Friday, May 28, 2010


In college, I took this math class called "Discreet Mathematics." It was either that or Calculus, and I sure as shit wasn't tempting that fickle mistress again. In Discreet Math class we learned about this theorem that if you have a certain number of random people in a room (I think it was 25 or more), there is a 100% chance that two of them will share a similar birthday.

Well, I'd like to introduce a new theorem. If you poll 5 or more random people who have all been to the same restaurant, at least 1 person will have had a bad experience there. This theorem presented itself after spending the afternoon and evening talking about restaurants in New Orleans with people from New Orleans.

"Stella? What is there about the place that is New Orleans?"

"Domenica. I don't like it at all, it's nothing like Italian food I'm used to."

"Crepe Nanou is terrible."

"Herbsaint? Ehhh. Nothing specific, it just didn't wow me."

That last complaint is one we hear almost continuously. "The food at X, just didn't wow me." If being wowed is what you are looking for in a dining experience, then prepare to be disappointed. Oftentimes food is just food. There is a protein, some starches and vegetables. They have been seasoned and cooked in a specific way and assembled for you enjoyment. That is it. Nothing more.

The experience you are looking for comes from the totality of the dining adventure. It depends on who you eat with, what your mood is, whether you are on vacation or not, whether there is a strong possibility of getting laid, or whether any number of other things fall into place to turn eating into a memorable meal.

Take for example this scenario. Let's say you and your significant other go on a vacation to the South of France. On the way down from Paris, you spend the evening in Orange. After showering and a nap you head out for dinner. Sitting under a tree in the town square, the chatter of a boules game in the background, the moon shines bright and clear. The waiter serves you a perfectly grilled leg of lamb with a delicious, gamy, peppery Cote Rotie.

So you come home and find the wine at your local purveyor. You and your significant other open the wine on a Tuesday night after a furious day at the office. Tomorrow you have to get up early and make sure to get to the dry cleaners as soon as they open so you can have a clean shirt for your assessment evaluation. Your SO's boss was a complete asshole earlier in the day and volunteered her to lead a seminar the day after Christmas. And the grocery store was out of lamb, but had burgers. You drink the wine, anyway.

Which time is more enjoyable?

The law of Diminishing Returns also applies to eating at restaurants. The more you eat out, the more you run into a bad or just average meal. Or more succinctly, the less you experience the joy and surprise of a special meal. In 2009, Lindsay and I dined out approximately 100 times together. I can recall every detail from four of the meals. The others have all but faded from memory.

When Lindsay and I ate at Meauxbar last week, we were both slightly sick, got stuck at a terrible table with a proficient but not great waiter, and had average food. Does that mean Meauxbar is a bad place to eat? No. It just means on that night, the restaurant and us were not speaking the same language.

So the moral of this story? You will have a great meal this year at a restaurant other people don't like and a bad meal at a spot everyone loves. This is a great thing in my book, as it will lead to more interesting discussions and arguments.

Also, someone shares your birthday.


Jennifer Abbott Erwin said...

I was wowed at August a few weeks ago. I'll never stop thinking about that "breaded" speckled trout, never ever ever.

fmcgmccllc said...

Best and worst meals have been had at Antoine's and Brennan's. Current best was at the Parkview Hotel in Shenzhen, never has been repeated at that particular restaurant. Now I am thinking about all time favorite. Sometimes it just all works perfectly.