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Feb 28, 2012 12:00 PM

Which Types of Restaurants Fascinate You the Most?

I'm not asking which kind of food you like to go out to eat. I'm asking which types of restaurants create a total dining experience (including cuisine) that makes them your favorite.

For me, it's steakhouses and Indian restaurants.

When I speak of steakhouses, I mean those dark, intimate, clubable, and vaguely Italian-American steakhouses where the Sinatra wafts through the air and the red wine list is long. I simply love those places. They feel more like 1962 than 2012. And they typically serve a very mean cut of beef.

I love Indian restaurants because I've found the hosts, waitstaff and chefs in these establishment to be almost unfailingly dignified and charming; the Indian music (sometimes pop, sometimes not) makes a beguiling backdrop; I love ferreting out new Indian preparations (every Indian restaurant has a few specialties rarely seen elsewhere), and Indian chefs are not afraid to ratchet up the heat when I request it.

Which types of restaurants deliver the whole package for you?

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  1. If we're considering "the whole package", I'd choose a rijsttafel in the Netherlands.... rijsttafel is about the overall feast and not any one individual dish. Not for every day, but I get over to the Netherlands only a couple of times a year, so it works for me!

    Edit: the thread title asks "Which Types of Restaurants Fascinate You the Most?" but the post asks "I'm asking which types of restaurants create a total dining experience... " -- I answered the latter rather than the former.

    1 Reply
    1. re: drongo

      Yes, I'm afraid I didn't make myself very clear. Answer either question or both. For me, the restaurants that "deliver the whole package" are also the most interesting because they are about far more than just the food. They are an experience.

    2. If I can find a really good hole-in-the-wall, then that is a sublime experience for me. Some place that is so humble yet puts out food that is second to none.

      I compare it to the experience I've had visiting a painted wooden church in Poland vs. a towering Gothic cathedral. The big cathedrals leave me cold, but the small wooden church with colored panels fills me with such awe and warmth.

      1. Man great topic. I'm with you on the old-school Italian restaurant. If you ever get to Chicago you have to have dinner at Sabatino's. It's exactly the kind of place you describe: dim lighting, Sinatra, strolling violin players, piano lounge and cocktail bar. Best and most professional service I've encountered anywhere, and I am not a guy who usually cares about that kind of thing. It's the kind of place that jumps into my head when I hear the word "restaurant".

        There are two other kinds of restaurants that fascinate me. The first kind is the classic Chicago-style fast food stand. They all have pretty much the same eclectic menu: hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, gyros, char burgers, polish sausages, tamales, etc. and sometimes a lot of the choices are kind of mediocre. But damn if I don't love eating at these neighborhood grease pits. Surprisingly, the fries at these places are often cut in house and double fried, and they beat most fries anywhere else.

        The second kind is the Chinese buffet. Walking into one, I feel like Ali Baba entering the Cave of Wonders. Piles of gleaming treasure everywhere... it's almost too much, like sensory overload. No doubt the fascination comes from my voracious teenage years when food quality took a backseat (or was thrown out of the car) to other considerations like cheapness, not having to tip anybody, and above all unlimited quantity. It was dinner and a show, seeing corpulent ladies and gentlemen swarm the line when a fresh pan of crab legs came out, like watching a whale migration. These days I can't stack the plates like I used to but the Chinese buffet still holds a place in my clogged heart.

        2 Replies
        1. re: RealMenJulienne

          I've never eaten at a Chicago-style food stand, but they sound like my kind of gig. Certain "institutions" like that just have a certain aura about them. They're the sorts of places you need to make it a point of patronizing at least once in your life. And if they're close to hand you will probably become a regular.

          1. re: RealMenJulienne

            a roving violin player would make me want to stab myself in the face.

          2. i love reading menus from french restaurants. i also like restaurants that offer prix-fixe menus or chef's dinner, since it's fun to see what the chef likes to pair together as a complete meal.

            1. pub-cum-restaurants in Germany in small medieval towns/villages. usually in a medieval half-timbered house/building, good simple food, good beer, good price and always a clean toilet.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Pata_Negra

                The importance of a spiffy crapper is nothing to sniff at!