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"Heard it was good, but it always seemed dead, so..." [moved from General Chowhounding boad"

Will Owen Sep 19, 2009 05:15 PM

Just read the above phrase from a poster explaining why he'd never gone into a particular restaurant, and was wondering why that should be. Seems to me that restaurants tend to be jammed or not depending on location or trendiness, not necessarily food quality, and I particularly treasure the ones whose charms include my always being able to score a decent table and to eat amongst little if any riotous hubbub.

As a matter of fact, the place that poster was talking about, Akasha in Culver City, is unaccountably lightly populated during any lunch hour I've been there, but my only objection to that is the possible threat to their being able to continue lunch service. The food is not cheap but affordable, considering how seldom I get there, and it's all been very good indeed. I also love the large but comfortable room, and wonder why so many people seem to prefer being crammed into the rather pretentious-looking Italian joint down on the next corner, and what the fun is in eating amid such clatter you can't hear yourself think, much less carry on a normal conversation. I've read accounts of restaurant owners deliberately choosing hard surfaces and cheek-by-jowl seating to promote a hard, rattling vibe, and have to say I just...do...not...get...it...

Have I awakened on another planet? Is my species no longer interested in dining in calm comfort? After relishing the sheer civilization of the Maison Akira dining room again recently, and reading reviews declaring the place to feel tired and dead, I'm beginning to think so.

  1. EWSflash Sep 19, 2009 05:47 PM

    I'm inclined to agree with you, as long as I'm not the only occupied table in the place. In fact there's a Chinese restaurant next to my nail salon whose food I just love and will put up with being the only person in there (they're across from a mall and do a lot of takeout business), although DH and DS dislike the solitude even more than I do. But I just want to see them succeed so I will eat there- and pay in cash, too.
    But I digress. I do prefer a quieter atmosphere than the current volume level that tends to prevail. I can't hear worth a crap any more anyway.

    1. Honeychan Sep 19, 2009 05:58 PM

      My job is in chaos and noise. When I go out to eat, I want relaxation...Peace and quiet. Same with my DH. We are thrilled when we ARE the only people in a place quite honestly, and we've walked out on ones that were too noisy/crowded before. Some might think that's an un-Chowish attitude to take, but i'm not concerned about that.

      I love a quiet, civilized meal. No trendy, loud/too crowded places for me.

      1. kattyeyes Sep 20, 2009 05:06 AM

        Right there with you, Will. One of our favorite local (30-min. drive) Chinese places is often quiet as church at lunchtime. We both enjoy the peace and the ability to converse without the constant, "What? Say again?"

        I do not like hard surfaces in a restaurant and am honestly shocked to read people actually knowingly chose the "hard, rattling vibe" you described above. I always chalked it up to whoever made the design choices didn't realize how loud it would be. To think it was intentional is really beyond my understanding. I *do* like--no, love--and appreciate dining in calm comfort--with appropriate music at the appropriate volume, if you please. I enjoy it enough that I'll mention it when I'm posting about a place that gets it right. The setting does add to our overall enjoyment of a meal and I am thankful there are still places out there who strive to make it so.

        1. meatn3 Sep 20, 2009 06:41 AM

          Count me in the calm and quiet camp. I want to be able to hear the server, my dining partner and myself while thinking. The environment is part of the experience. Ideally all aspects will enhance - whether it's a lobster pier or high end dining.

          I see this trend fairly often. It seems to be a bit of a lemming effect. The noise creates interest, then the crowd draws more people in....On a slightly different note, my uncle was known in his field as an amazing salesman. One of his hard and fast rules was that the front door to the store be propped open, regardless of the weather. It works - some people are uncomfortable crossing the barrier of opening a shop door. I think the noise/rattling vibe are designed to do the same - allow curiosity to override any hesitation the diner may have!

          1. Scargod Sep 20, 2009 01:56 PM

            Funny, we just ate at Los Mariachis and we were the only customers. It was quiet as death when we came in. The manager quickly turned on the satellite music station and it was pretty loud. Not so much that we couldn't talk, but loud enough that we could not ignore it. I thought about asking him to turn it down. I think some don't think or they have a certain mindset and typical crowd.
            I feel the same as Kattyeyes. I want quiet or non-intrusive music. Jazz is good.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Scargod
              Will Owen Sep 22, 2009 10:57 AM

              One of the things I immediately loved about restaurants in France and Italy was NO MUSIC. I must also admit that Mrs. O and I are both strongly mariachi-averse, and avoid places that advertise such (as well as the ones advertising "Kids eat FREE!"). We have enjoyed such things as a popular brunch place in Chicago that had a live string quartet doing Haydn and stuff. Maison Akira, which I mentioned above, plays classical chamber music at a level that can be heard, but also can be talked over easily.

