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Robert Schonfeld

The Room

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To what degree is your pleasure in a restaurant experience affected by the physical surroundings? Is it important to you that the setting for your meal be commensurate with the food being offered, and/or with your expectations? Do you care where you sit? Do you go out of your way to obtain a certain table? Do you ask for another table if you are displeased with the one you've been shown? What about noise? Temperature? The comfort of the chairs? Would you be happy with a great meal at a bad table? Would you be happy with a so-so meal in a great room at a great table?


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Robert, this is a topic close to my heart. Yes, a room and ambiance is very important to me. If I'm stuck in a table near the bathroom, hat check or can see dirty dishes, it does ruin the dining experience for me.

Sometimes I'm in the right restaurant but with the wrong person.  Sometimes I'm in the wrong restaurant with the wrong person. Sometimes I'm in the right restaurant but order the wrong thing.  So many factors come into play and then there's the control factor that one gives up when leaving home. I have claustrophobia and hate being packed in like a sardine with other people. Many Manhattanites, like me, have small apartments and galley kitchens. If I want to be cramped, I'll stay home with my cats and share some tuna fish with them.

Another thing that bothers me in restaurant spaces is when I'm being led to a table near the bar where people are smoking. Smelly smoke totally ruins my meal. My friends and I will ask to be moved. The host/ess always seems slightly surprised by the request.

In general, I do believe restaurant space and ambiance is very important. The owners realize this and spend thousands and thousands of dollars on the design. We're not just going to a restaurant anymore, we're going to theater and the more fun and unique the space is, the bigger the crowd scene.

One thing I must admit: I still love banquettes and find them more comfortable and private than sitting at cramped tables. I had lunch the other day with a friend at Gotham and lunch was delicious but we were seated one on top of the other in a long row of tables. Fortunately, my neighbors were a quiet bunch and I was able to hear our own conversation.

I'm interested in hearing comments from other people.

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My experience in a restaurant can be greatly affected by this. I want to feel relaxed and comfortable when I'm eating and if I don’t like the table and there are others available I will ask to be moved.  If I am seated at an awkwardly positioned table, one near the toilets, door etc or (my main pet hate this one) tables which are too close together I can get annoyed but my other half normally tells me to shut up and enjoy the meal!  If I have been to the restaurant before I will sometimes request a certain table but some restaurants are reluctant to do this (I suppose it must be quite annoying if everyone requested specific tables).  I am also not a fan of the long bench style dining table - I don’t want to fight for elbow room when eating.  

Does anyone know if a book exists which gives you details of the best tables to get in restaurants?

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I have three pet peeves when it comes to restaurant dining:  insufficient lighting (Craftbar); bad acoustics or a design that makes for an inordinately LOUD room (Drovers Tap Room when it was open; Cornelia Street Cafe; Pastis), although sometimes the patrons are at fault; and cramped tables (most but not all Indian restaurants in the Village; Po; Meet Cafe).

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i have to think the lighting issue affects different people differently.  i have very good vision, and have rarely had a problem with lighting.

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A good seat in an attractive room makes me well-disposed towards the menu and the food.  If the ambience is lousy, the food has to be excellent to overcome that disadvantage.

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Ambience definitely affects the dining experience.

My main pet peeve lately is small tables too close together-it's an epidemic.  I don't want to be forced to eavesdrop on my neighbor's conversation.  

I was once seated too closed to a roaring fireplace.  They were kind enough to move us before we melted.

Good service, however, is the most important to me.  It can make up for lack of ambience in most cases, but bad service casts a dark shadow on the whole experience no matter how good the food/ambience is.


Challah back!

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i have to think the lighting issue affects different people differently.  i have very good vision, and have rarely had a problem with lighting.

Well, Tommy, I too have good vision, but if I or my companion(s) have to squint and hold flashlights/candles next to the menu just to read the print, then something's wrong and its not our eyeballs...

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Design affects the ambience in any room,and if you've come for the whole experience of a restaurant,of course it matters.Lighting,acoustics,and a comfortable table matter,especially if you are having a long meal.I'm still wondering how many people have figured out how to latch the bathroom door at Craftbar...

