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What would you like the future of dining to be?


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 10:36 PM

So, there have been a number of predictions about the future of dining, and I hope we'll talk about those. But I also think it would be interesting to hear what folks are thinking should happen in the future of dining.

What would you like to see change, improve, disappear? What would make you enjoy dining more? And what would you like to see less of?

One thing I'd very much like to see is a reversal of the trend towards what I call "too much noise, too little light." It seems there is some sort of rulebook for new restaurants that says they have to be dark, crowded and loud. Indeed I have heard tell of a number of studies indicating that dark, crowded and loud restaurants are more appealing to customers than well-lit, spacious and quiet restaurants.

Now, I have been speaking to audiences in several states about my book, and I have taken some informal polls. I have asked each audience, "Anybody who prefers dark, crowded and loud restaurants to well-lit, spacious and quiet restaurants please raise your hand." So far, not a single person in a single audience has raised a hand. Me, I'll happily pay extra for light, space and quiet.

Nor do I think darkness should go on being equated with romance. The whole sex-with-the-lights-off thing is a Puritanical holdover, and doesn't resonate with me at all. I think it's far more romantic for me to be able to see the woman I'm with. As for the benefit of her being able to see me, well, I'm less certain. In any event, I'd like to be able to see the menu without having to use a flashlight and wouldn't mind being able to see the damn food either.

What's on everybody else's mind?

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#2 M.X.Hassett

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 10:51 PM

I would like to see more tasting menus not neccesarily on the high end of dining but more in mid-range local venues, I guess we are seeing this with the "tapas" concept such as the bar at MoMa were one can create there own tasting menu per se(no pun). I am also getting tired of the "too much noise, too little light." concept which to me stems right to the see and be seen type establishments(I.E. Amy Sacco's new rest)

Edit: Not that saccos is low on light but it is one of the see and be seen type places

Edited by M.X.Hassett, 25 September 2005 - 10:53 PM.

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#3 M.X.Hassett

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 11:01 PM

The open kitchen thing everywhere is also starting to wear a little thin imho. There are some places where this works, but I think it needs to be the proper setting.

Edit: I do not need to see the kitchen at cafe grey I know chef Kunz is running a top notch kitchen without having to see it.

Edited by M.X.Hassett, 25 September 2005 - 11:02 PM.

Matthew Xavier Hassett aka "M.X.Hassett"

"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters-it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an exellent electioneering potion..."
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#4 Pan

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 11:07 PM

[...]One thing I'd very much like to see is a reversal of the trend towards what I call "too much noise, too little light."

[...]Nor do I think darkness should go on being equated with romance. The whole sex-with-the-lights-off thing is a Puritanical holdover, and doesn't resonate with me at all. I think it's far more romantic for me to be able to see the woman I'm with.[...]

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Agreed completely. I want to see the food I'm eating and the person I'm with.

One interesting idea that just popped into my head is that I'd love to see a greater availability of hard cider, and more varieties thereof, and not just in bars but also restaurants. Cider can be very fruity to very dry, and it's possible that a restaurant that sold the novelty of cider pairings with an inventive cuisine might establish a niche for itself. I also think that a really good sake can be amazing and that the trend of high-end restaurants that are not Japanese offering more sake pairings will probably continue. I wouldn't be surprised to see more different kinds of Asian drinks (e.g. Soju/Shochu) offered in mid-to-high-end establishments, especially as Asia increases in global importance and visibility throughout the rest of the world.

Continuing with this brainstorm, I was very impressed by some of the food I had in California this past summer. It's often said that national trends in the US start in California. If that's true in the case of cuisine -- and I think it may be -- there could be a spread of a type of cuisine that is fusion without so calling itself, a kind of natural fusion produced by and for people who grew up eating at the local taquerias, Chinese and Japanese restaurants, the Persian place down the road, etc.; a cuisine that emphasizes high-quality and often organic ingredients from the high end to places priced like diners. I believe that the Northwest Coast in the US and Canada (and perhaps the Southwest?) also have developed comparable local cuisines. I hope that we can get food like that in New York without having to pay like $100 a head for it. With wine or another type of high-quality alcoholic beverage that goes well with the food.

Edited by Pan, 26 September 2005 - 01:59 AM.


