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Neighborhood Places


Sneakeater
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This will continue, if anyone can stomach it, the discussion at what is currently the end of the "Perry Street" thread about we mean when we call a restaurant a "neighborhood place". I think it belongs on the New York board and not the General board because I think such issues are locality-specific.

Without recapping the discussion this is split off from (you really should read it if you care about such things), let me start with this question:

Are the terms "neighborhood place" and "destination" antithetical and thus mutually exclusive? Or can a single place be both?

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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This will continue, if anyone can stomach it, the discussion at what is now the end of the "Perry Street" thread about we mean when we call a restaurant a "neighborhood place".  I think it belongs on the New York board and not the General board because I think such issues are locality-specific.

Without recapping the discussion this is split off from (you really should read it if you care about such things), let me start with this question:

Are the terms "neighborhood place" and "destination" antithetical and thus mutually exclusive?  Or can a single place be both?

Did not read the Perry thing, so I am sorry if I am repeating someone.

I think if its in a price range which allows the average person to eat there weekly, but is awesome.. It can be both.. I.E Celeste is a destination and a neighborhood place.. For cheese plate, for frito misto..

I would also think Grand Sichuan is a neighborhood and destination place..

Or Pam Real Thai is a destination for me at least and would be a neighborhood spot as well..

Tehutzingo is a destination for tacos for me as well as a neighborhood place..

Katz's is a neighborhood and destination..

Edited by Daniel (log)
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my real answer?

I think "neighborhood restaurant" and "destination restaurant" are not mutually exclusive for the simple reason that they are different types of descriptors in a taxonomic sense.

"Neighborhood restaurant" is a form descriptor...it deals with the intent of the owners. Restaurants in the MP are clearly not intended to be neighborhood restaurants. Places like Little Owl (and in my view, Perry Street) clearly are.

"Destination restaurant" can be juxtaposed because it is a quality descriptor. I see it as roughly equivalent to the Michelin explanation of a two star (or more) restaurant: a place worth a trip just to eat at.

Therefore, there is no contradiction between the two descriptors because they are in quite different categories.

(think about this for a second and it should be obvious. a restaurant can be a mediocre (or worse) restaurant and still be a neighborhood restaurant. there are many such. no crappy restaurant is truly a destination restaurant for those with astute palates.)

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i think the categories can definitely overlap. and a neighborhood place can morph into a destination place by word of mouth or a favorable review (might fatty crab be an example of that?), much to the dismay of the neighborhood regulars. and then there are places designed to have a neighborhood feel but with a desire to be destination place all along (might spotted pig be an example of that?). then there are some places that start out as neighborhood or destination places and pretty much stay that way (la giara (a great murray hill italian spot) and babbo, respectively, come to mind).

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put it this way:

Alias is a neighborhood restaurant. It also became a bit of a destination restaurant at one time.

Stanton Social is most certainly not a neighborhood restaurant. though the food is adequate, it's not a destination restaurant either.

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The only time I think a destination restaurant is not also a neighborhood restaurant is when the restaurant is too expensive or too difficult to get into for its neighborhood residents. Per Se and Masa qualify although more likely for the latter reason rather than the former given the neighborhood.

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I also think the question of availability has something to do with it. For example: with a good neighborhood place, chances are there's going to be a restaurant similar to it in several neighborhoods. Various neighborhoods can have good Italian food, good Thai food, etc. There would be no reason for me to travel from my neighborhood to another neighborhood for this. A destination place is a "one and only" sort of thing. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but there are certainly elements that can make them distinct one from the other.

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A neighborhood restaurant has to have a price structure and reservation structure such that neighbors can go there on impulse. If you can't say, "screw it, I don't feel like cooking tonight," and walk over to the place without checking your bank balance or begging for reservations, it ain't a neighborhood joint.

And just because some visiting/commuting foodies are seeking out a restaurant that meets the description above, doesn't make the place a destination restaurant. If my wife and I head into New York and hit Grand Sichuan, that doesn't make it "destination." When a lot of people like my Aunt Beth start hunting down Grand Sichuan, it's a destination restaurant.

And note that there are a lot of restaurants which are neither.

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The only time I think a destination restaurant is not also a neighborhood restaurant is when the restaurant is too expensive or too difficult to get into for its neighborhood residents. Per Se and Masa qualify although more likely for the latter reason rather than the former given the neighborhood.

i think this is a good, working definintion. i also think it's a beautiful thing when you have an affordable destination place right in your neighborhood.

A destination place is a "one and only" sort of thing. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but there are certainly elements that can make them distinct one from the other.

to "one and only" i would also add "best", be it best example of a style of cooking, or maybe even just one dish done particularly well that might drive you to a place, even if there is similar cuisine at a similar price, in your hood.

