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Good food, bad ambience

Ok, we've covered good food, bad service but what about bad ambience? How good does the food have to be if the ambience is bad? I am not talking about places that are a sneeze away from the health dept. closing them down, I am talking about places that have close quarters, tacky decor, unusual location or clientele, loud music etc. Basically an atmosphere that makes you edgey.

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  1. This is a toughy...Ithink it depends on the balance between good food and bad atmosphere.

    Some places I go to for the whole package...usually long relaxed dinners with my boyfriend.

    Although, some of my favourite places are just becuase of the awesome food including a Somalian in Toronto. The ambience screams utility! The walls are this strange neon-hospital-green colour, the lighting is a row of high powered neons hovering above, the only decor is a huge pop fridge. ...that is all forgiven though when I get my goat soup and chicken stew!


    1. Most of the restaurants in Boston's Chinatown can be pretty divey - very basic decor, formica-topped tables, brusque wait staff. But the food is great, very fresh, tasty, authentic ingredients, beautifully cooked (mostly, not always), so for the sake of good eating, we put up with the surroundings. If the food weren't fantastic, I wouldn't put up with it.

      1. If the food's good I hardly ever feel edgey.

        1. If the food's good, ambiance doesn't matter.

          If the food's not good, ambiance matters even less!

          I guess the only time ambiance would affect my decision on where to eat would be when two places have similar food and prices, or for a birthday or anniversary.

          1. If it affects my comfort level, I probably won't return - or would give it a second chance but not more. There was a restaurant we used to like on South Beach - great food, but they played this really hokey elevator music and it really was grating. For me, part of going out to eat is a general enjoyment of the experience, and if something takes away from that, I probably wouldn't go back.

            2 Replies
            1. re: MMRuth

              Partly agree.

              Loud music, forget it.

              But I will put up with horrible Asian pop music if the food's good enough.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                At our favorite "cheap" sushi place, they seem to have purchased the Best of the 60s, 70s & 80s and rotate them - makes us laugh!

            2. I ate at Simpatica in Portland,OR. They were given a heads up in Bon Appetite a while back. It is a dining hall in a basement...a long narrow room with long narrow tables..communal dining. It was very, very busy, crowded and loud. I felt edgy at first. Once the food arrived..I was in heaven. Perfect in every way. The kitchen was wide open too. Very, very different. I will go back..and I go to Portland lots.

              1. Bad music? Eh, I can live with it. LOUD music, not all that wild about, but whatever.

                What I really hate are tables so close together everybody in the entire restaurant has to shift in order to accommodate somebody either sitting down or getting up from the table. I don't like communal eating with strangers which is what I feel like is happening when the "next" table is barely twelve inches away from mine.

                1. Ambience is very important to me - it's part of the whole dining experience. I do like a "hole-in-the-wall," but in that case it's the very lack of ambience that (along with the food) creates the experience - although I must admit, I tend to only go to those places for lunch. When I go out for dinner, I want the whole shebang - great food, nice ambience, attentive service.

                  There was recently a Japanese place in Chicago that served "kaiseki" cuisine - the meal was over $100 per person. The problem was that you ate in what seemed to be a hastily-thrown-together coffee shop, with paper napkins and pull-apart chopsticks. The food was good, but the total experience was lacking. It just didn't make any sense to me.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Akatonbo

                    was that the matsumoto talked about on the lthforum?

                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      Yes indeedy. Chef Matsumoto left, and they have re-concepted themselves with a more normal Japanese menu, but I haven't read anything about the decor having been changed, so they're off my radar screen.

                  2. $100 is cheap for good kaiseki.

                    I love places that do first-rate food at lower prices by skipping the the high-cost trappings--like Jai Yun, Pizzeria Delfina, or Canteen in San Francico.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I like Jai Yun but wouldn't necessarily consider their current prices as "lower."

                    2. The more I think about it, the more I think these might be ideal chowhound places.

                      If the food is the thing and the lousy ambiance keeps out the casual foodie, then you're left with great chow and no problem getting a reservation.

                      1. For me, the ambiance is directly proportional to service & how much I spend, not so much to the food.

                        Paraphrasing what akatonobo said, a lack of ambiance in a "hole-in-the wall" place is what gives it charm. And I'll tolerate poor service.

                        However, if I'm paying top $$, then I expect top service & ambiance.