I recently had a dining experience that took me by surprise. An adventurous friend wanted us to check out a restaurant in Brooklyn that was rumored to be full of hipsters—she said it was a great scene. I wouldn’t call myself tragically hip, but I was up for some new flavor. The menu was a bit wild (olive oil ice cream with cured olives for dessert?). Portions were small and prices were deceivingly steep. I walked out, having had a great time, but a bit miffed with the bill. I thought I was going for atmosphere and wound up unexpectedly paying for a “foodie” experience.
We all should weigh what we want from a dining-out adventure. Here’s how I’m going to proceed in the future:
When investing in a dining occasion, be conscious of what you’d like as a dividend…is it a scene? Is it exquisite food? Is it lots of food? These considerations will steer you to a restaurant selection that won’t leave you disappointed.
When going for the foodie experience, it’s more about flavors (like pesto), textures, and uniqueness than portion size. Often the dishes can be deceivingly rich, and a three-bite course is just enough. Bear in mind that menu prices reflect both ingredient costs and labor—and sometimes the seemingly simplest dishes are the most labor-intensive.
All You Can Eat
Sometimes quantity is the order of the day. When you go to that buffet or all-you-can-eat spot, it may be psychologically stimulating to know that you can really dig in. But dine carefully. In many buffets, flavors will be geared more toward comfort than balance, and the quantity/quality ratio can be stacked in inverse proportion.
It’s A Scene!
When going to a spot to be seen, a little extra research is required. Some hip joints may warrant a meal beforehand, and a nibble at the venue (but don't nibble if your food isn't up to snuff—send it back instead). Beware of hot spots with great food, which can equate to monumental pricing. An additional caveat: fashionable may mean noisy. If you desire an intimate dinner, quaint should trump trendy.
How lucky we are to have our “magic boxes” for researching before investing! Hop onto your computer and check out potential venues on sites such as Chowhound.com and Yelp.com to gain some insight when looking for a theme. Zagat is more difficult to navigate online, but the handheld guide is full of key phrases referring to what you’ll get for your investment. Take caution, as these sites offer solicited feedback which must be weighed objectively. As an extra line of defense, once you’ve zeroed in on a potential spot, take a look at their website and trust your intuition.
Tell us in the comments: What makes your favorite dining spot rank on your list?