#5 Jennifer Iannolo

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 11:23 PM

I'd be interested in seeing less of the starstruck reaction to celebrity chefs as phenomenon, and more interest in the food itself -- particularly one stemming from an interest in the chef's philosophy. (A big request, I know. A girl can dream.)

It is my fervent hope that the pull of the former will lead to the latter, but I'm not sure how we will get from one to the other. (Understand that I am speaking of the mass audience, and not learned gastronomes.)

I am also in the more light, less noise faction, btw. If I need to put the menu near the candle to see, well, that's a fire hazard.
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#6 M.X.Hassett

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 11:35 PM

"I'd be interested in seeing less of the starstruck reaction to celebrity chefs as phenomenon, and more interest in the food itself -- particularly one stemming from an interest in the chef's philosophy. (A big request, I know. A girl can dream.)"

I would have to say that I have been very upset a number of times going to upscale starred chef rest', and seeing people who are not enjoying the food trying to convince themeselves that it is them and not the food. I.E. a few years ago I was doing a multi-course tasting and one of the dishes was espresso crusted lamb, the couple next to me where saying to each other that they did not like this dish, "but this must be what good food is" :angry:. It is sad because it might turn these people off to inovative cuisine. There seems to be a common mentality that because it is chef so and so, and the meal costs this much it must be good and it must be something wrong with "us". Taste and pallete are very varied and subjective.

Edited for clarity

Edited by M.X.Hassett, 25 September 2005 - 11:36 PM.

Matthew Xavier Hassett aka "M.X.Hassett"

"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters-it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an exellent electioneering potion..."
- Balance and Columbian Repository. May 13, 1806

#7 jackal10

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 01:16 AM

Now, I have been speaking to audiences in several states about my book, and I have taken some informal polls. I have asked each audience, "Anybody who prefers dark, crowded and loud restaurants to well-lit, spacious and quiet restaurants please raise your hand." So far, not a single person in a single audience has raised a hand. Me, I'll happily pay extra for light, space and quiet.


Raises hand!
Count me as one who prefers not to dine spotlight. I am not a public spectable. I want my virtual space to be warm, comfortable and intimate, not a brightly lit operating theatre
Enough light to see the food certainly, but give me candlelight, mahogony, fine silver and china anytime, with the servers in the outer darkness.
I hate pinspots aimed at the table, and in my eyes. Usually goes with hard walls and uncomfortable chairs.

I predict a return to heritage food "cuisine grandmere", away from the industrial gells and foams of the MG movement. I doubt (but regret) that this will also bring back proper silver service, since the majority of wait staff are not skilled in the art. Thus I expect most food will still be plated in the kitchen in irrelevant towers. The problem with plated service is you get the amount the chef decides, not you - only three drops of that delicious sauce, or too much of the inedible garnish
With luck there may be a return to "family style" service, where the food is placed in serving dishes on the table for the diners to help themselves to the amount they want.

Another trend is the shortening of menu descriptions. Before it was getting silly
with each dish described in minute detail, including the provenence of the meat's grandparents. Nowdays it has swung too far the other way, with the menu description is more likely to be just "Beef", with the meat preccede by two or three unannounced small courses.

Edited by jackal10, 26 September 2005 - 01:33 AM.


#8 Apicio

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 06:50 AM

This post also belongs in the thread of Extinct restaurants you miss. In the eighties and a good part of the nineties, I frequented Le Régence at the Plaza Hotel Athénée not entirely because of the food. Their food was not astounding but was well conceived and executed. Not for the winelist either because as winelists go it was just adequate. I returned time and again because the room was beautiful, the welcome was not familiar but warm and formal, the service was solicitous but not hovering and the acoustics of the place allowed only the occasional distant clinks of glasses. I can sum up the ambiance as “dreamy.” I wish the future of dining to go back to that direction. Of course, I am aware that one man’s dream is another man’s nightmare.

Edited by Apicio, 26 September 2005 - 07:06 AM.



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#9 Bux

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 07:57 AM

Some people dislike table h'hote or even the concept of a fixed tasting menu, they need all the choice they can get. I am addled by menus that are all over the place. At diners and luncheonettes in NY I see so much choice that not only do I not know what to order, but I forget if I'm there for breakfast or dinner. I don't enjoy that. From there let me segue into your post which offers too much to discuss in one thread.

