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Is there a correspondence between price and delicious food?

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gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 06:33 AM

I was creating a list the other day of my favorite dishes and discovered something surprising. All of my favorites are relatively low cost dishes, which would seem to contradict the notion that the best food comes from fancy, high-priced restaurants and exquisitely trained chefs.

Now, a ground rule before I get on to my question: I am talking about dishes that require a recipe here. You may go crazy over a truffle or three year aged parmesan. However, those are ingredients, not dishes. What I am talking about is dishes such as shrimp creole, a Chicago hot dog, a brownie, a Caesar salad (made the traditional way), etc.

My question is why should we spend large amounts of money going to high end restaurants when there seems to be little correspondence between what we spend and how much pleasure a dish gives us?

Lest discussion of this topic become a paean to "down-home cooking" and superiority of the common man, let me also say that I think that French chefs are culinary geniuses and I seek out the experience of a high end French restaurant whenever I can find one and afford it. But the question is why, when my top ten contains none of this fancy food?

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  1. b
    beevod RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 07:21 AM

    I have found little to surpass a room-temperature Goo Goo Cluster, and they are cheap.

    1 Reply
    1. re: beevod
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      Val RE: beevod Jul 15, 2011 05:46 PM

      <snicker>someone brought in a bag of ripe mangoes today at work...totally free...had a slice a few minutes ago...TOTAL deliciousness for nothing...sometimes these delicious items are free or very little cost (the mangoes go for $1 at store in season)...simple pleasures are the best!

    2. l
      LeoLioness RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 07:24 AM

      A high-end restaurant experience is about a lot more than just the food. You can't compare a tasting menu at a fine dining place to a taco from a truck. Both can be delicious (or not) but they are two completely different experiences.

      1. babette feasts RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 09:13 AM

        Not necessarily. Isn't that what chowhound is all about, finding deliciousness wherever you can?

        1. e
          escondido123 RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 09:47 AM

          What I cook and love at home is rarely what I order and eat out. When I want French food with the wonderful sauces I go out--but then it is an evening event and not just a meal. I also would say that many people who post on this board, myself included, would not agree with your premise that "the best food comes from fancy, high-priced restaurants and exquisitely trained chefs."

          1. cowboyardee RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 09:56 AM

            You say you appreciate high-end French cuisine but wonder why it doesn't make your top 10 most enjoyable meals. One factor I propose:

            The more humble fare you prefer evokes (for you) different people, places, times, maybe what you ate growing up or with people you love. It's comforting. You probably didn't grow up regularly eating French restaurant food, and as such it probably mostly evokes French restaurants, which doesn't quite give you that warm and fuzzy feeling. Taste is very psychological.

            One thing I take issue with though - you can't just separate expensive ingredients from expensive fine dining and say that's not what you're talking about. Expensive ingredients are probably the single most characteristic aspect of restaurant fine dining.

            Generally speaking, if you're paying a lot for a prepared meal, you're paying for one (or more) of the following three things, in descending order of likelihood:
            1) Expensive ingredients
            2) More laborious cooking, or at least cooking that entails skilled use of some specialized equipment
            3) You're paying for the flower arrangement on the table, the fine flatware, impeccable service, reputations of either the earned or unearned varieties, the sense of exclusivity, the delusion of special-ness, etc - in other words, stuff that has nothing to do with the food.

            The point is ingredients in large part make a dish. You and I can make a Caesar salad traditionally and still come out with completely different results - whether or not the olive oil is excellent, and the Parmesan is aged and special, and the lettuce is crisp and fresh and flavorful and maybe grown nearby, and the pepper is fresh cracked, etc... makes all the difference in the world.

            2 Replies
            1. re: cowboyardee
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              chocolatetartguy RE: cowboyardee Jul 15, 2011 06:46 PM

              You have absolutely the best screen name!

              1. re: chocolatetartguy
                cowboyardee RE: chocolatetartguy Jul 15, 2011 08:50 PM

                Thanks. It started as a really awful Halloween costume.

            2. m
              Muchlove RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 10:10 AM

              I don't think there is any connection between price and the deliciousness of the food. Some of the worst meals I have ever had were expensive, and some of the best were very very cheap. Then again, I've had some really good quite pricey meals and some really bad fairly-cheap meals. So no connection.

              1. Chemicalkinetics RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 10:24 AM

                First of all, foods are very personal. What tastes good to you may not be good to another person. I may love Chicago pizza, but you may hate it.

                I don't think good foods have to be found at high end restaurants. I think you are correct that many great foods can be found at affordable prices. That being said, this requires doing some homeworks which mean you are doing some screening, which means you are no longer talking about the average, rather special cases. While a brownie from a special tiny bakery store may be better than one from a fancy restaurant, it does not mean every brownies from every tiny bakery stores are better.

