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Can Masa Really Be Worth THAT Much $?


BigboyDan
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Atlanta, on the other hand, has a lot of nouveau-riche going on. It's kind of hard to describe what it's like.

Atlanta is generally perceived by its denizens to be a city where you come here for a few years, make lots of money and go somewhere more family-friendly to settle down. People do not care much about improving the quality of the city, keeping good relations with those around them, or pretty much anything long-term, since they don't plan on staying.

Okay, I'm going to have to point out that not all of Atlanta is as FoodTutor describes. There are plenty of us who've been here a long time (many even born here) and plan on staying a long time, and consequently do invest in the community.

But a relatively large portion of the population is precisely the sort of transient nouveau riche (or not so riche) that she describes. She's unfortunately in an excellent position to see them up close and personal, given the location of the restaurants she's worked in [aside to point out that I know FoodTutor off line and so am familiar with those restaurants, even though I've either never or very rarely eaten in them].

Atlanta's very neighborhood-driven. Tell me where somebody lives here and I can probably tell you how long they've been in Atlanta and what their politics are and where they shop and eat.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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therese is right. We keep all of our nice people in her part of the city.

Not all of them. Really, some of my best friends live in...well, one of them does, anyway.

One of the best things about Atlanta, and what's attracted people here in droves, is the diverse and healthy economy. But one of the worst things about Atlanta, the thing that's driven sprawl and hellish traffic, is the diverse and healthy economy.

I read some time ago that Atlantans spend more per capita on dining out than anywhere else in the U.S. I don't know if this is still true, but I wouldn't be surprised. And though I do dine out frequently, I don't think it's enough to skew the data for the entire metro area.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Glad you had a good meal here. Did you go to Shiraz? Or Persepolis? I love Persian food, and we have a few good choices for it around that area.

I'm not sure. It was at the bottom of a hill on a side road heading east from the main drag and highway that goes up through the Perimeter Center area. Location was a small shopping center and the staff appeared to be Iranian. I had a fantastic chicken dish with raisins or currants, almonds and that marvelous golden rice that almost had a slight crunch to it.

I'm intrigued by the phenomenon that you both describe as being a significant part of Atlanta's transient population (obviously not everyone and certainly not applicable to hometown folks or those who've made a real cimmittment to the community). I've been spending a fair amount of time in Charlotte recently, which my GF relocated to two years ago and where I intend to move in early 2006. There are some who claim that Charlotte is going to be the next Atlanta but I sense a very distinct awareness and desire in that community to not let that happen. Charlotte does have a vibrant economy and mushrooming growth but there seems to be a committment to handling traffic and development in such a way as to minimize some of that growth's impact.

Charlotte has a limited number of fine dining options, none of which I've yet explored but I'll be curious to see what the scene is like.

New Jersey, the state where I lived most recently until relocating back to Syracuse, has had such an explosion of consipicuous consumerism that the statre government has toyed with the idea of passing a "McMansion tax" - sort of a special luxury tax on those overly onstentatious and enormous homes that are building in droves. I'd be curious to know if this sort of "eating in fancy places for the sake of saying one has been there" phenomenon has reached suburban NJ.

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As someone who is currently rather fiscally challenged, I can appreciate this thread. I currently couldn't afford to eat at Per Se or Masa (Especially as I'd need a transatlantic flight - I'll have to substitute the most expensive UK restaurants) without saving for several months, and at the moment there are other things I need first. If I didn't need these things then I might just do it, though I probably would only do it once.

It is about the only thing where your average Joe can think - No one else in the world is eating better than me right now - you'd have to be a multi millionaire to be driving the best car, wearing the best clothes and staying at the best hotels. That is definitely worth thinking about - especially when you get the bill!

The issue isn't that it isn't affordable - even at the highest levels fine dining is still accessible (If you stay of the wine at least!), it is that in terms of value I think I would get more enjoyment out of several meals at a v. good restaurant (Or be able to pay for two of us for one meal).

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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I go back to the economics..did it meet it's value and my expectations? There is a point of diminishing returns and it's usually the little things that push it there. The meal should be perfect, but the experience should be without any unpleasentness, and if there is any it should be quickly and generously compensated for. I won't go back if something pissed me off and was ignored. I like nice...

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New Jersey, the state where I lived most recently until relocating back to Syracuse, has had such an explosion of consipicuous consumerism that the statre government has toyed with the idea of passing a "McMansion tax" - sort of a special luxury tax on those overly onstentatious and enormous homes that are building in droves.  I'd be curious to know if this sort of "eating in fancy places for the sake of saying one has been there"  phenomenon has reached suburban NJ.

