Should you have to 'get' food?
Why is it so hard to educate your palate as you upscale? Why can people almost universally enjoy some foods, while others require effort? Sleeping, unexercised taste buds, perhaps?
There's a thread on the NY Board about Mario Batelli's restaurants. Some posters are underwhelmed and there was the above comment by one of the posters (not in a nasty way).
I've been thinking about this because I ate at the French Laundry this weekend and while I wasn't underwhelmed, I wasn't overwhelmed. I'm in the underwhelmed camp on Batelli as well.
I think about one poster on this board, Joe H, who has favorably compared a piece of pizza or a certain In N Out burger to some of the best upscale chow. The man knows his food and for him it is about taste. Isn't that what food should be about?
It almost seems that peasant fare is tastier and more universally liked, regardless of the quality or pedigree of the starting ingrediants. Of course, starting with good ingrediants improves even the most humble dish.
Of course the peasant dish experience goes out the window usually when it gets adopted by an upscale restaurant. The $50 dish of pork and beans probably won't have the flavor of some New England grandmother's version.
That's not to say that I haven't had some outstanding experiances at top restuarants. They just seem less frequent than at the local joint. It seems the more you fool with the food, the more elaborate the preparation, the more flavor that gets removed. The more you have to be aware of how to appreciate the flavor.
I applaud the craft of Keller, Batelli and group. I recognize that dining is also about entertainment and even theatre. Through these boards I've learned to appreciate foods from other cultures that I might not have liked if I didn't know what others found so appealing about them. So I do think education is an element of food appreciation.
Over the years, I have upscaled to a point. It may be hard to go up the culinary chain, but it's hell going back down. After you have chowed on pedigreed tomatos from an upscale farmers markets for a while, buying a
tomato at the local grocery chain just won't do.
Buying at the top of the food chain at farmers markets, I can immediately spot top notch ingrediants at restaurants (sadly I can usually tell you what farm they came from without reading the menu).
Most of my friends don't appreciate the differences. However there are some foods that are so flavorful that they appeal to all groups and everyone can appreciate their sheer flavor.
There are some chocolates in SF that have so much flavor that I've given out to everyone from the homeless to the CEO of a Fortune 100 company and everyone starts to moan with pleasure after one bite.
Isn't that what food should be about? Or should you have to take the time to stop and analyze the chocolate?
If you are going to the best restaurant in the world, shouldn't involuntary gasps of pleasure and moans of delight be a part of each bite. At the end of the meal, shouldn't you fall off your chair in sheer ecstasy? Think of Babette's Feast and the Big Night.