I hope others will continue to start single topic threads by quoting a section of a post in this thread. I learned to dine, or at least to appreciate food, in France as much as any other place. It's not that I've spent so much time in France but that my exposure came at opportune moments in my life and quite frankly, just eating, let alone dining, in France was not only so much more pleasurable than it was back home, it made more sense every step of the way including the way diners held their knives and forks.

Almost everything about dining in NY has improved so much since I first adopted my French prejudices. The greatest improvement is the food, I've had a half dozen meals in NY this year that would have qualified for at least two Michelin stars in terms of the food. That is to say, they were destination meals. I'd separate noise and light, they don't necessarily go together. I disllike both darkness, often carried to an extreme and excessive noise. That I put up with both may be some indication that my choices are still limited. I don't know. Indeed one of the restaurants I'd cite as destination and perhaps the one that served my single best meal, and the one I often find most intolerably dark is Blue Hill. The most outrageouosly noisy restaurant we visit regularly is Balthazar where I can barely hear the person in front of me. Then again when Mrs. B and I pop in for a hamburger because we've both had a hard day, maybe it's not so bad we can't hear each other vent about the day and by the time we're ready to leave, we've both had some wine and a good meal, and are ready to be sociable again.

Hopscothing across your menu, hopefully with some continuity, The six or seven best meals I've had which I would classify as deserving to be at the end of a destination were at Daniel, Per Se, WD-50, Blue Hill and in the burbs, Stone Barns. A decade ago, I don't think I would have been able to put meals at a restaurant as informal as Blue Hill, or WD-50, in that class. I think this is a trend that will continue. I've gone from being a poor student and artist unable to afford the "better" restaurants, to learning to appreciate the refinements of a fine restaurant, which at first I begrudgingly paid for although I was simply in search of the food. In time however, I learned to appreciate the art of dining and moreso the art of serving and the performance of the servers, really a dance with the diners, most often with the waiter as an invisible partner. This became a large part of the joy of dining out and well worth the price, as the performance of a professionally ballet corps is not necessarily more enjoyable than one's daughter's school play but still worth the price of admission. Nevertheless, it's removed from the actual food and the food itself may be enjoyed in simpler surroundings and with somewhat more abrupt service. Fine food, if not fine dining, in casual restaurants is a trend that's increasing at the moment although this too may be cyclical, dependent on the economy or just a reflection of our broader culture. The latter may be most influential here. The appreciation of fine food may have been the province of the wealthy until recently and the service of such food reflected their lifestyle. In fact, I believe you've already said this much in one of your posts in the roundtable. Let me check. Ah, you've said something similar in both posts. This, I think is the closest to what I'm getting at here:

Fine dining has gone from being something that aristocrats did at home, to something former aristocrats did in restaurants, to something anybody with a hundred dollars of disposable income can do. Moreover, there are now people with a lot more than a hundred dollars of disposable income who bear no resemblance to aristocracy. While there have long been nouveau riche, it is really with the dot-com generation that we see nouveau riche who have no desire to emulate existing riche.

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#10 M.X.Hassett

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 11:38 AM

I would also like to see less "dumbed-down" ethnic food, more china 46 as opposed to more gen. tsao. I know that some of these dishes are good for people with little experience with the cuisine but it would be nice to see more places do the china 46 thing, small section of "american faves" and then a large section of traditional offering. I think this works well as an intro because it allows people to order what they are familier with, and maybe order an adventuresome app. and maybe a main course the next time around. Allowing them to eventuelly enjoy the "true" cuisine. But have you tried to get real Thai food recently, it is a joke.
Matthew Xavier Hassett aka "M.X.Hassett"

"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters-it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an exellent electioneering potion..."
- Balance and Columbian Repository. May 13, 1806

#11 clark wolf

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 09:08 AM

People who like lots of sound vote with their credit cards. They go a lot. Lower light just makes people look younger and smoother, which can often be a nice change. But these are certainly not top restaurants. They're expensive hot spots.

After the 80's indulgence people went to clubs less but still wanted the club feel. And while nightclub food had historically been less than wonderful - or often awful - it was time to upgrade and crossbreed. The result was fairly clubby restaurants where the food was better than expected.

Good restaurants have light enough to see. You're talking about "fancy" restaurants, which often have no connection with being good.