                Going back to your topic/question: is there a correspondence between price and delicious food? The answer is yes. As the price goes cheaper and cheaper, you will find more and more subpar foods with poor ingredients. As the price increases, you will find better ingredients, better cooking tools and more care are put into the foods. There is no question in my mind that a $7 hamburger, on average, will be better than a $1 one. This is not to say that you cannot find some $1 hamburger from a specific place that tastes better than a $7 hamburger somewhere else, but that is completely missing the meaing of correlation/corresponding. I can also find a specific smoker who lives longer and healthier than a specific nonsmoker. It does not, in the slightlest way, proves there is no correlation between smoking and bad health for the general public.

                After the price reaches above certain point, then the additional price goes to presentation and environment. At which point, it is not just about the food, but the overall experience.

                In short, yes, there is a correlation. Not an absolute 1-to-1 correlation, but there is a correlation.

                1. RealMenJulienne RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 10:42 AM

                  'My question is why should we spend large amounts of money going to high end restaurants when there seems to be little correspondence between what we spend and how much pleasure a dish gives us?'

                  It depends how much you value restaurant culture, or the whole experience of going out to eat rather than just the food. How much do you value sitting in a trendy environment, some guy carrying your food the short distance from the kitchen to your table, seeing and being seen, paying a high markup for drinks, attempting to impress your date, and risking looking like a cheapo becase someone else at the table thinks 15 - 20% is not enough? If these things are important to you then fine dining is totally worth the money.

                  Of the top three dining out experiences of my life, one was leaning over an exterior counter at a Polish sausage stand, one was sitting on the hood of my car outside a taqueria, and one was squatting in the street outside a stir-fry diner in Guiyang. I can distinctly remember every delicious detail of those meals and none of them cost more than $5. On the other hand, all the fine dining meals I ever had just blend together into a homogenous blur (helped along, no doubt, by many glasses of high-markup wine).

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: RealMenJulienne
                    Chemicalkinetics RE: RealMenJulienne Jul 11, 2011 10:46 AM

                    "attempting to impress your date, and risking looking like a cheapo becase someone else at the table thinks 15 - 20% is not enough?"

                    How much does pride and vanity worth? I say very important. Yet, I still come across as a cheapo...

                    :P

                    1. re: RealMenJulienne
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                      LeoLioness RE: RealMenJulienne Jul 11, 2011 12:28 PM

                      So the only benefits to high-end dining are completely shallow ones?

                      1. re: LeoLioness
                        RealMenJulienne RE: LeoLioness Jul 11, 2011 12:52 PM

                        'So the only benefits to high-end dining are completely shallow ones?'

                        Not every benefit, just most of them. To me the only non-shallow benefit to fine dining is that the chef’s skills far exceed my own, and that I can learn something new about food and perhaps even improve my own cooking by eating his fare. Everything else is dross. If a highly rated French restaurant with a genius chef allowed you to seat yourself, get your own food from a take-out window, pour your own wine, and charged an appropriately reduced cost then it would be worth it to eat there because then you’re not paying for nonsense.

                        Back to the OP, if his/her "top ten contains none of this fancy food" then I would say to forget the fine dining, focus on what makes you happy, and count yourself fortunate to have inexpensive passions.

                        1. re: RealMenJulienne
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                          escondido123 RE: RealMenJulienne Jul 11, 2011 01:15 PM

                          I believe people go out to eat for many reasons. For my husband and I, it's because we feel like getting out of the house, want to eat something the restaurant cooks better/differently from us, have a chance to try ingredients and combinations not readily available to us, and to relax and let someone else take care of everything--the shopping, the prep, the cooking, the cleanup. I don't consider any part of that "dross" but then we don't go to restaurants that we consider overpriced, overhyped or trendy.

                          1. re: RealMenJulienne
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                            Chowrin RE: RealMenJulienne Jul 18, 2011 12:52 PM

                            addition: the restaurant also has better buyers, who get first pick of produce, either from the farm, or from the shop.

                      2. e
                        ediblover RE: gfr1111 Jul 11, 2011 02:43 PM

                        Dishes and ingredients are really the same thing, no? My favorite foods are things like pizza and cookies. I like cheap ones. I also like pricey ones. What separates the two are the quality of ingredients and the execution; I've always thought that's why I'm paying higher prices.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ediblover
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                          escondido123 RE: ediblover Jul 11, 2011 03:03 PM

                          I don't think of dishes and ingredients as the same thing. You can have great ingredients and turn them into a terrible or wonderful dish. You can have inexpensive ingredients and do the same. But I would say if you have bad ingredients--old produce, artificial cheese and such--you are not likely to make a good dish. No?

