I live in a suburb of New York City that is known for its restaurants. Unfortunately its claim to fame is the number of places to eat, not the quality of the food available. Oh, there are interesting places to eat, but when I want a meal that includes good food, good service, an interesting setting and a martini or two I have to drive into New York City. Why can’t the suburbs support the kind of restaurant that satisfies these conditions? I had a short e-mail exchange with Tommy:eats, a blogger who has obviously spent some time thinking about, and lamenting this situation. I suggested that it may be the pressure to make 100% of the income on food, since liquor licenses are ridiculously expensive, if they can even get one. So each plate has to pay off; no teaser plates and break-even dishes just to get people to drink. He made the very good point that most of these restaurants also push high-end foods. “What kills me, for example, is that a restaurant could make more profit on pork belly and chicken thigh than they do loin and breast, but they choose to not.”
When I say “good,” I don’t mean Per Se or Le Bernardin or Peter Luger or Bouley. What I want is a restaurant that can produce an excellent meal, matched with a reasonable wine list, professional service and an attractive and comfortable physical setting. What this requires is a professional chef, a competent manager, and most of all an owner who is dedicated to his restaurant. I don’t particularly care why; if all he wants is a big pay check and has figured out that the best way to get one is to impress the hell out of his customers so they come back with their friends? Fine with me.
There is enough disposable income in my town and the surrounding area to support restaurants that satisfy these admittedly strict requirements. Why don’t these restaurants exist? Is it the tyranny of low expectations? Do we expect mediocrity? Or is our collective taste so crappy that we wouldn’t recognize good food if it fell in our laps?