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May 26, 2012 07:05 AM

The Chowhound of my youth. [moved from Not about Food board]

Every day for years, before checking email, before checking Facebook, I am on Chowhound. First to Northern New England board, which I am on the edge of, then Southern, then NYC, my old stomping grounds, Then onto an area I am soon to visit (now it's Philadelphia) And then on to CHOW. After which onto an area I dream of visiting. For the limited traveling I can afford it has always been an incredible trove of useful information, especially for those of us on a budget. Also, many times I have used the topical boards to answer questions I can't seem to find anywhere else.
But, I feel a yolk slipping into the frothy whites, deflating the meringue. More and more I am seeing posts which are arguing about 15 vs 21 courses at the newest gastro-porn restaurant. More and more, instead of finding the best authentic kilbasa or diner hash browns, I am hearing the disgust of a patron seeing someone in sneakers at the latest top-chef masturbation parlor.
I have always made a distinction between foodies and chowhounds, the latter being far more interested in culinary culture and less with "the newest thing" At $150 for the tasting menu ($200 with wine parings) I am feeling I am in a club more for the 1% instead of a place for all food nerds.

Discuss amongst yourselves!

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  1. "at the latest top-chef masturbation parlor" But please tell us how you really feel?

    1. Hey jefpen2, can I refer you back to your post inquiring about foie gras back on June 29th, 2006? Not exactly food for the masses. ;) I think there is still lively discussion about hound places--an example would be a little spot in Chelmsford that serves Mongolian food. I just posted something about a Tamil restaurant opening soon in Nashua, though it has not gotten much response. Some of the original posters on the Northern New England board have gotten bored I think--not a whole lot of new activity on the restaurant scene.

      2 Replies
      1. re: whs

        Yes, my foie gras - faux pas . That actually was for my 20th wedding anniversary dinner. We splurge once a year. For us a splurge is $150 or so for the both of us with tip. The lack of culinary adventures in Northern New England is another one of my peeves. I just don't think we have the population, $, or diversity.

        1. re: jefpen2

          If you want diversity, visit Manchester NH. We have Nepali, Caribbean, Hungarian, Vietnamese, you name it. Just drove by a store called "Glory to God African Market" that could have been on a corner in Monrovia.

      2. I ve been reading for about 10 years now and don't really sense much of a difference

        1. It's certainly not about the latest trends, but it's not about prices either. Some $5 meals are great, some aren't. Some $500 meals are great, some aren't. Have had great multi-course meals and poor 1 course ones (and vice versa). The sole criteria has always been deliciousness.

          Ultimately, it's about thinking and eating critically, rather than blindly following what everyone says is good. Which means exploration and uncovering places, foods and dishes that don't get the attention they deserve, and actually tasting the food to see if it's any good.

          And may I humbly suggest, not as a response to the OP, but as a general comment, that rather than checking chowhound first, go check a neighbourhood first. The chow is out there, not on some internet site. The best source of undiscovered deliciousness is in the real world.

          17 Replies
            1. re: limster

              If I am visiting from far away chances are my time is limited , therefore I don't want to take a chance on the first thing I pass by because I could be missing out on something awesOme tht would prefer. Some of our best meals have been found researching in CH.

              1. re: melpy

                I think it takes a balance of the two. Exploring is fun but I hate leaving an area and learning too late that there was something absolutely delicious I missed that I could have found with a simple search. I want to find deliciousness in the world, whether it is undiscovered or discovered.

                If we're only focused on undiscovered, none of us need to be here nor report on good food.

                1. re: chowser

                  The process of discovery takes a lot of effort -- to really understand what a place and their food isn't something that can be accomplished by a few meals where one tastes tens of dishes over a short period of time. Often, it's with the collaborative efforts from multiple chowhounds reporting on dishes over a long period that really completes a discovery.

                  Information like which is the good chef/cook and what day s/he is on, what the seasonal specialities are (which takes at least a year to figure out), which dishes out of perhaps a hundred are the best (some restaurants have even more), any off-menu items that plays to the strengths of the kitchen.

                  The way chowhounds use that information is to try known dishes to calibrate, and more importantly, to figure out what is unknown (e.g. dishes not reported on) so that those knowledge gaps can be filled. It's not simply a case of looking to see what other like, and just ordering the same thing.

                  Same principles apply to restaurants as to dishes -- chowhounds use reports on the site to find out which restaurants are unknowns and convert them to knowns. These reports thus allow folks to divide and conquer, and collaborate on getting in-depth information about a place that would be quite involved for one or two people to obtain.

                  It's not about delicious food -- it's about even more delicious food! Given the sparse coverage of places and/or dishes, there's often some even better just around the metaphorical corner, and I hate missing those.

                  The problem with many discovered places is that they often become crowded and hard to get into, and often the kitchen doesn't scale well to a larger customer base, resulting in a drop in quality. Hence the motivation for moving on to the next better thing.

                  1. re: limster

                    That makes sense when you're in an area for a long time but if you're visiting for a few days, you can try to discover, dumb luck often, the right dishes, the right place, the right chef, or you can use a source like CH to narrow it down. I recently took a week long trip where we explored, found some decent and some REALLY bad, far more bad than good. I agree that the process of discovery takes a lot of effort and I'd also add time. That's something a visitor doesn't have so I see a reason to do both, go to discovered and undiscovered places.

                    Do you always charter new grounds, or have you ever gone by what you've read on CH? I'm not saying anyone should blindly go, based on CH reports, to a particular restaurant, order a particular dish, etc. But, it's a good starting point.

                    The other factor is how often a person eats out. If you eat out a lot, discovery is par for the course. If it's only once a month or so, reports are far more helpful.