                          1. re: escondido123
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                            ediblover RE: escondido123 Jul 11, 2011 03:31 PM

                            That's true. But, in the context of this subject, I think it's higher quality products resulting in higher prices. Most of us can make a mean x at home. But, in a restaurant, odds are they can make a better x because they've access to better ingredients (and equipment/techniques).

                            1. re: ediblover
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                              escondido123 RE: ediblover Jul 11, 2011 03:54 PM

                              Certainly they sometimes have access to certain ingredients that aren't readily accessible to everyone else. But when it comes to produce, for example, lots of people have access to great ingredients if they grow their own, find local farmers or go to farmers' markets. At mine, the prices are the same or less than at the grocery store, yet I get things that were picked within 24 hours, are the perfect size and have great flavor.

                        2. j
                          jamieeats RE: gfr1111 Jul 15, 2011 05:28 PM

                          another aspect that factors into "favorites" is frequency of eating the meal. i could eat a home-cooked simple fish or chicken dish with steamed vegetables every single night. and my boyfriend and i religiously order cheap thai take-out or burgers from our favorite sports bar on a sunday night, and i love our lazy nights on the couch eating cheap, easy food.

                          on the other hand, i really look forward to dinners where we dress nicely and go out to eat at more high-end, expensive restaurants and order interesting dishes. it's exciting to try new foods, fun, and everything tastes great. however, i could not eat those types of food on a regular basis, but it's the overall experience that makes it special.

                          1. c
                            chocolatetartguy RE: gfr1111 Jul 15, 2011 06:43 PM

                            Absolutely not. There are so many factors that affect one's enjoyment of food: the company, the place, the occasion, the food itself. I say price is the least important component.

                            I subscribe to an auteur theory of food. I judge food based on what the cook did with the materials they had to work with, no matter how minimal. I recently had a Hoosier sugar cream pie in Indianapolis. A little research showed that a farm kitchen usually had flour, sugar, milk/cream and shortening/butter on hand even if they had no fruit or nut filling for their pie. They made a humble, but very delicious, "desperation" pie from the simplest of ingredients. You can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I ask you, is there anything as perfect as a ripe peach?

                            IMHO to say that price is a determinant of deliciousness is misguided.

                            1. pikawicca RE: gfr1111 Jul 15, 2011 06:53 PM

                              Great ingredients are not cheap. Local, seasonal produce, heritage breed pigs, free-range chickens, all are costly, and all taste better than the cheap crap you can buy at Costco or your local supermarket. Nothing beats fresh zucchini sauteed in some good olive oil. Supermarket zucchini? Watery, with no flavor at all.
                              (I make a killer shrimp creole with fresh gulf shrimp. If I can't get fresh, I just don't make it, as frozen shrimp tend to be mushy and tasteless.)

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: pikawicca
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                                sedimental RE: pikawicca Jul 15, 2011 07:14 PM

                                I agree with that.
                                For me, I am a great cook and I rarely shop at a traditional grocery store for most of my foods, therefore my daily meals are far superior and delicious than most restaurants can provide that are around me. But- when I go out, I either go for really high end/unusual/special/pricey dishes....or really cheap ones (especially deep fried delicious heart attack bombs-as I don't do that at home). The "middle of the road" places and dishes are of no interest to me. So, price is not as important to me for deliciousness as the dish itself.

                                1. re: sedimental
                                  chefathome RE: sedimental Jul 16, 2011 03:38 PM

                                  I'm with you. I shop for the most exotic and best ingredients I can possibly find, expensive or not. My favourite dishes often happen to be expensive and unusual but not always. I really like labour intensive cooking - the trickier the better! Things we have most often such as seared duck breast, duck confit, lamb, roast free range chicken stuffed with truffles, wild mushroom risotto, terrines, gelees, etc. can be expensive but other delicious dishes such as braised lentils, vichyssoise, bangers and mash and homemade pastas are very economical. I travel a lot and have had many glorious peasant dishes and definitely have an appreciation for them. The Zero Mile dishes are amazing and leave me in awe.

                                  Price is not the deciding factor for me. It is definitely the food itself. Great ingredients are my indulgence (and weakness). The experience is huge for me as well. One of the best meals I have had was a simple wood-fired pizza in coastal Italy because of the incredibly beautiful setting, sublime atmosphere and the company of the one I love. :-)

                                2. re: pikawicca
                                  GraydonCarter RE: pikawicca Jul 17, 2011 04:15 PM

                                  Sure the eggs at Volt are special, Bryan Voltaggio gets his produce locally and very fresh. Each egg has a hen's name written on the egg in pencil. Eggs with bright orange yolks are wonderful.