              1. re: Will Owen
                Scargod Sep 22, 2009 03:36 PM

                I feel the same way. My quote, from a local Mexican restaurant we tried: "The mariachi band was a (really laughable) joke and just made it difficult for us to talk. "
                They were awful, butchered songs and did (badly), supposedly humorous versions of a few classics that had nothing to do with Mexico or their music. They were loud and in your face. Who needs that? They belonged in a Chucky Cheese.
                I was shocked by the televisions blaring in some restaurants in Italy and Greece. Then I found the same thing in a Thai restaurant, here in New Haven. I think the restaurant's family members and employees would rather watch soaps than have customers.

                1. re: Scargod
                  kattyeyes Sep 22, 2009 04:17 PM

                  Remember the soaps in Spanish, too, while we were at the (ahem, authentic!) Mexican place in New Haven?!!! Maybe it's a New Haven thing. KIDDING!

                  On the other hand, I don't mind having the TV on in my local favorite Vietnamese spot in Middletown. It's never loud. It's almost like being in a friendly neighborhood bar and watching TV in a community. Plus the food is delicious!

                  1. re: kattyeyes
                    Scargod Sep 22, 2009 07:26 PM

                    Yea, I remember. I guess if you're bored and there's no customers, you gotta do something. Still, it's a turnoff if I go into a place with few or no customers and the TV's going.
                    Sorry, I don't eat in front of the TV. Halfway kidding. Occasionally if it's just the two of us at home.
                    I couldn't do that TV bar scene--bar food very often. When I go out I want it to be a little special. No TV.

                    1. re: Scargod
                      kattyeyes Sep 23, 2009 03:25 PM

                      Not bar food or bar scene--Vietnamese food.

                      1. re: kattyeyes
                        Scargod Sep 23, 2009 03:59 PM

                        Same thing as one Thai restaurant experience in New Haven. That's what they were doing at Rice Pot one evening. Like we didn't matter or were interfering in their evening. They kept watching noisy TV, a few feet from us. Had run out of almost all wine, too. Cold in there, TV noise and no decent wines. It was a pitiful excuse for dining out.

                        1. re: Scargod
                          kattyeyes Sep 23, 2009 04:27 PM

                          Nope, not the same thing (for me, anyway) you describe in the places I'm talking about. None of the places where we're regulars in the less fancy mom & pop shops ever make us feel unwelcome in the least...and we don't mind the TV. It wouldn't work in every dining scenario, but in one of my favorite "joints" downtown, it's just part of the charm.

                          1. re: kattyeyes
                            Scargod Sep 24, 2009 10:43 AM

                            Old curmudgeon.. who doesn't like TVs in restaurants, regardless. Charm!?! Phooey.

                            You go out to dinner to eat at what you don't cook, be in a different environment from your home, hear soothing background music and see beautiful views. You are paying for all of it. I don't want TVs in the dining room, let alone hear them!

                            1. re: Scargod
                              kattyeyes Sep 24, 2009 03:08 PM

                              Methinks thou hast too many rules about going out to eat.
                              :)
                              There is plenty of wonderful food you'll miss if those are your strict criteria...oh, that and a wine list. I enjoy good food. It doesn't bother me if a place doesn't serve wine. I don't have it with every meal. I am less fussy about how to find good food--especially when it's affordably priced. Not every experience must be fine dining for me. I like options. In the fine dining realm, yes, I have higher standards...but not for little holes in the wall I love. Paraphrasing Mr. Rogers, "I like them just the way they are."--TV, lack of wine and all.

                  2. re: Scargod
                    h
                    HollyDolly Oct 1, 2009 08:38 AM

                    Wonder where this mexican restaurant was at. I can't picture it as being in San Antonio. With all the hispanics here that would not go over good.
                    One of the little local places here puts on the tv, like sports or whatever,but i don't mind,the food is good.
                    And I know what you mean about places being noisy.Salsalito on Nacogdoches road in San Antonio has a lot of tiled surfaces,the place gets noisy when crowded,plus it them gets hard to hear what people are saying.

                    1. re: HollyDolly
                      Scargod Oct 1, 2009 08:57 AM

                      It's in Seymour, CT. I'm trying not to continually disparage them by name.

              2. s
                Steve Sep 22, 2009 08:48 PM

                I don't have a very high opinion of the taste of the general public, so an empty restaurant to me could mean that the food is very very good. Like others have said, I'm more worried about the good places being able to stay open.

                Furthermore, if I am the only customer in a place, that gives me a better opportunity to meet the owner or talk to the staff about the food. I'm not saying I want to be the only person there, but I am willing to do that and to take advantage of the situation.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Steve
                  kattyeyes Sep 23, 2009 03:28 PM

                  Yes, agree with all you said--esp. your second paragraph. We do that--and enjoy it--often! ;) The Vietnamese place I mentioned above is a great example of that...also one of our favorite local Chinese places.