I want to address a couple of points made.

First, the situation you describe in Atlanta sounds very much like the situation in St. Louis. For one, St. Louis is very neighborhood-driven, and I don't think anyone west of highway 270 does not live in a subdivision. Incidentally, when I first moved to St. Louis, as a freshman in highschool (in 1996) someone asked me what subdivision I lived in. I had never heard that term before and was completely baffled.

Any rate, there's West County--or suburban St. Louis as portrayed in Edward Scissorhands or Desperate Housewives :wink: --and then there are areas like Clayton, University City and other neighborhoods just outside of the city proper--where people live in very old, very beautiful houses. It's overall a much wealthier area than the outer, West County suburbs like Chesterfield.

Therese, when you say: "Tell me where somebody lives here and I can probably tell you how long they've been in Atlanta and what their politics are and where they shop and eat" I think the same could be said about St. Louis. At least in my experience, people I met who had been born and raised there had very particular ideas about the kind of people living in West County. Nevermind what my relatives in NJ thought of St. Louis when we told them that's where we were moving. :blink:

Second, now I live in NJ, right on the border of Clifton and Upper Montclair (which is a wealthy suburb about 15 miles or so west of NYC), having attended college in NYC. I ride the train with these Upper Montclair/Glen Ridge dwellers and all I can say is--Bobos (as in bourgeois bohemians a la David Brooks). This may be harsh, but there is definite conspicuous consumption--i.e. Hummers, Land Rovers, Luis Vuitton, etc. When it comes to going to a restaurant just to have eaten there, there is certainly a lot of that, though I do not see a lot of people going and ordering just a salad. I see a lot of people going out and eating a lot, spending a lot of money, enjoying themselves.

A lot of people who move to these close-in NYC suburbs are moving out of NYC, are transplanted New Yorkers, and so are very aware of what is trendy in food, fashion, home design. And, they are, by their nature (like me), restaurant-focused. I know a lot of folks in my area go into NYC for special dinners or spend time seeking out fancy, new places in NJ. I also think that the sheer number of restaurants in the area and the number of people on the egullet/NJ board illustrate this. To answer your question, phaelon, yes there is a lot of conspicuous consumption in this area but as far as I can tell, people eating out are doing it to be on top of the newest trend/hot spot but also because they love food and trying new things. Is this specific to all NJ suburbs--no, certainly not--but that's because there can be such an economic shift from one street to another in north Jersey.

"After all, these are supposed to be gutsy spuds, not white tablecloth social climbers."

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And to answer the original question--I think for everyone at some point the law of diminishing returns comes into play. For me, that will never happen with food. I will scrimp and save for weeks to afford a dinner at Per Se or Alain Ducasse and will happily continue to do so. Eating out at these restaurants is a learning experience for me not to mention purely enjoyable and exciting.

Some people would never think of spending that much on food but will spend that much on clothes, handbags, electrical or computer equipment, movies, DVDs, or musical instruments, etc. I know this is the easy way out but I truly think that this depends on the person and how they want to spend their money.

As for a poor person being able to save, I don't want to touch that one! I will remain on the sidelines for that conversation. :biggrin:

"After all, these are supposed to be gutsy spuds, not white tablecloth social climbers."

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This is a truly interesting thread and one that has made me think. Over the years I have traveled quite a bit, mostly in th US, and have been treated to many "expense account" dinners at top restaurants. I am sure that many of those, with wine, were bumping the $300 (US) point. Now that I have thought about it, I really can't remember any of the food! Now, admittedly, I haven't spent much time at all in New York and have not been to any of the trendier new places with the more adventuresome cuisine like French Laundry or Per Se. But, the main thing I remember about Le Bec Fin is the flowers. Tony's in Houston . . . the wine glasses and silverware. There are other examples but you see what I mean.

I do remember the food at Brennan's but that doesn't really qualify as it is somewhat difficult to spend $100 (US) per person unless you go nuts on the wine. (I can taste the turtle soup now.) I also remember the $4 (US) grilled fish with beans and rice on the beach in Cozumel 25 years ago. So I am going to guess that it is all about the food to me.

