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The difference between quintessential and best ...

PaulF Jul 25, 2006 11:38 PM

Just wondering if other chowhounds ever have trouble making the distinction between quintessential and best?

What I mean is ... someone logs on to your local board and wonders where the best places to eat are, but at the same time asks for the places that are special or unique or -- quintessential -- to your town.

I live in Los Angeles and frequent that board.

A hamburger stand like Tommys is -- to me -- quintessential Los Angeles. Everyone here has eaten there. It is, as far as I know, a Southern California experience and some feel it's an experience not to be missed.

But while I love (at least, have loved) Tommys hamburgers, I'm not sure I'd call it "the best." First of all, deciding between Tommys and In and Out and Fatburger and any number of one of a kind stands is a matter of taste, not to mention the "betterness" of a gourmet burger that cost 15 dollars.

But many cities have gourment burgers and many have great burgers. Tommy's chili burger is more of an LA experience to me than the others, whether or not it's the best.

Same is true for, I dunno, maybe Musso and Frank's or Dan Tana's. Are they "the best?" Not really. Some people really like them, some don't, actually. But you might see a real live movie star at Musso's or Tana's and can you do that anywhere else?

Now, the search for great chow should be just that. Nothing else should matter, right? But great or best is so highly subjective.

See, if I'm recommending restaurants to visitors who are not on chowhound, I certainly do consider "quintessential" along with "best." I like to recommend places with ocean views or places from old Hollywood/Los Angeles (like Pacific Dining Car), But should it differ for board recs for 'hounds?

I realize the food is the thing. But there is no denying that many, many posts consider service and ambiance and parking and ease of reservation and corkage and any number of factors other than purely and simply the quality of the food.

So, if some level of high quality is a given, when does "quintessential" have an impact on "best" around these parts.

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  1. ipsedixit RE: PaulF Jul 26, 2006 05:25 PM

    Good topic.

    Weird, but I was having a discussion with myself on a similar, but related topic -- i.e., "best" versus "favorite".

    I'm also on the LA board, and my "favorite" place to have a burger (PETE'S CAFE or MORTON'S) may not necessarily be the "best" place for burgers.

    As to your query about "quintessential" versus "best" I think the two are really different. Quintessential hot dog in LA, for example, might be PINK'S but it certainly is not the best by any stretch of the imagination ...

    1. liu RE: PaulF Jul 26, 2006 06:05 PM

      "...a discussion with myself..." Thanks for the laugh, Ipsedixit!
      PaulF, you have an interesting topic here!

      I quite agree with you both! For me, there are a multitude of dimensions to the eating experience, and a lot of these dimensions or factors are not measurable nor duplicate-able.

      Sure, there is the obvious: the comfort of the chairs, the temperature of the restaurant, the lighting, the servers, the servers' general mood, the clientele, the table setting, my mood, whom I am with, my appetite, the expectations that I brought with me about this place, and even perhaps how distracted I am thinking about how much I owe on the electric bill sitting on my desk! etc. etc. etc. But there is also the way that all these factors come together -- OR NOT!

      This is why I can eat in the same place twice -- and even order the same item -- and it can be quite different. So, I think there can be "the best" isolated eating experience, but I don't think that it can always be at a certain designated place and predicted time.

      I truly think it is the "surprises" that keep us searching for "the best!"

      (Forgive me if I am missing the target here because I know your post is about the difference between quintessential and best, but every time I see "the best," I remind myself that it was "the best" in that moment and everything else fell into place.)

      1. l
        Loren3 RE: PaulF Jul 27, 2006 08:07 PM

        "I realize the food is the thing. But there is no denying that many, many posts consider service and ambiance and parking and ease of reservation and corkage and any number of factors other than purely and simply the quality of the food."

        True. It's the total experience that surrounds the food. That's why quintessential is so important, sometimes more so than best. Great burgers can be found in every city in the country, but it's the whole experience that says that Tommy's (for example) is quintessential LA. (I don't eat burgers and I'm not from LA, so I'll take your word for that.) And often, travelling 'hounds are looking more for the quintessential than the "best" which they can often get back home.

        This gives me a new appreciation for some of the seemingly tired old standards that some 'hounds continue to recommend. It's NOT the the quality of the food; it's the quintessentialness of the experience.

        Thanks for the post.

        1. PaulF RE: PaulF Jul 27, 2006 08:57 PM

          Thanks for your responses ... You all have confirmed much of what I was thinking ... as inarticulate as I was ...

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