Out of business and sadly missed
It seems to be all too common that the restaurants that the foodies love the most go out of business, while the restaurants that serve "bad" food continue to flourish, open new locations, and pack people in at all hours. Does anybody have an explaination for this? If you want examples, Versailles, Johnnies Pastrami, and La Serranata have been bashed here regularly, I happen to love all three, and they are all doing a land-office business. Maybe one thing has nothing to do with the other but if that is the case, are the foodies out of touch with what the majority of people want to eat or is it like Jazz music? If a performer becomes too popular, he is accused of being a sell-out and his music is not considered Jazz anymore. Just an observation. Please enlighten me if you want, I would appreciate it.
This is a great topic for a post. So good that I wonder if we should move this out of the L.A. board and onto "General Topics."
Sticking to the L.A. part, I happen to agree with you on Versailles and La Serranata, by the way. And although I love Johnnie's as a place to hang (my parents used to go there every week after their bowling league), I don't really think that the food is major league.
It's not just jazz, either. It's true of virtually any art form or consumer good in which "taste" is a crucial element. We help define ourselves by what we like and don't like. I think it's easiest to see this effect with kids and rock music. If a 13-year old raises her self-esteem, her "cool quotient" by being the first person to "discover" a new rock act, imagine how she feels when she "loses" her find to "the masses."
I don't think the effect is much different with restaurants and foodies, critics, and maybe even chowhounds. It's a natural human tendency.
That said, I do think there is a tendency for restaurants in big cities, in particular, to gyrate wildly in quality. That is one of the reasons why I treasure New Orleans, where quality in established restaurants fluctuate, but not as sharply, usually. Even when chefs change, there seems to be an institutional memory in places like Galatoire's, Mother's, Uglesich's, etc. Chowhoundy places are more prone to problems, of course. If one person owns and cooks and is responsible for most aspects of the food production, if that person loses interest, then....
re: Dave Feldman
What a great reply. You seem to have said it all in your response.
My wife and I got into a rut with restaurants and kept going back to the same ones over and over again. We really liked them but after a while we were interested in something new. It is amazing how many places we would try before we would hit on a place that we would go back to. Many of these places had every table full but snotty service, poorly prepared food or were obscenely overpriced. It is interesting to order risotto and have it grossly undercooked to the point that it sticks to your teeth and look across the room and see people eating the same dish as yours with gusto. The other night I had frois gras so undercooked that the center was still cold. Both people at the table next to me ordered the same dish. The tables were only 3 feet apart and I could see that their food was prepared the same. I left most of mine and they ate theirs as if it was the best thing they had ever tasted. If the waiter had ever come by I would have complained but the bus boy came by and cleared the plate. I would have told him but he didn't speak English. It is becoming clear why we fell into a rut, a consistant, well served, properly priced rut.
It's good to hear this topic out there .... It seems that the whole way of our culture is "Pasteurized". It's evident in all aspects of America, "the Land of the Strip Mall and Chain Restaurant." Here in NJ (about 1 hr. away from NYC), it's almost impossible to find well-prepared, fresh high-quality food (God forbid you would want fine food).
What I think lies at the bottom of the whole problem is that Americans of a certain monetary echelon have not been raised in an atmosphere of fine cooking. (Hamburger Helper, KFC, Instant Mashed Potatoes & Frozen Pizza.) They do not have an educated palate. To them, raw foix gras is what it's supposed to be. These same people also fall prey to "celebrity" chefs, and accept every trendy food preparation that comes down the pike.
Then there's the effect of our human desire to get the most for our money: the popularity of chain restaurants and fast food snowballs. In those instances, quantity is king - quality be damned.
As Arthur Schwartz of Food Talk once intimated, "Nothing is more disgusting than watching people enjoy bad food."