So, what is my price point when spending my own money? That is a really good question. I am thinking that $150 (US) is pushing it, even though I could afford a higher number on occasion. Maybe I just don't have that discerning a palate. Maybe my "food memory" is faulty. Maybe there are other things that I value more and I can see myself staring at that tab with a distasteful dessert of buyer's remorse.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I spend a lot of money on going out. If my husband and I didn't go out for, say, six weeks, we'd have enough to go to one of the very top places. We like to travel and look for good restaurants when we do. But, we haven't been to anyplace on the level of French Laundry or Charlie Trotter's, because. Well. This is kind of embarrassing for me to admit here, but. Well. I'm a bit of a picky eater. I never thought of myself as especially picky, but I don't like any seafood or any organ meats. And it's not that I haven't tried them - I try something from those categories every year or so, and I still don't like them. A tasting menu studded with foie gras and caviar is like my own personal version of "Fear Factor". And whenever I read about the dishes in the highest-end restaurants, they just don't sound good to me - I remember reading in Wine Spectator about some Michelin 3-star restaurant that had a featured dish of pig's foot stuffed with innards. Didn't really make me want to run out and book a flight.

So I guess for me, restaurant-going has not a diminishing-returns curve that steadily rises and flattens toward the top, but more of a bell curve where, after a certain price point, the return starts to drop again. I would rather have 6 $100 meals, or 2 $300 meals, than one $600. I think I'd probably rather have one $300 meal than one $600 - I could spend the extra on some really good wine.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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Food is mind bogglingly cheap compared to some of the other outward displays of affluence that humans have managed to invent. According to this webpage, the top 10 restaurants in the world commonly only charge between $200 and $300 per diner.

$300 per night, say you dine out 2 times a week, 40 weeks a year. Thats $24,000 a year. The difference in depreciation between, say a Mercedes and a Ford would be about the same in one year.

Yet, somehow, buying a mercedes over a ford is seen as a perfectly normal activity for a upper middle class aspiring towards pretentions of greatness yet eating at some of the worlds absolute best restaurants every freaking weekend nearly every week is seen as mind bogglingly extravagant.

My take on it is that there are certain things which are priced at such a point where you can either not afford to eat the best or you can afford to eat the best with ease but very little middle ground. Once your in the category of people who can afford million dollar houses and exotic holidays, the choice not to constantly eat at 4 star joints isn't economics, its because even truffled foie gras topped with caviar gets repetitive after a while.

Sort of reprising an argument over on the "Dumbing Down of the Westen Palate" topic.

mongo_jones expressed the difference quite well in an earlier post. I happen to think that the $125 my partner and I spent on Sunday brunch at the Swann Lounge at the Four Seasons Philadelphia was an excellent value, and I have similar happy memories of the $160 dinner we had in the Fountain Restaurant there 15 years earlier. I can--and have--used those memories to suggest to anyone visiting Philadelphia that they absolutely should not miss a chance to dine at the Four Seasons if they have the time and money. But it's hard to let the general public know what a Refined/Cultured/Intelligent/Rich/... person you are by showing off your memories of a marvelous meal out.

And to the extent that people spend money on expensive things as a way of communicating their social (or perhaps merely economic) status to friends and strangers, spending lots of money on something you can't display produces no real return.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I won't split nuances with you, or argue about who might be able to save up enough to have one of these meals. I will, however, give you my opinion on this type of perverse cosumerism to which many snobs seem to be attracted.

I think this is grossly flaunting one's station in life and I look forward to the time when these establishments start charging reasonable prices because their clients have gone bust due to their sorry judgdment.

rj

Martinis don't come from vodka and bacon don't come from turkeys!

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I think this is grossly flaunting one's station in life and I look forward to the time when these establishments start charging reasonable prices because their clients have gone bust due to their sorry judgdment.

rj

Hmm. Perverse consumerism? Perhaps if you are talking about a $5000 bottle of wine, but in the case of a $300 meal, there are many cases where one could charge that amount and only be making a, relatively, small profit. One of those cases being if one is paying for real estate in Manhattan, out of which you can serve the best fish available.

Aside from the $1000 omelette and a few other things that are meant to be ridiculous by definition, the price of food in restaurants has a lot to do with realistic food costs. Foie gras really does cost quite a bit (retail $60-70/pound, wholesale about $40/pound), so if your goal is to keep your food cost under 35%, well, I'm sure you can do the math.

So I really don't expect to see any "dollar sushi" nights at Masa anytime soon. But it would be nice to see a few of these SUV dealerships close up shop. There are much worse examples of conspicuous consumption than eating in restaurants.