                                  However, I've had plenty of pretty good eggs where the place used grocery eggs. As long as they aren't using powdered or spoiled eggs, you can have a delicious breakfast.

                                  I've had high-end hamburgers. The beef is excellent, the patty lightly formed. Delicious. I've also had plenty of pretty good hamburgers where the place used grocery ground beef. As long as they aren't using frozen patties, you can have a delicious hamburger.

                                  1. re: pikawicca
                                    c
                                    Chowrin RE: pikawicca Jul 18, 2011 12:55 PM

                                    you like zucchini? I'm sorry, but nothing saves that crop. ditto with purslane. and I say this buying from the best local farmer, who knows his way around organic farming.
                                    My carrots from costco are local, and taste sweet and fine.
                                    Costco has many things that aren't "cheap crap" (though your produce section may be far worse than mine. i live in a farming state)

                                  2. t
                                    tastesgoodwhatisit RE: gfr1111 Jul 15, 2011 07:15 PM

                                    I find there is a definite lower limit in price with some foods. As a classic example, I've never had good cheap sushi. I've had decent, reasonably priced sushi, but if I want something that's really good I have to bit the bullet and pay for it. I've found this true in Japan as well - it's not just an issue of it being trendy. And I can see why - you need very fresh, high quality ingredients, which are not cheap here, and a specifically trained chef. And I'd list good sashimi in my top ten list of favourite foods.

                                    In some cases, higher prices are associated with better preparation. To take Caesar salad as an example - you can make a traditional Caesar yourself for a low price. But if you're eating out, cheaper or chain restaurants are unlikely to be doing the same thing - one thing you're paying for is the extra time it takes to custom make their own dressings when you order it. Or something like Beijing duck, which is amazingly good, but the preparation is time consuming and labour intensive. I can get cheap barbecued duck no problem, but if I want that gorgeous crunchy skin I need to pay more.

                                    On the other hand, something like a hot-dog is almost by definition a plebeian food - it's made out of the reject parts of the animal, after all. So buying an expensive version of it is generally a totally different food and it's going to hit it's peak at a relatively low price.

                                    1. Veggo RE: gfr1111 Jul 15, 2011 09:25 PM

                                      High-priced food is expected to be delicious. It can at best equal expectations, otherwise it disappoints. Discoveries of delicious, low priced food are delightful for being both unexpected pleasures plus being thrifty, and often occur serendipitously, or while traveling, or while capturing a special concurrent experience. A good life includes a blend of both.

                                      13 Replies
                                      1. re: Veggo
                                        GraydonCarter RE: Veggo Jul 17, 2011 04:24 PM

                                        Exactly. Expensive restaurants guarantee a delicious meal. There is no doubt the meal will be prepared correctly.

                                        You can get a good meal at a cheap place, but there are no guarantees. It is like a treasure hunt when you find the taco truck that serves incredible carnitas or al pastor tacos with fresh avocado and lime.

                                        1. re: GraydonCarter
                                          r
                                          racer x RE: GraydonCarter Jul 17, 2011 04:28 PM

                                          Expensive doesn't guarantee delicious.

                                          1. re: GraydonCarter
                                            s
                                            Steve RE: GraydonCarter Jul 17, 2011 08:42 PM

                                            "Expensive restaurants guarantee a delicious meal."

                                            You must be an easier mark than I am. I know you are in the DC area, so I can tell you that when Vidalia, Marcel's, CityZen, Komi, Il Laboratorio, DC Coast, Jean Louis Palladin, and others have been extolled heavily by the press, I have had undelicious meals at each one.

                                            1. re: GraydonCarter
                                              tatamagouche RE: GraydonCarter Jul 18, 2011 11:18 AM

                                              Hmm—really? Not in my experience. I've seen my share of rip-offs.

                                              Veggo didn't at all say expensive restaurants are delicious without exception, but rather that they're expected to be, whether or not those expectations are met.

                                              1. re: tatamagouche
                                                GraydonCarter RE: tatamagouche Jul 18, 2011 12:43 PM

                                                I think the guarantee is implicit. If you leave without getting what you want, that is your fault.

                                                1. re: GraydonCarter
                                                  c
                                                  Chowrin RE: GraydonCarter Jul 18, 2011 12:58 PM

                                                  I can name ten restaurants in my city that I would be quite displeased at eating at. They're to a one, expensive places. [n.b. fish allergies suck.]