                    1. re: chowser

                      There are plenty of ways to research places you're visiting. CH's usefulness is to help me AVOID the bad places, and guide me towards the better places. But chowhounding instincts are the still best tool. I recently traveled to a city with another CH that has almost no coverage on these boards, but we found some really great local food. And yes, the report is long overdue.

                      1. re: E Eto

                        Definitely. I am also a big proponent of following your gut and have found good places that way, too. I think of CH as another tool.

                        As I said, I think part of it is frequency of eating out. There are obviously people who eat out often, have good instinct, and because of frequency write off the bad meals. But, for someone who doesn't, that bad meal might be the only meal out for a while. An analogy for me would be baking, say chocolate chip cookies. I bake them often and have over the years, plus I read everything I can about them. I experiment often w/ good recipes, play around and do my own, can generally tell looking at a recipe if it's one I want to try (not that it means there won't be bad ones). OTOH, I wouldn't expect someone who doesn't bake to have that "instinct' on recipes or want to experiment as much. And, in that case, I'm happy to help them narrow down recipes that fit what they want. CH is different things to people; and different parts of CH mean different things to people. I'd never tell the person who wanted a good chocolate chip recipe to discover it on his/her own. Maybe I want more deliciousness, but they just want a good cookie. Similarly, maybe a person wants the best meal he/she can get and doesn't have time/money to experiment.

                      2. re: chowser

                        Although discovery takes lots of time and effort, collaborating with other chowhounds reduces the time and effort per person dramatically. This makes it easier for everyone to start discovering, which might mean trying a new dish or category of dishes at a place that other chowhounds have been, or trying a place that hasn't been reported. As a result one doesn't have to try everything, just the ones that haven't been tried, along with a few known standards for calibration/comparison.

                        If one eats out very often, it's possible to try 10 places and compare them. But if one doesn't eat out often, sites like these boards allow folks to figure out that 9 of the 10 places are heavily reported, enabling them to zero in on the last one to see if it's good. Reading the reports here helps to figure out what's undiscovered and lowers the entry barrier for everyone to start chowhounding.

                        Luck plays a part, but often chowhounds don't go into a place blind. One reads the menu outside, sometimes one goes in to ask about specific dishes or if they have other menus/specials, looks at the food people are getting, gets a whiff of the dishes as they go by. Is there some speciality that the place makes that suggests the kitchen's expertise in certain cuisines? If folks love the fish there, are the prawns just as good? Lots of quick and easy detective work to decide if the place if worth trying.

                        Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd like to think that as long as people think and eat critically and independently, anyone can be a good judge of what's delicious and what's not (at least to themselves).

                        Travelling actually affords the best chowhounding experiences -- it gives one a chance to explore a completely different area. And often visitors provide a refreshing perspective that locals can't.

                        Discovery is important for getting deliciousness because lots of places are unknowns -- how can one sure sure that the best place out of 500 is really the best place in a city with 3000 restaurants? Also, places change after they get discovered, often (but not always) for the worse. Typically, positive media coverage means that the place becomes difficult to get in, a kitchen that is dealing with more covers than what it might be able to handle (thus a drop in quality) and price increases.

                        Different people use this site for different purposes. But we should also acknowledge that the reason that chowhound is a useful board for all these purposes is because of the in-depth discovery process (as opposed to mere trophy collection) that comes about from online collaboration.

                        1. re: limster

                          I completely agree and don't think we're saying unlike things. The purpose of chowhound is to help find your own best food, but not to find "the best" dishes as defined by others.

                          " as a general comment, that rather than checking chowhound first, go check a neighbourhood first."

                          When you posted that, my thought was that you meant to ignore CH altogether. From what you've said since, it sounds like you're meaning checking it out yourself, and adding CH as a source, rather than the other way around. Either way, I think both methods are fine but the point is that CH isn't an end all to finding deliciousness.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Actually, I just came across Jim Leff's blog entry here and it approximates my sentiments:

                            (Sorry for the verbosity, perhaps this is a better summary below.


                            On one level, yes - ignore CH altogether, so that one isn't weighed down by the baggage when exploring.

                            On another level, if one isn't affected by the baggage, look through CH to find what's already known. Then go for the unknowns.

                            1. re: limster

                              Funny, I've linked to that post before. It's what lead me to wing it my whole last trip and I stumbled across about the worst restaurants I ever have. There were definitely warning signs as I sat down but then there's the question of when it's okay to back off of a restaurant.

                              I also wonder why Jim Leff found this site if that's his opinion. To share w/ people who aren't interested in reading about what you've found anyway because they prefer to freewheel?

                              1. re: chowser

                                I can't speak for Jim's opinion, but as mentioned above, I use the CH for calibration, to figure out what's unknown and for collaborating with other chowhounds on the process of discovery.

                                Mentioned a few approaches above that help me improve odds on stumbling onto good places. Another useful approach: grab one small dish per person, and then move on to the next; stretch a meal over 3-4 restaurants or carts or stalls. Particularly useful when travelling, especially when there are way more places to check out then there are meals.

                                1. re: limster

                                  Good idea on ordering from several stalls. We'll be travelling soon to a place where we can do that. It's like dollar cost averaging for good food. The thing I have to get over is hating crowds and waiting in line.

                          2. re: limster

                            I was reminded of this thread while watching Baron Ambrosia last night. He was on a culinary treasure hunt in Bridgeport Conn. - guided by a PT Barnum map and clues. He found a Haitian restaurant, a Peruvian ceviche place, and Jerk Chicken truck.

                            1. re: paulj

                              Hilarious -- it's a treasure hunt alright!

                              1. re: paulj

                                I wonder how many bad restaurants he discovered that ended on the cutting room floor.

                  2. You can't reasonably expect a public forum to be representative of your own preferences, even if it once did.