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I think Cakewalk's comment has a lot of validity to it - eGulleters aside, most people will not travel great distances for pizza, normal sushi, french bistros, etc. What makes something a destination restaurant is the willingness of the average person to say, I could eat similar food down the street, but I'm going to hop in the car/taxi/train/bus and go to this other, distant place because it's better somehow. I live on the UWS. I like Ouest, but if I lived downtown, I'd never hop on transportation to come eat at it, because to me it just isn't good enough for that - I'd sooner travel to Gramercy, or EMP, or Telepan. That makes it a neighborhood restaurant in my book. But I would travel to eat Turkish food at Pasha, because I don't feel I can get better Turkish food anywhere else. Objectively, that doesn't mean that Ouest is worse than Pasha, just that what Pasha has to offer is harder to come by.

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I agree with Busboy, not only does the price have to be affordable but it also has to have a "reservation structure such that neighbors can go there on impulse." And affordable for the neighborhood.. When I went to LCB it looked very much like a neighborhood place, an extremely wealthy neighborhood.

Edited by Daniel (log)
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"Neighborhood restaurant" and "destination restaurant" are opposite poles on a scale, like "Democrat" and "Republican." Some restaurants are hybrids, just as some voters are Independents. But most restaurants are pretty much one or the other.

The label "neighborhood restaurant," in my experience, is slightly condescending. It generally means, "not very ambitious." It also means, "not worth the trouble, unless you already had some other reason for being in the neighborhood."

I disagree that "destination restaurant" is limited to Michelin two and three-star places. In a NYC context, a "destination restaurant" is a restaurant you'd travel outside of your neighborhood to visit. Sripraphai (zero Michelin stars) is a destination restaurant. The whole Meatpacking District is a destination (hardly anyone lives there). "Destination restaurant" doesn't mean "good," by the way.

Obviously most restaurants are in a "neighborhood" of some kind. To call a restaurant a "neighborhood restaurant" because it's in a neighborhood is a tautology. There are a few restaurants that virtually no one visits on a whim (Masa, Per Se). But I would caution against tying the definition to price point. There are some wealthy people who treat Daniel as practically a "neighborhood restaurant," whereas to most of us it's a special occasion to dine there.

I would also caution against Nathan's definition, "it deals with the intent of the owners." None of us know for sure what Jean-Georges Vongerichten is thinking, and his comments for the press may not tell the whole story. I think it's a safe bet, though, that when a restaurant hires publicists, is featured in all the fall preview issues, is written up in Gourmet, and gets three stars from the Times, the restaurant was aiming at much more than just its neighborhood.

There are some exceptions like Little Owl, which opened under the radar and quickly started drawing folks from outside the neighborhood. Little Owl breaks the mold, but it seems to me that most places fall pretty obviously into one camp or the other.

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Just another example that came to mind: Amarone is in my neighborhood. I go there once in a while, sometimes spur of the moment if I run into someone on 9th and we want a nice meal. It's good Italian food. But if I didn't live in the neighborhood, I wouldn't travel to this neighborhood specifically to go there. Esca is also in my neighborhood. I've never been there. My guess is that a lot of people in my neighborhood have been to Amaraone many times and never to Esca. All of this fits very neatly into Busboy's explanation as well.

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A neighborhood restaurant has to have a price structure and reservation structure such that neighbors can go there on impulse.  If you can't say, "screw it, I don't feel like cooking tonight," and walk over to the place without checking your bank balance or begging for reservations, it ain't a neighborhood joint. 

My problem with that is a place like Al Di La. From day one, you couldn't get into it. Not because people were coming from all over the City to go there (they weren't then), but because people were coming from all over the neighborhood to go there. Then, as now, they had a "no resevations" policy. You go there, and either you get lucky, or they know you and sneak you in, or you're willing to wait 45 minutes or an hour or more. Nevertheless, I'd say it was (and remains) a neighborhood place -- even though, on any given night, you could have no reasonable expectation of getting into it.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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"I disagree that "destination restaurant" is limited to Michelin two and three-star places. "

No one ever said that.  Period.

You've violated oakapple's law. Posts that end in "Period." are always wrong. Here's the quote:
"Destination restaurant" can be juxtaposed because it is a quality descriptor.  I see it as roughly equivalent to the Michelin explanation of a two star (or more) restaurant: a place worth a trip just to eat at.

I suppose it comes down to what was meant by "roughly equivalent." Or as another statesman once put it, comma, "It depends on what the meaning of is is.
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um, here is what I wrote:

"'Destination restaurant' can be juxtaposed because it is a quality descriptor. I see it as roughly equivalent to the Michelin explanation..."

under no possible rendering of the English language does that equal "'destination restaurant' is limited to Michelin two and three-star places. " Period.