                                                  1. re: GraydonCarter
                                                    tatamagouche RE: GraydonCarter Jul 18, 2011 02:15 PM

                                                    So every single expensive restaurant makes excellent food every time? Never makes a mistake, never has an off-night? There's no such thing as unsavory restaurateurs who charge high prices yet can't deliver on their promise (a promise not being a guarantee)? That's ridiculous. I feel as though I must not be understanding you correctly.

                                                    1. re: tatamagouche
                                                      GraydonCarter RE: tatamagouche Jul 21, 2011 12:29 AM

                                                      Okay well to the OP's point, "High Price" is not the same as "High End" implying "Fine Dining" - - there are more places on this planet that not only provide poor service and product, but overcharge as well.

                                                      I was talking about a fine dining place that any of us discriminating chowhounds would visit. If you receive your food and say, yes I ordered the fish but forgot that I have fish alergies, can I have something else instead? The owner would probably honor your request. If the kitchen serves you undercooked chicken and you bring it to the attention of management, they will replace it. That's sort of the meaning of the word guarantee.

                                                      1. re: GraydonCarter
                                                        tatamagouche RE: GraydonCarter Jul 21, 2011 07:38 AM

                                                        Ah, I actually *did* misunderstand you—you're talking less about culinary talent and more about the excellent service one would expect at a fine-dining place, which aims to provide a stellar experience.

                                                        That's a fair way to look at the question; I don't disagree with that.

                                                        1. re: tatamagouche
                                                          r
                                                          racer x RE: tatamagouche Jul 21, 2011 08:06 AM

                                                          And excellent service and preparing a dish "correctly" still don't necessarily make for delicious food, which is what I think the OP was really talking about.

                                                          If there were some way to divorce the food itself from the setting, the service, and the prices -- by somehow being able to have it from a lunchbox or at a picnic table, or even to be fed it with the lights off in the dark or blindfolded -- which kinds of food would delight your nose, mouth, and stomach more?
                                                          http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/t...
                                                          http://www.darkdiningprojects.com/dar...

                                                          We've seen that higher prices don't necessarily correlate with tastier in blind taste tests of wines, or even of bottled water. I think the OP is asking whether the same is true with food (although with foods taken as a whole rather than divided into neat little categories; apples and oranges, for all their differences, are still foods).

                                                          1. re: racer x
                                                            tatamagouche RE: racer x Jul 21, 2011 03:46 PM

                                                            Largely agree with you, though exactly what the OP is asking remains unclear to me. If the question you propose is the extent of it, then the answer seems obvious on its face—no, they don't correspond. The price of a dish (and recipe-based dishes are the explicit focus) involves all kinds of factors other than ingredients alone.

                                                            The thrust of the post, however, implies that because there's no automatic correlation, it's odd that he/she should ever eat expensive food. Which discounts those other factors—apples and oranges may both be food, but they're still distinctly apples and oranges. One wants the former sometimes, the latter at others.

                                                            That much he/she seems to admit when, despite having said all his/her favorite dishes aren't pricey ones, he she still seeks out high-end French restaurants.

                                                            So I'm still not sure what the premise here is.

                                                            1. re: tatamagouche
                                                              GraydonCarter RE: tatamagouche Jul 21, 2011 08:01 PM

                                                              The premise might be that we are all still seeking that most delicious meal... We've had an excellent taco al pastor from the food truck, but still dream of something even more wonderful.

                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter
                                                                tatamagouche RE: GraydonCarter Jul 22, 2011 04:13 PM

                                                                Ah, the eternally elusive even-more-perfect-than-perfect bite.

                                            2. goodhealthgourmet RE: gfr1111 Jul 15, 2011 10:28 PM

                                              My question is why should we spend large amounts of money going to high end restaurants when there seems to be little correspondence between what we spend and how much pleasure a dish gives us?
                                              ~~~~~~~~~
                                              i've often wondered the same thing. most of what i prepare at home - even using simple, basic ingredients - tastes much better than the standard restaurant meal. of course there are exceptions, but i tend to limit my restaurant dining these days to high-end/pricy establishments for special occasions, and sushi every once in a while.

                                              but i think my simplest answer to your question is that delicious food doesn't have to be expensive, and expensive food isn't always delicious.

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                Veggo RE: goodhealthgourmet Jul 15, 2011 10:40 PM

                                                Recall that restaurants strive to keep their food costs to about 27% of sale price, so your equivalent cooking is saving you 73% of the cost of eating out.

                                                1. re: Veggo
                                                  goodhealthgourmet RE: Veggo Jul 16, 2011 04:32 PM

                                                  indeed :)

                                                  1. re: Veggo
                                                    babette feasts RE: Veggo Jul 16, 2011 05:23 PM

                                                    If you factor in your retail price vs the restaurant's wholesale price of ingredients, you're probably only saving half. Not saying that's not significant, just saying.

