A recent discussion on restaurants in various cities got me thinking. Here’s the gist of that discussion. We were dining in an East Coast city, when one of the guests at the table posed a question to me. She’s from San Francisco and is very heavily into food. She’s never posted to CH, and barely knew of it. Her question went like this, “you are always touting the food in New Orleans. Which restaurant do you think ‘defines’ that city’s food best?” I thought for a moment and then decided that for me, it was probably Galatoire’s. This was not to diminish any other restaurant, and I realized that on the last trip, it wasn’t even on my list, but there was so little time, and several new places that we just had to try.
I repeated her question to her, regarding San Francisco, another food town. Her answer was Restaurant Gary Danko, with a nod to Chez Panisse and Alice Waters (Berkeley, CA). We then talked about why we had chosen each restaurant to represent, in our minds, these two great food cities. She extolled the virtues of Chef Danko, (and Chef Waters) and made good points. I kept talking about the cuisine, and not a chef. This was not intended to diminish the great chefs, who have developed in the City, or been developed by it. This was not to diminish any of the great restaurants now, or previously, in the City. It just seemed to me, that there was a much broader concept at work in New Orleans, than about any other place in the US.
It was then that I realized how differently these two cities are looked upon by diners, at least the two of us. San Francisco has long been known for its great food, it’s restaurants, but neither of us could define the cuisine of San Francisco. Great food, great restaurants, great chefs, but no one cuisine. New Orleans, on the other hand, definitely has cuisine (my belief), which I feel is displayed well by Galatoire’s (I chose it as the best, but that is really too broad a statement to make, especially because I get to New Orleans so infrequently nowadays and have not lived there in thirty years). To me, Galatoire’s exemplifies the sense of place, the spirit of New Orleans, it’s history, it’s people and the food of the region. San Francisco has its chefs and its restaurants, and while New Orleans has these, it also has a much broader sense of “cuisine.”
Now this “cuisine” is as varied as is the history of New Orleans, drawing on the influences of so very many – different points of origin, culture, history, ingredients... the list goes on. I became aware that with these two cities, we were defining them on very different terms. Great, though they both are, I think that this difference gives New Orleans the edge – makes it unique amongst great food destinations throughout the country.
As the evening progressed, we discussed other food cities. Los Angeles and New York were mentioned and we both felt that the ethnic diversity was the biggest draw, regarding food. Few other places can boast maybe 30 different cultures, represented by restaurants in a 4 sq. block area – virtually the United Nations of dining, both of them. LA (or its environs) also has a claim to California Cuisine, which is being exported to the rest of the world.
Now for the pop-quiz. Do you also feel that New Orleans displays its sense of cuisine, as I do? If so, how do you define the cuisine of New Orleans? Last, do you feel that any one restaurant defines this cuisine best?