I am very precise with my words. Please parse them accordingly.

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put differently,

the key words are not "roughly equivalent"...rather, they are "the Michelin explanation of a two star (or more) restaurant"

in that phrase the noun is the word "explanation"...thus that is the word which "roughly equivalent" corresponds too.

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I think the distinction is a bit different in markets such as NYC than it is in smaller cities and small metro areas.

In a smaller market such as mine - with 150,000 in the city and another 200,000 or so in the suburbs- we typically have three categories:

* "Neighborhood" restaurants that draw their clientele mostly from a geographic area within a few miles of their location. Prices are usually modest, menus not terribly inventive or ambitious, and atmosphere is relaxed.

* "Destination" restaurants - typically a bit pricier, often with more inventive or more trendy menus and drawing clientel from throughout our small metro area. But these are places that many people may visit as often as once a month or more.

* "Special Occasion" restaurants - some very traditional and some more creative but the common thread is that people (in areas such as mine) rarely visit such a place more than once a year. These are at the high end of the price range, usually have only one or two turns on any given table in an evening and dinner is a lengthy affair - often reserved for occasison such as engagements, anniversaries and birthdays.

But in a densely populated urban area with higher levels of discretionary income, more single or childless professionals, good public transportation, moderate to high levels of business and tourism visitors... the equation changes radically and most of the above descriptors are either meaningless or have much different meanings.

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A neighborhood restaurant has to have a price structure and reservation structure such that neighbors can go there on impulse.  If you can't say, "screw it, I don't feel like cooking tonight," and walk over to the place without checking your bank balance or begging for reservations, it ain't a neighborhood joint. 

My problem with that is a place like Al Di La. From day one, you couldn't get into it. Not because people were coming from all over the City to go there (they weren't then), but because people were coming from all over the neighborhood to go there. Then, as now, they had a "no resevations" policy. You go there, and either you get lucky, or they know you and sneak you in, or you're willing to wait 45 minutes or an hour or more. Nevertheless, I'd say it was (and remains) a neighborhood place -- even though, on any given night, you could have no reasonable expectation of getting into it.

To elaborate on this, it sounds sometimes like people are saying that one of the characteristics of a "neighborhood place" is that it isn't wildly successful.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Just for the heck of it, I decided to do a little research. These are the last 6 occasions when the phrase "neighborhood restaurant" has appeared in a New York Times review, along with the restaurant and the rating:

Trestle on Tenth (*)

Café d'Alsace (**)

Pair of 8's (*)

Al di Là (**)

Convivium Osteria (*)

Landmarc (*)

There are a ton of other hits for the phrase "neighborhood restaurant," but I limited the links to occurrences within a rated review. But at least it gives an idea of the kinds of places for which that label has been used, at least in recent history.

You'll note that the majority are one-star restaurants, and there are certainly no three-star restaurants in the mix.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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. . .

"Destination restaurant" can be juxtaposed because it is a quality descriptor.  I see it as roughly equivalent to the Michelin explanation of a two star (or more) restaurant: a place worth a trip just to eat at.

. . .

Indeed, Michelin rather precisely defines its stars in terms of "destination." A three star restaurant is "worth a special journey." A two star restaurant is "worth a detour." A one star restaurant is very good in its category and "worth a stop on your journey." Of course this tends to apply to country restaurants and motorists. The aspect of special journey and detour manifest themselves a bit differently in an urban city and a subway or taxi ride for pizza may be no longer than one to Daniel, le Bernardin or Per Se. I've often wondered if one might classify urban restaurants on the basis of how far in advance you'd be willing to plan and reserve ahead. A good film may be finer art than a bad opera, but the movie theater is less of a destination than the opera house, it that's of any use in this discussion. It also strikes me that a destination restaurant might be one for which the average diner is willing to change his clothes and dress for the occasion, although perhaps no one dresses up specially for anything these days.

We will bog down in semantics as Sneakeater suggests and clearly one man's idea of destination is not anothers. Too may members can't seem to get over their subjective view and look at a subject related to food objectively. They know too well what they like. There are great hamburgers and great pizzas, but neither qualilfy for me as a destination. Nevertheless, as a traveler, I have gone dozens of miles out of my way and altered an itinerary for a local specialty. A proto hamburger might be a destination for a European visitor to NY just as Katz's (not a destination restaurant, imo) is a destination for visitors to NYC. That said, does devoting a day to getting to and eating in a place that serves "authentic" paella make the target a destination restaurant?

Robert Buxbaum

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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.

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