On a recent trip up to Northern California for the Concours De Elegance at Pebble Beach, I had the opportunity to observe the lifestyles of the 1%. A place where $10 lattes are the norm and $800 breakfasts are no big deal. It got me thinking does the provenance of a restaurant or Chef make the actual food taste that much better? Or is it all in our head?
I have experienced it time and time again here in Los Angeles, where there is this huge hype for a restaurant run by some big name Chef, that just disappoints both my palate and my bank account. Why do I continue to do this? Why does it even matter? Shouldn’t we be enjoying the ingredients or the flavors of the food rather than let who made it or where we ate it dictate whether or not we liked it?
Since I was up in the Monterrey area for several days I had the chance to eat at several of the restaurants at the Lodge at Pebble Beach; a perfect example of a place where supposed provenance overcomes quality. One of the restaurants, Stillwater, which is supposed to be one of the best in the area, was extremely overpriced and quite a disappointment. Stillwater offers seafood dishes ranging from hamachi and tuna sashimi to olive-oil poached halibut. While the quality of the seafood was in fact quite good, the dishes themselves were boring and poorly executed;certainly not worth the $50 entrée price.
Another example was a few months ago we went to Jose Andres’ restaurant Bazaar ;a restaurant with very high ratings simply because of the fact that the Chef came from El Bulli, another big name restaurant in Spain. Not only was the service appalling, but the food was almost inedible. Nothing was seasoned properly nor really made any sense (Jose Andres is a big molecular gastronomy guy). The only thing worth eating was the Jamon Iberrico, which they don’t even prepare, it is cured ham that is imported from Spain. We walked away from their both poor ($200 meal!) and still hungry.
Contrary to that, there is a little Japanese place close to our apartment called Nabeeya, that is run by a very hardworking husband and wife team that offers great chicken teriyaki and spicy tuna bowls that are both extremely satisfying and very affordable (you can walk away spending less than $10).
Now I am not saying that cheap food is necessarily better than expensive food, I am simply stating that you won’t always get the best meal from the most expensive and popular restaurant. The best meals in my opinion, are the ones that are prepared by really hardworking people that really care about the product and the customer and are not caught up in the hype of who they are or where they work.