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To me the room matters a lot. For example, the Hotel Negresco in Nice has decor that is extremely outdated. And that extends to the decor in its restaurant Chantecler. But meanwhile the young chef at Chantecler, Allain Llorca, practices a modern cuisine. But despite mutlitple visits to Nice since Llorca replaced Dominique Le Stanc, I can't bring myself to go there despite being curious about the food. But if Llorca moved to hip new quarters I would run not walk there.

I feel the same about where I sit in a room. I want to be in a location that allows me to suss out the feel and rhythm of a room. Quite often I am led to a table by a host only to ask for a different one. And usually I am able to point to the table I want. When I'm at a restaurant, I like to see what the clientele looks like and I like to see what type of gymnastics the waitstaff goes through to please everyone. Especially tableside service which allows you to get a good idea of what lots of different dishes look like. I am nosy about what wines people are drinking too. For example, the other night I was at Lespinasse and the publisher of a famous wine publication was seated at the table right in front of me. He was drinking Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon which told me alot about him. And any dish that appears in the room which seems to be off menu will immediately make me summon the waiter for a confab.

As for noise, I prefer there isn't any but that is more out of my control. In a very noisy room, I try and engineer getting a table against a wall. A table in the middle of a noisy restaurant can ruin an evening. Temperature, good meal bad table etc.? These are all things that matter on a case by case basis. If I get seated in Siberia, that just means the food has to be that much more special. But if I get a ringside seat, I'm easier to please.

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I feel the same about where I sit in a room. I want to be in a location that allows me to suss out the feel and rhythm of a room. Quite often I am led to a table by a host only to ask for a different one. And usually I am able to point to the table I want. When I'm at a restaurant, I like to see what the clientele looks like and I like to see what type of gymnastics the waitstaff goes through to please everyone.

I have to agree with this as I genuinely dislike beang seated facing a wall (Unless it has a mirror... :raz: )

As for lighting, my eyes aren't what they used to be.  Several places have the lights way too low.  Paladar in the east Village would be pitch black except for the teeny candles on each table.  I would have liked to have brought in a Coleman lantern and fired it up.

The noise issue seems to become more of a factor with larger groups where one end of the table can't hear the other end.  If the din gets to the point where you can't hear the person next to you, it's pretty much intolerable.  It is interesting that many ownes/designers seem to try to increase the noise levels with lots of big windows, plaster, glass tabletops and tile floors.

Of course no discussion of restaurant noise would be complete without mention of loud cellphone blather or squalling babies...  :angry:


=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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Well, Tommy, I too have good vision, but if I or my companion(s) have to squint and hold flashlights/candles next to the menu just to read the print, then something's wrong and its not our eyeballs...

as i've suggested, it affects different people differently.  i have no problem with that!  i'm just sayin that you can't please all the people all the time.  what's dark for some may be just right for me.  

i rather like places that aren't too bright, but do have light directed towards the table.  after all, half the enjoyment of eating is looking.  or maybe 1/2 of the enjoyment.  but certainly some, and we can all agree on that.   :smile:

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Dining rooms in France are very bright and I like that. I don't like the NY/US concept of a restaurant as an intimate place--get a hotel room. I go out to eat to go out as well as eat. I like to see what other people are eating, and for that matter what they are wearing.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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On an even more picky note,I won't go to places where I don't like the decor.All the slick,over designed places that have too much theme going on make me feel silly and overwhelmed.Understatement in design leaves more room for the food,staff, and clientele to show themselves.[for better or worse]

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In general, decor and the space surrounding me are not particularly important to me. That being said, if a restaurant has particularly ravishing decor (subjective assessment) and subdued (in moderation) lighting, those factors would be a bonus. In NY, Cello offered the type of decor I like because it has (1) elements of burgundy, my favorite color, in the wood paneling, (2) Arman sculptures of musical instruments, (3) tempered lighting, (4) no gold or silver highlights that are prominent, and (5) a room that is not enormous.  I like Arman sculptures displayed beautifully (in contrast to the ones at Michel Rostang, which are not so displayed). In London, I liked the decor at Petrus before the recent change in wallpaper and the other recent adjustments. It too featured burgundy prominently.