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For me it's really hard to say whether a meal is worth it's price. Many factors are involved. When I sit down to eat I generally tend to not just think about the food cost, but the location, time spent there, staff, decor, service, chef's experience etc. I especially think about the staff. There's a lot of sweat, blood, and tears invovled when you choose to be a cook. For those chefs who have spent their whole lives training and learning, I really don't mind paying the dollars for all that education and hard work. But the problem is you are never guaranteed that the person making your food is the one you thought it was. How do you feel when a just graduated culinary student is making your $400 food? It helps to find out whether the chef/owner or exec chef will be present the night of your reservation. I don't mind if a student is cooking for me as long as the head chef is overseeing it all.

It really comes down to your personality. For example, just last night I was at an event where a chef was demonstrating making paella. He talked about the cost of the saffron or olive oil and he asked how many people buy an expensive ingredient then when they go to use it they only use a tiny bit so it will last longer, but end up with a dish with no flavour. What's the point of a paella with saffron if you can't taste the saffron? I like to taste the saffron.

"One chocolate truffle is more satisfying than a dozen artificially flavored dessert cakes." Darra Goldstein, Gastronomica Journal, Spring 2005 Edition

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I agree with the bell curve idea. I can see a rate of diminishing returns. I've, in my life, had just a few fine dining meals. A handful in the $150 per person range and one in the $300 per person range (Gordon Ramsay, London). I would be unlikely to repeat the $300 per person meal because, while it was excellent, I didn't see it as a significant step up from the $150 meal. (assuming there is no expense account, of course) However, when we do these meals, it is with much research and I know very clearly what I'm getting into and decide purposefully that is what we want. We do a fair amount of research. Perhaps I'd be tempted by a truly special place and occasion to try that 2 standard deviations out price point again, but it would have to be really compelling, not just a because it's there sort of thing. I find that "social climbing through fine dining" idea to be very strange. I believe it exists, but I can't imagine buying into it. Perhaps it is just because I don't live in a very competitive place, economically at least.

What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

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Hell Yes. If I could afford it I would definately dine at Per Se, French Laundry, and all the other top notch restaurants I could get to. I'd love to experience that food, ambiance, service, and wine. The few times in my life that I've been lucky enough to eat in such places, they've been evenings that I always remember. If I had the money, why not?

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.”

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  • 3 weeks later...
Hey Doc,

we could all eat at Kurumazushi AND sushi Yasuda and still come out ahead on price with Masa :smile:

Here's another way of thinking about it. The best box seats at the Metropolitan Opera cost $450. They are sold out for practically every performance. I don't know the exact number of seats at that price, but there are certainly more than 26 of them, which is the seating capacity at Masa. For the same price, you could go to four Broadway musicals and have some money left over.

Yet, the Met is selling out every night at the $450 price range. For about the same price, you could go to Masa. Either way, you're getting several hours of pleasure (be it musical or culinary pleasure) at the highest level the city has to offer. Masa has the advantage that it's probably a lot more consistent night-over-night than the Met.

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Interesting way of putting it, oakapple. HWOE and I tend to do the comparison of "for that money, we could eat X times at [fill in current favorite cheapo place]" which of course is NOT fair.

Personally, though, I'd rather do standing room more often because the experience is perfectly satisfying; but that one-shot expense for such a meal is tempting . . .

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Interesting way of putting it, oakapple. HWOE and I tend to do the comparison of "for that money, we could eat X times at [fill in current favorite cheapo place]" which of course is NOT fair. [...]

Sure it's fair. It's certainly accurate, but how the value matches up for you is subjective and personal.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Hey Doc,

we could all eat at Kurumazushi AND sushi Yasuda and still come out ahead on price with Masa :smile:

Someday we might need to add it to the comparison! :laugh: Someday. It's probably no worse than what I spent at Ducasse. It will be awhile before I get to do anything like that again, though.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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There's a piece in today's St. Petersburg Times that quotes, among others, Oakapple (from what he wrote here) and me (from an interview with the writer, Janet Keeler). Also some guy named Anthony Bourdain, who apparently posts here (also quoted from this topic, I think). A very thoughtful piece, I thought, that makes a few points you don't often see in mass media coverage of $350 meals, most importantly:

The price of a Masa meal is breathtaking until you compare it to other entertainment for which stratospheric excess has become the norm. Club seats for the Super Bowl in Jacksonville are $600 each - face value. On eBay, tickets are easily topping $1,000. Prime orchestra seats for the Metropolitan Opera can cost more than $200. And you can't even taste the music.

Full story: http://www.sptimes.com/2005/01/04/news_pf/...eals_crit.shtml

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Nice mention of your book, FG.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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