                2. t
                  thinks too much Sep 28, 2009 09:05 AM

                  Being the only customer or the last customer in a restaurant often makes me feel unsettled. The waitstaff do not have a buzz of activity, so I can find that I have significantly worse service. For example, they're not walking by with other people's food, so they don't notice that my water glass is empty. If the restaurant is slow, then the food may have been prepped today, yesterday ....

                  I'm not a lemming, but if I know nothing about a restaurant, I probably won't stop at the one with an empty parking lot. If I'm walking along, I'll depend more on sniffing the air in front.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: thinks too much
                    Will Owen Sep 28, 2009 10:46 AM

                    "For example, they're not walking by with other people's food, so they don't notice that my water glass is empty." Yeah, but if the joint's empty they're more likely to notice the guy waving his water glass around, especially if he's hollering "YO! AGUA AQUI!" or whatever.

                    I don't mind being the last customer, unless the staff are throwing chairs on top of tables and running the vacuum cleaner. That can be unsettling, especially if my main course hasn't arrived yet. As for being first, that's a good opportunity to establish an informal rapport with the waiter, discuss the menu in a personal way, stuff like that. That also kinda obligates one to leave a good tip, but I'd probably do that anyway.

                    1. re: Will Owen
                      Scargod Sep 28, 2009 10:53 AM

                      An excellent point, Will. I like to chum up to the waitstaff or manager/owner when a place is not too busy. It's easier to get some real skinny then. Also easier to make a lasting impression for the next time.

                      1. re: Will Owen
                        t
                        thinks too much Sep 28, 2009 12:16 PM

                        "Yeah, but if the joint's empty they're more likely to notice the guy waving his water glass around, especially if he's hollering "YO! AGUA AQUI!" or whatever."

                        Sorry, not my style, whether it's crowded or not. I find that the waitstaff may lurk in the kitchen for the company if there is only one table seated... or study at the host station. It's reasonable; after all, I don't want them watching me intently since there's no one else to scan through. Just doesn't make for an ideal eating situation.

                        1. re: thinks too much
                          s
                          Steve Sep 28, 2009 01:43 PM

                          Somebody has got to be the first one through the door. If it's not gonna be you, then I'm darn glad there are others who will take the lead.

                          1. re: Steve
                            kattyeyes Sep 28, 2009 02:58 PM

                            WOOF, WOOF! Spoken like a true Chowhound--well said, Steve! :)

                            1. re: Steve
                              t
                              thinks too much Oct 1, 2009 09:00 AM

                              I don't have a problem being the first one through the door. I just don't want to be the last one.

                            2. re: thinks too much
                              Will Owen Sep 28, 2009 02:40 PM

                              My point is - or I think it is! - that I'm in there for one reason only: to have a decent meal. While waving one's empty glass and hollering would be boorish in a busy room, if it's just me and them what the hell. I am borderline fanatical about a customer's prerogatives, whichever side of the counter I'm on (he is not perhaps always right but he IS always The Customer), and if I'm the only one in there those guys have but one priority: to assist me in having that decent meal.

                        2. sebetti Sep 28, 2009 02:00 PM

                          There are so many reasons a restaurant could be empty, I wish people wouldn't make snap judgments based on clientele or lack thereof.

                          Of course, since I live in a restaurant wasteland that is quite close (but not close enough) to a restaurant wonderland, I hate, Hate, HATE it when I see my favorite place in my little town (Peruvian in a really old strip mall) empty. It is by far the best restaurant in town and I'm so scared that it’s going to close. If it disappears, I'll be stuck with one 'good enough' Thai place in the land of the Olive Gardens.

                          Speaking of which, although I don’t usually post on other sites, it’s time to post a review of this place. Anything to get more traffic in that door.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: sebetti
                            Scargod Sep 28, 2009 02:20 PM

                            I'm with you. It is just sad when someone doesn't have the prime location or they don't know how to do anything but cook well... and don't know how to compete with the chains.
                            I remember a great little restaurant who took over where a simple cafe had been. They started serving really good and different entrees and the locals turned their noses up.
                            Fortunately they reworked the menu and came back at it slowly and had success.
                            Please use Yelp and all the others to get the word out!
                            I also remember a tiny place, in the same small town, with Szechuan cuisine I loved. Those hicks just didn't take to it.

                            1. re: Scargod
                              Passadumkeg Sep 28, 2009 03:53 PM

                              Golly Gee, I ought to start a thread on why people go to chains! Double dope slap to the back of the head.

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