Lighting is relevant. I prefer moderate lighting -- not too bright.  I am very sensitive to background music. I am also sensitive to the amount of space one has above one's seat and below one's table (i.e., it should be sufficient to cross one's legs).  Recently, I had a problem at Michel Bras and also at Lumiere's bar in Vancouver, where there was insufficient space. This problem sometimes exists with banquettes.

I do not particularly care where my table is located, although I tend to receive good tables. Exceptions include restaurants defined in part by the view offered (e.g., Tour d'Argent in Paris -- I sat in the lower part of the restaurant, but not adjacent to the window), and restaurants with views of landscapes that are claimed to inspire the cuisine (e.g., Michel Bras, which essentially has two "rows" of tables -- one being in front of the windows). For example, although some complain about L'Ambroisie's "back room" and I have not yet been seated there, it would not bother me if I were.

In sum, decor and the physical environment are a plus when they are appealing, but largely insignificant relative to cuisine considerations.  In general, Michelin three- and two-star restaurants tend to have a certain threshold of decor that more than suffices in my assessment. An extreme example of my emphasis on cuisine is Joe Shanghai, Manhattan Chinatown. I recently enjoyed Shanghainese soup dumplings with crabmeat there during lunch-hour. I had to sit at a communal round table. Nonetheless, I was happy to take in the soup dumplings. I could have chosen the West 56th branch of Joe Shanghai, which has better decor and service, but thought nothing of the physical environment.  :wink:

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Would anyone care to name favorite restaurants,design wise?I'm curious...and there are many places in the world that I've yet to visit.My absolute favorite is the River Cafe in London.

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wingding's input leads to the question of what members think about non-Japanese restaurants with some or all of their kitchen areas visible to seated diners. Examples of this in London include: River Cafe, Eyre Brothers (limited area in the back), St John.  :wink:

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Wow! You folks are so picky! :smile:

If a restaurant is expensive, I want decor. If it isn't expensive, any nice decor I can get is a bonus. I prefer not to sit near the door if it's cold; I prefer to have enough space to back up my chair enough to get up and get to the bathroom easily when necessary; I don't like to sit where I can smell smoke; and I prefer not to sit right next to the waiter stand, where that's an issue (but I enjoy sitting where I can see the kitchen; that's fun). Otherwise, I don't much care where I sit, as long as I can get the attention of the waiter.

What I care most about is having good food (and, when I'm paying, for a fair and affordable price). A place with great food and great decor (and, of course, great service) is simply a great restaurant, but if the decor is just OK but unobjectionable, the service is acceptable, and the food is fabulous, I'm OK with that. On the other hand, if the decor is great, the food is mediocre, and the prices are high, I'm not interested in eating there at all. Back in the 1970s, Maxwell's Plum was known for having unique, interesting (many would say loud) decor, but the food was well-known to be mediocre. So when my older brother and I were in that neighborhood, we would get permission from the friendly staff to look at the ceilings, but we did not stay to eat there.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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I have to agree with this as I genuinely dislike beang seated facing a wall (Unless it has a mirror...

Er,these days I definitely DON'T want to be sat facing a wall with a mirror on it.

Steve,what exactly did the fact that the guy was drinking Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon tell you about him? They stock Jordan wines in my local off licence and I find them all absolutely delicious.

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Tony - Sorry to say this but it's a second rate (and possibly third at this point) wine. When you are the publisher of one of the most powerful wine magazines in the world and can have any bottle of wine you want (and write it off) you can do a lot better than to drink Jordan. For example, the couple sitting to the left of us was drinking 1972 La Tache. Moi, I was drinking 1999 Meo-Camuzet Clos Vougeot. The wine list at Lespinasse has every single bottle of great Bordeaux on it, many top Burgs and Rhones and if you like New World wines, all  the top Ca. wines were on the list. How one picks that wine in that environment beats me.

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I believe Grimes described Blue Hill (NYC) as having no decor, or something to that effect. I think its decor is the result of a very sophisiticated design, albeit one without much applied decor.

I love the room at Eleven Madison Park (NYC). It's terrific at night, but even better when there's daylight coming through the large windows. Maybe that's because it's also so bright by daylight.

