploration.

(Feel free to respond to this post, but please do not let this turn into a tipping thread, that's not what my post wss about.)
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Old 02-19-2007, 05:22 PM
citanul citanul is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

[ QUOTE ]
for what i would consider "high end" i expect more than i expect ... just leave saying wow, i had no idea...

[/ QUOTE ]

limon,

I feel very strongly about this. The meals that I qualify as "the best I've ever eaten" all have this "whoa, that was really great and (as you said) transcendent." If it was just some nice food, I don't get that. For example while you can spend a lot of money at a steakhouse, there's basically nothing that comes out of the kitchen that doesn't taste at least very close to what you expect. There's no surprises. I think that you nailed it though, when I pay a lot for "an Italian dinner" instead of just eating at a local fairly nice place, I'm expecting to get something on the lines of "well I hadn't had anything like that before, wow!"

Noah,

I definitely don't want to see this turn in to a tipping thread, but I'd like to address a couple issues:

-I don't think I've ever spent 5 hours in a family restaurant unless you count hanging around, drinking and watching a game "spending time." But I get your point. You could "eat dinner" and pay less to the server somewhere else, so the service should be damn good. I totally agree.

-In general most high-end places only hire people to wait tables who have good resumes, and have worked their way up the food world. The interview processes can be pretty ridiculous in terms of just taste recognition, knowledge, etc. The largest lack of knowledge I've sen at good places are:

"I'll get the sommelier to help you with the wine" and

"I'm sorry, I haven't had a chance to taste that yet as it is new to the menu, but I have heard x from customers so far."

The only place that sticks out in my mind for the service having a pretty gaping flaw was at Charlie Trotter's. Our waiter saw and heard us commenting on the reviews/top 10 lists they have framed on the wall and talking about another restaurant and at some points stuck his head in to join the conversation. I thought this was pretty wildly inappropriate, but led to a couple of funny moments during dinner.
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  #5  
Old 02-19-2007, 05:33 PM
Los Feliz Slim Los Feliz Slim is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

limon,

[ QUOTE ]
when you leave spago or ivy you pretty much feel like you got what you paid for it was worth it but not transcendent

[/ QUOTE ]

While I agree that when I go to a nice restaurant I want to be blown away, LA is not completely bereft of restaurants that can be transcendent, the two you cited are examples of old standards that are simply solid. Restaurants that can make me say "holy [censored]" in LA would include: Melisse, Patina, Grace, and Diaghilev. Last week I went to Jar on Beverly and it absolutely knocked my socks off, but I had relatively low expectations.
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  #6  
Old 02-19-2007, 05:42 PM
Arnfinn Madsen Arnfinn Madsen is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

[ QUOTE ]
By high-end, I'd like to restrict discussion to places where you can very reasonably expect your bill for food only to be >$75 (pre tax and tip).

[/ QUOTE ]

Do you really mean high end by this? You have restaurants that are not extraordinary at all in many European cities where you end up paying more (maybe it is cheaper in the US). At $75 I expect a good, nice meal, but not anything super special.

Up the limit to >$200 and then you can start to expect something. At $200 I expect:
-Attention. Quick service, but also waiter who not as default tries to get away from the table, but as default talks a bit about the food, what's going on with ingredients and such. A waiter who doesn't really try sell you anything or speed up the ordering process, you order whenever it suits you. Also not some pretensious [censored] who is more busy showing off his knowledge than actually making sure you have a great experience.
-Not nitty. If it gets into the $500-range or so including wine and drinks I like that they serve you some delicious snack while you wait for the appetizer, serve you a welcome drink etc. and do not put in on the bill. It is not because I am cheap, I can pay for it, just makes the atmosphere nicer, you get to try some small pieces of some exclusive food or drink without risking anything.
-Perfect ingredients, the food can be a bit too hot or a bit too cold or a bit too cooked or whatever for your taste, they aren't psychics, but the ingredients should be 100% perfect, for not doing this there is no excuse.
-Also I expect them to have relatively unique dishes, must be a chef who has spent much time finding some new combinations or something to put the food up one notch and also in combination with the waiter makes sure that the wholeness with wine, dishes and drinks you order and wine, dishes and drinks they served you anyway makes perfect. I.e. avoid the situation where you sit and drink some wine and then they serve you a new dish that doesn't suit that wine and then a new wine. Make sure I/we are at the right wine, then serve the food.
-Zero questions policy. Ok, I say I didn't want that dish, then bring it back and give me whatever I think I ordered. If I figure out that I would like to walk home instead of taking the taxi just cancel the taxi and pay the driver to shut up (I put an extra $20 tip for that anyway). Don't discuss what was said/done or defend yourself, I hold no grudge, just want to have a perfect night. In all, don't do anything such that destroys the harmony, leaving the door too long open so that it gets cold or whatever.

