I've been thinking a bit of late about what people expect in places. On one hand, I watched Anthony Bourdain visit French Laundry with 3 other chefs (and yesterday, re-read the chapter for further edificatation). On the other hand, I see people just jumping in to quash every place possible.
I want to say three things up front. First, although some have accused chowhound of being stalinistic, there is no need to conform. While it may be odd that someone dislikes Gene and Jude's, I do believe it is within the realm of possibilities. We do not have to agree on places. Second, I have never myself tasted from many a tasting menu. I have never been to the tra's--Trotters, Tru, or Trio. And believe me, I can go on and on about the fancy places I have not been. So, I have no firsthand experience about some of the places trashed. Finally, I've had my share of disappoitments. I was wholly un-impressed on my one visit to Aruns, and I have tended to find Pasteur pretty but overpriced (pretty vacant?). So, I come to this with my own shortcomings.
Still, I got to wonder, what the heck are people looking for? I find it so enjoyable to watch Bourdain and his fellow chefs just melt in the hands of Thomas Keller (who denies the ability to be perfect). Can something close be achieved in our third coast?
Part of the problem is one of consistency. It is a mixed bag. I think we all recognize that things vary day by day, depending on many variables. We also recognize that a lot of exterior factors come into play when we evaluate a resturant experience. Some of us, including paid critics, try for multiple visits before assessing a place to ajust for various shortcomings. To others, me included, each visit should stand alone, or at least if a place is in "preview" mode, they should price accordingly. Maybe I am just a pollyanna, but I tend to judge a place by what it does good, not what it does bad. Therefore, I tend to like a lot of places because a lot of places have at least something good to offer.
So, what are we looking for in our local dining scene. I fine it incredibly telling, that when I asked people to essentially name their top ten spots, in the form of what places you'd want with you on a desert island, few could. Yet when the chance is given to fire away, people cannot type fast enough. Are we just generally unhappy with Chicago chow. Do we feel that the local places here, those considered cream of the crop, the 4 star places, are just not as good as equivilant places in other towns? Are we seeking perfection where it cannot be obtained?