                                                    1. re: babette feasts
                                                      Veggo RE: babette feasts Jul 16, 2011 05:28 PM

                                                      if I may ibid ghg, indeed :)

                                                      1. re: babette feasts
                                                        goodhealthgourmet RE: babette feasts Jul 16, 2011 06:16 PM

                                                        bottom line is that it no matter what the actual calculation, preparing most of my own meals benefits my bottom line...in more than just the financial sense ;)

                                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                          babette feasts RE: goodhealthgourmet Jul 17, 2011 08:03 AM

                                                          Of course.

                                                    2. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                      GraydonCarter RE: goodhealthgourmet Jul 17, 2011 04:43 PM

                                                      Some dishes are just very difficult to prepare at home, correctly. Congrats on the sushi.

                                                      I like to order liver and onions, because it just stinks up the kitchen, and I'm the only one in the family that loves it.

                                                    3. limster RE: gfr1111 Jul 16, 2011 09:57 AM

                                                      Amongst the really delicious stuff that I've had, it's been hard to find a correlation between price and deliciousness. The bread from a lesser known French-Japanese bakery beating the pants off that from a highly praised French restaurant with lots of accolades in the popular media, for example. In the proper hands, sous vide cooking finished properly can generate superb dishes at certain high end places, but the slow and low approach at great BBQ places also create a similar effect. More examples abound in the various boards here and many posters have already cited a bunch.

                                                      It's possible that part of it is due to supply and demand -- something equally delicious but that is less in demand would typically cost less. Many of folks here have a knack of uncovering under appreciated places which tend to follow this pattern. Then the mainstream media catches on, people come and prices rise.

                                                      There are also many factors that contribute to price beyond the food. While ingredient cost is one of them, it's worth noting that in many restaurants, ingredient costs are often the minor component in total costs. Real estate, rental, profit margins, salaries etc. all matter, and together, they matter more than ingredient costs the vast majority of the time. I remember SF and Boston chowhounds uncovering highly skilled chefs from China that were producing unbelievable banquet-level food; but those chefs don't have the same salaries as a celebrity chef with a big PR team (and paying for press releases, advertisement, PR management etc adds to the costs of the diner's meal).

                                                      Why do we spend large amounts of money to eat at high-end places? For me, like their inexpensive counterparts, some small percentage of these places also provide highly delicious food and it's worth finding those experiences that while not necessarily better, are different, and adds to the variety and range of things we get to eat.

                                                      1. r
                                                        racer x RE: gfr1111 Jul 16, 2011 12:34 PM

                                                        I totally endorse the observation that there tends to be an inverse correlation between price and deliciousness -- for me, anyway.
                                                        One of the perks of a job I had when I used to live in NYC was that I routinely got to eat at some of the most-celebrated restaurants in the city (and didn't have to pay for it). The food rarely thrilled me the way that much less-expensive food from far humbler restaurants did, and does. And when I would travel away from NYC to far-off lands, it was never that high-end "fine dining" food that I ached for. The cravings were always for cheaper food from decidedly un-fancy places.

                                                        I think cowboyardee made a very good point when he wrote, "The more humble fare you prefer evokes (for you) different people, places, times, maybe what you ate growing up or with people you love. It's comforting. You probably didn't grow up regularly eating French restaurant food, and as such it probably mostly evokes French restaurants, which doesn't quite give you that warm and fuzzy feeling. Taste is very psychological." But I don't completely agree. I think there's a lot more to it, at least in my own experience.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: racer x
                                                          c
                                                          Chowrin RE: racer x Jul 18, 2011 01:04 PM

                                                          ya. a boeuf bourginion (though french) is still peasant fare. good and tasty, and reminds of home.

                                                        2. r
                                                          racer x RE: gfr1111 Jul 16, 2011 12:49 PM

                                                          On the specific question, "why should we spend large amounts of money going to high end restaurants when there seems to be little correspondence between what we spend and how much pleasure a dish gives us?" RealMenJulienne hit the nail right on the head: "It depends how much you value restaurant culture, or the whole experience of going out to eat rather than just the food."

                                                          There's deliciousness of the food, in terms of tastes and smells. Then there's the whole restaurant culture theatre.
                                                          Two different, but intricately interwoven things.

                                                          And then there's the issue of visual artistry. I defined deliciousness in terms of tastes and smells above. But if you choose to also include appearance, and weight it heavily, then the correlation between deliciousness and price changes significantly.

                                                          Food like this
                                                          http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/ima...
                                                          or this
                                                          http://www.camemberu.com/2009/06/food...

                                                          is simply not available on the cheap.