:wink:

At Ouest, (NYC) the kitchen is literally in the middle of the restaurant and totally exposed. It's as if most of the back room is in the kitchen at the "chef's table." I should think it's a strain on the cooks, but then I've been in enough restaurants where the kitchen seems clean even in the heat of service and the cooks are so busy they don't have time to curse at each other.

Regarding Cabrale's comments about the view at Bras, I assume the tables up against the windows are the preferable ones, but I found I missed seeing what was happening in the dining room and that the waiters were all approaching the table from behind. I don't know that sitting in the front row, so to speak, was a treat. Perhaps later in the spring when the sun sets later and the view is greater, I might change my mind.

I enjoy a beautiful room, but don't find it important. In fact I'm not very fond of opulent rooms, although I can get a kick out of being in one. It's always interesting being in a new room. I'd rather see than be seen in a restaurant. If it's an upscale restaurant, I enjoy seeing the diners and the waitstaff in action. I enjoy seeing what others are eating and seeing the food as it arrives. I'd prefer special attention come in the form of food, not in the honor of a "good" table.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I like rooms that are dark and warm and cossetting,those that give you the closest approximation of going back to the womb or,to put it more prosaically,of being warm and relaxed under the duvet. I'm indifferent to lavish rooms with chandeliers and huge windows,

I love the lush greens and rich warm browns of Le Gavroche,the twilight and midnight blues of Rhodes in the Square(a restaurant without windows) the dark burnished woods of The Connaught,the cosy clubbiness of Joe Allen,the red velvet banquettes of The Gay Hussar,the touristy but effective Edwardian richness of Rules

A good room should have you blinking and slightly disorientated when you finally re-emerge into the 'real' world,a bit like coming out of the cinema.The room is a major part of the restaurant entertainment package that we buy into and it matters enormously.

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Regarding Cabrale's comments about the view at Bras, I assume the tables up against the windows are the preferable ones, but I found I missed seeing what was happening in the dining room and that the waiters were all approaching the table from behind. I don't know that sitting in the front row, so to speak, was a treat. Perhaps later in the spring when the sun sets later and the view is greater, I might change my mind.

Yes, I believe the tables right next to the length of windows are the preferred ones.  First, very generally (and with exceptions), each two tables in the "front row" have semi-see-through white screens separating it from other tables in the front row (although not from tables behind it in the "back row"). Second, there is no blockage from viewing the changing light in the sky and landscape surrounding the hotel/restaurant. Third, depending on which table one is seated at in the back row, one's own food may or may not come from the back as well. However, if one is in the back row, one would generally be able to view diners in the front row being served.  

Note that there are not sufficient sofas in the lounge near the entryway to the hotel/restaurant for all the tables in a service. This is a wonderful area in which to sit and take the amuses.  Members should consider this in determining what time to arrive at the restaurant for a meal or what time to leave their M Bras rooms for a meal.  If members do not obtain seating in the lounge before a meal, mention it to one of the principal members of the dining room service team (e.g., M Bras' daughter-in-law -- the young blonde, elegant woman not in uniform) that you would appreciate seating there after dinner.  :wink:

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In regard to the lounge and the dining room view, it was lovely at eight o'clock, but by the time we started dinner the sun had all but set and there was no view.  Aword to the wise is to arrive early if you want to be sure to have an aperatif in the lounge. The seating is limited. On the other hand, as we had a window table in the dining room, there was no need for us to enjoy the view in the lounge I suppose.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Lots of nice opinions here... Interesting to see how varied people's tastes are!

When I'm dining with my fiance, my preference is a dimly lit table in an intimate corner of the room, where I can concentrate wholly on her. Darkish colours are better than bright ones and, if possible, a brick wall can do wonders to the mood!

But when I'm out with a bunch of people, it doesn't really matter where we are seated. However, it is better if we sit at a table that is far from the intimate tables so as not to bother the couples who like to spend time together instead of having to listen to a big bunch of people making noise at the next table.

And, most importantly, I want a table in the non-smoking section of the restaurant. Thank the maker that there are laws to insist on every restaurant having them!

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