I think time and space and comfort will always appeal and while some may be intimidated into accepting certain discomforts, calling it chic, people with experience and confidence will opt for a long Friday lunch at Per Se, Saturday mid-day at the Grill Room of the Four Seasons (restaurant) or supper on the Terrace at the Splendido in Portofino.

In fact I see major meals as super indulgence moving some to daytime, or mid-day, where they've been in many cultures for thousands of years. We like living longer and want to be comfy and healthy a (sometimes) trim so my idea of heaven is 3 1/2 hours at the French Laundry followed by an afternoon nap, a light supper and then to bed. Anyone care to join me?

#12 Busboy

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 09:28 AM

I'd like to see more places selling well-prepared food at affordable prices. There are far more upscale restaurants than I have the time or the money to explore. What I can't find --outside of bars, chains and ethnic restaurants -- is a place where my wife and I can eat a good meal and have a bottle of wine for less than $100. Last night we went to a good, "affordable" Italian place near our house for small plates and wine -- admittedly a good deal of wine -- and dropped $147.

How about a $25 3-course menu and a half-liter of drinkable house wine for $10 (we'll take two, please)? I'm happy to work from a limited menu, in a room that is less-than-spectacularly designed. I don't mind if there's no "buzz" and the service is a little slow (as long as it's competent). I just don't want to have to blow the budget to get a decent meal on a Wednesday night.
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#13 Pan

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 01:35 PM

Thanks for bringing this back to Earth, Busboy. Let's face it, only rich people or perhaps people who are so fanatical about high-end food that they are maniacally frugal in all other areas of their lives can afford to eat out regularly at places like Per Se. Whatever the future of dining will be, it isn't going to be only for the richest. I like my food but don't expect to ever go to Per Se unless someone decides to treat me.

#14 mikeycook

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 01:57 PM

Although there is probably little chance of this happening, I would love to see the return of top chefs who only have one restaurant, and actually spend time there. It is gratifying to go to a place like WD-50 or Gotham Bar and Grill and know that the chef is actually involved in the process, whether it is cooking directly or just overseeing the preparation of the meals.

Going to a restaurant owned by a chef who has spread themselves too thin is like going to see a concert and finding out that the band has been replaced by a tribute band. They may be the same songs, but they don't sound the same.

Edited by mikeycook, 29 September 2005 - 01:59 PM.

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#15 clark wolf

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 11:26 AM

My hope for the near future is to see the rise of more celebratory and what some call refined dining that includes the flavors of India, Greece, the Middle East and many points Latin, at the very least. It's a good step towards tipping our vestigial hats to other cultures and including the world at our table.

I guess I also hope that special cooking and dining will come back into the American home, at least from time to time. If children get to learn where food actually comes from and how it gets magically to a transcendent state at the table their lives will be enriched, and so will ours. Savoring really good food and feeling so totally alive, do go well together. Life is short and crazy and difficult enough without ignoring the gifts in front of us. I'm so thrilled and humbled by a perfectly ripe peach or a wonderfully roasted chicken. Yes, truffles can be extraordinary - hey, they smell and taste like sex - and so can a briny sweet oyster. What I love about the entire endeavor is how it can engage us so fully physically, viscerally, sensually, and indeed politically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. What else does that and fills our stomachs to boot?

#16 Marlene

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 12:42 PM

I like Clark's point about bringing cooking and dining back into the home. I dine at home as often as I dine out. For dining at home, I'd like to see a resurgence of a nicely set table, accented perhaps by a small centrepiece, with all the different forks and utensils one would use at a restaurant. Creating specialty dishes at homeis a great way to introduce others to new foods in a familiar setting which hopefully would have the result of making them less fearful of dining out at different restaurant and more likely to enjoy the experience. If one dines well at home, it's a wonderful opporunity to teach children how to dine well at a restaurant.

For dining out, I'd like to see more (better?) wines by the glass, half bottles etc. I like to pair wines to courses and the current offerings of wines in singles doesn't play well. I also happen to like lower light and less noise, but then I'm in the class of getting older and I'll take all the help I can get with lighting. :biggrin:
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#17 Tess

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 12:48 PM

For dining out, I'd like to see more (better?) wines by the glass, half bottles etc.  I like to pair wines to courses and the current offerings of wines in singles doesn't play well. 


I completely agree.

Also, I'd like there to be more affordable choices in wine at most places, but I suppose I'm dreaming.