                                                          1. applehome RE: gfr1111 Jul 16, 2011 04:33 PM

                                                            Apples and Oranges. What benefit is there in comparing the price of a bowl of incredible ramen at your favorite ramen stand to a dish at a Michelin 3-star restaurant?

                                                            There is a correlation between price and deliciousness within a specific product or type of dish. Most often, foods are cheaper at a place that uses shortcuts, either in labor, technique or ingredients. So the ramen at a hand-pulled noodle place will most likely be better than the cheaper one at the factory noodle place.

                                                            So the price issue isn't a factor in creating your top ten favorite foods list, but it probably ought to be a factor in creating your best versions of a dish list.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: applehome
                                                              limster RE: applehome Jul 17, 2011 12:13 AM

                                                              >>"Most often, foods are cheaper at a place that uses shortcuts, either in labor, technique or ingredients."

                                                              Foods can also be cheaper at places that pay less rent, in restaurants that are located in places with lower costs of living, or owned by people that don't mind a smaller profit margin. There are many factors that play into price, even in an apples to apples comparison, and it's probably better to consider each place on a case by case basis.

                                                              >>There is a correlation between price and deliciousness within a specific product or type of dish.

                                                              Again, not always. I've seen up to 2-3x differences in the price of identical bottles of wine. (And the lower price was at a place regarded for better stemware and storage.)

                                                              The overall trends are very likely to be true, but when one is considering the "best" places, they are by definition outliers, and the trends won't necessarily hold.

                                                              1. re: limster
                                                                applehome RE: limster Jul 17, 2011 10:25 AM

                                                                You're absolutely right. I would never recommend that someone chooses one ramen stand over another just because the price was higher. But if the purpose of this thread is to identify a correlation between price and quality, then you can find one within specific sets of data - whether that ought to be meaningful to anybody looking for the best food, that's doubtful. If you want the best food, read Chowhound.

                                                            2. a
                                                              awm922 RE: gfr1111 Jul 16, 2011 05:56 PM

                                                              I use the same philosophy for Food, Cigars and Wine. I try to find the best of each without overpaying for it. Not all culinary geniuses are working at the best restaurants. They have to start somewhere. You may find a small family restaurant where the chef has lots of talent and uses the best components he can find, but because they might not have a huge overhead, you can get a very good meal without breaking the bank.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: awm922
                                                                Veggo RE: awm922 Jul 16, 2011 06:02 PM

                                                                Nice to catch them in the nascent phase...good groceries, fair price.

                                                              2. s
                                                                Steve RE: gfr1111 Jul 16, 2011 06:36 PM

                                                                There is no basis for comparison for different types of food. It's impossible to compare Chinese food with pizza, and you can't compare that pizza with foie gras or whatever a great chef will do with it. None is ever better than the other. the people who think that more expensive food is better are fools.

                                                                However, more expensive food can provide a rarified experience, and that rare experience can be more valuable to you. I have enjoyed and been thrilled by some very expensive meals, but never more so than a great pizza which sent me back about $12.

                                                                1. tatamagouche RE: gfr1111 Jul 17, 2011 07:30 AM

                                                                  No.

                                                                  The dishes at high-end places tend to be one-off creations, not easily replicable. For instance, I was just perusing the menu of a Boston restaurant (Menton) listing four desserts that, though I don't have a sweet tooth, I'm dying to try:

                                                                  Pain Perdu
                                                                  Chocolate Stout Cream, Sassafras Glace, Mango Coulis

                                                                  Blueberry Moscato Soup
                                                                  Pistachio Cake, Lemonade Jelly, Lemon Verbena Glace

                                                                  Pine Nut Tart
                                                                  Balsamic Roasted Fig, Soy Chai Glace, Caramelized Mascarpone

                                                                  Elderflower Panna Cotta
                                                                  Rhubarb Glace, Sudachi Coulis, Poppy Seed Cake

                                                                  But I don't get *cravings* for those things because they're not in my repertoire of memories.

                                                                  I will probably never again have the best dish I ever ate in my life, which consisted of fried oysters, pickled beef tongue, melted gruyere, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing (long story).

                                                                  My top 10 would not include merely comfort foods, though it may indeed include some.

                                                                  So I guess I don't see a case to be made, one way or the other, based on logic or empirical evidence.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: tatamagouche
                                                                    tatamagouche RE: tatamagouche Jul 17, 2011 10:13 AM

                                                                    Now that I read this I'm not sure I made my point clearly, which is that to name favorite dishes like "shrimp creole, a Chicago hot dog, a brownie, a Caesar salad" is to name things that already exist. Doesn't seem to me to have anything to do with low-end vs. high-end, cheap vs. expensive ingredients; it has to do with the fact that, in coming up with a list of favorite dishes, you are presumably referring to dishes you enjoy over and over again. That's not likely to be the case at restaurants whose menus change constantly to showcase the creativity of the chef.