It has lived up to expectations in that price range, however in the $75 to $200 there have been plenty of disappointments, that's why I put the mark higher.
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  #7  
Old 02-19-2007, 05:50 PM
ElSapo ElSapo is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

[ QUOTE ]
The largest lack of knowledge I've sen at good places are:

"I'll get the sommelier to help you with the wine" and

"I'm sorry, I haven't had a chance to taste that yet as it is new to the menu, but I have heard x from customers so far."


[/ QUOTE ]

If the restaurant has a sommelier, I don't think this is a bad thing to say. But I firmly believe all servers should have tasted all dishes. At a minimum they should be able to describe the dish in depth (ingredients and preperation).
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  #8  
Old 02-19-2007, 06:36 PM
'Chair 'Chair is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

@ +$75/person (no tip, tax, drinks), I expect a pretty solid over all meal.

Service...
- I expect wait staff to know details about <u>all</u> dishes...intimate ones regarding where the food came from along with something about the preparation technique used by the chef.
- I expect them to be able to make recommendations on the wine (with reasons to support their recommendation) or call over the sommelier.
- I expect them to call me and FFK a cab should we require (currently don't have any friends that appreciate this level of dining).
- I expect the servers to be friendly.
- I want to see that they are passionate about the food/wine they are serving.
- I expect them to bring out a new "tasting glass" if I order a second bottle of the same wine...or two new glasses should I change it up.

Food...
I expect to see a menu composed of innovative dishes that I have never had before. I expect everything to be cooked to perfection...and seasoned just right.

I prefer the timing to be a little on the slow side than too fast in regards to the speed that the courses are brought out. This involves communication between the front of the house and the back of the house...a good expediter goes a long way to making this happen.


I have yet to be disappointed at $75/plate...but that's only been about 6-7 times in my life.
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  #9  
Old 02-19-2007, 06:48 PM
citanul citanul is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

El Sapo,

I agree to a point. Obviously situations can arise where things happen like there is a new dish on the menu that and the server has simply not had a chance.

Arfinn,

In the US, there just flat out aren't that many places you can find with expected $200 on just food. (This is just food, per diner.)

The menus at per se, NY, are $250.
Grand tasting menu at Moto, Chicago, $165.
Tour menu at Alina, Chicago, $195.
Babbo, NY, $70.

I'm sure there's a bunch of places that are quite expensive that I'm not remembering, but these are just a few places that are definitely "high end." While $75 might be too low for the US as well, it might not be, I dno. I wanted to leave the possibility that people could talk about things like a good steakhouse or a good fishmarket type restaurant, or many of the excellent sushi places out there. This old page (2005 Forbes) lists the "most expensive restaurants in the US." While it's clearly out of date, it lists alinea (prices above) at #2. Obviously many of these places also hit you pretty hard for a bottle or flight of wine, but that's sort of a user-defined price instead of menu price to eat food.
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  #10  
Old 02-19-2007, 06:57 PM
Arnfinn Madsen Arnfinn Madsen is offline
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Default Re: High-end Dining: Expectations and Reviews

[ QUOTE ]

Arfinn,

In the US, there just flat out aren't that many places you can find with expected $200 on just food. (This is just food, per diner.)


[/ QUOTE ]

Ok, I have never been to the US. It is probably a bit difficult to compare across countries, because if I eat a $50 food meal in Poland I expect it to be very good.
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