                                                                    1. re: tatamagouche
                                                                      chowser RE: tatamagouche Jul 17, 2011 10:55 AM

                                                                      I agree. It's like saying my favorite song is the Yellow Submarine and I can get that for 99 cents on iTunes. is it worth paying a lot more to go to concerts of different artists?

                                                                  2. Jetgirly RE: gfr1111 Jul 17, 2011 11:03 AM

                                                                    I don't eat at super-posh restaurants that often, but I've never had a bad hundred-dollar meal. I'm sure the law of averages says the more I eat meals that expensive the more likely I'll be to have a bad one, but for now I can say that fine dining has been good to me.

                                                                    I eat at not-fancy restaurants all the time. The food is sometimes amazing, usually good, and rarely bad.

                                                                    One thing that I should note is that I've pretty much tried everything my city has to offer for less than about thirty bucks (not that difficult as a vegetarian). When I do splurge on a fancy dinner I always search online for a place that offers something I haven't tried before, because creativity seems to come at a price.

                                                                    1. f
                                                                      florenceinsider RE: gfr1111 Jul 21, 2011 03:05 AM

                                                                      I agree 100% with you.

                                                                      Mediterranean cuisine is famed the world over and consists of simple, fresh ingredients that don't cost much at all. I eat in restaurants all over the world and 99% of the time the small, family-owned hole in the wall serves better food than the fancy restaurant. The reason? Well, if you are in a prime location with lush decor and uniformed servers, you have to cut costs somewhere...and it's usually the food. I know because I work in the business.

                                                                      I ALWAYS prefer a home-cooked meal to a restaurant meal. Better quality, better selection of ingredients and better kitchen hygiene (trust me).

                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                      1. re: florenceinsider
                                                                        tatamagouche RE: florenceinsider Jul 21, 2011 07:48 AM

                                                                        "If you are in a prime location with lush decor and uniformed servers, you have to cut costs somewhere...and it's usually the food."

                                                                        Or you raise prices. (Also, simple, fresh ingredients can be costly, as picawicca pointed out.)

                                                                        I guess I just don't agree with the premise of the OP. It's not an either/or proposition. There are mind-blowing meals to be had cheaply, and there are mind-blowing meals to be had at a price. In the latter case, you're also likely to be paying for other things, like ambiance and service. The experiences are completely different, and I enjoy both at different times. To prefer one to the other is not to prove that the latter is inferior.

                                                                        1. re: tatamagouche
                                                                          mamachef RE: tatamagouche Jul 21, 2011 05:13 PM

                                                                          I like this answer. My best answer is, I had a birria pambazo the other day and enjoyed it every bit as much (maybe more) than dinner at the French Laundry, where I felt completely ripped off and taken in by hype. And I paid four bucks for the birria, and I don't think Keller could've topped it, preparation or ingredients-wise. Now granted; my surroundings were a Walgreen's parking lot on one side, and the server's uniform consisted of jeans and a clean t-shirt, and the garden at the Laundry was much prettier, and aesthetically speaking, so was the food. But altogether? I'll take a goat torta in Fruitvale to salmon and caviar tartare cones in Yountville. That's just me though.

                                                                          1. re: mamachef
                                                                            Veggo RE: mamachef Jul 21, 2011 05:28 PM

                                                                            And for the same price, you can repeat the birria experience...40 times? I recall 3 tacos to go from a roadside stand near the Coba road in the Yucatan, maybe 3 bucks for the 3, and I ate the grilled stuffed jalapeno taco last, maybe 20 kilometers down the road. It was SOOOO good I stopped and contemplated going back for a couple more.

                                                                            1. re: Veggo
                                                                              mamachef RE: Veggo Jul 21, 2011 05:36 PM

                                                                              Snicker. I see you get my point, Veggo. And then you went and turned all vegetarian on us? Or was there ONLY jalapeno in those tacos? Ouch!

                                                                              1. re: mamachef
                                                                                Veggo RE: mamachef Jul 21, 2011 05:44 PM

                                                                                I, who devours split-hoofed animals ravenously, turned vegetarian on you? Not hardly. They hijacked my real name, plain and simple. You were kidding, right, Marci?

                                                                                Please say yes...I have been victimized by this confusion too many times!

                                                                                1. re: Veggo
                                                                                  mamachef RE: Veggo Jul 21, 2011 07:46 PM

                                                                                  I was kidding, Veggo. I know you to be an omnivore. :)

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