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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

At Your Service

© 2015 Chris Terrell
The other night while having dinner at a nice restaurant here in Birmingham, I stated, with some certitude, that I would rather dine in a restaurant with below-average food, but above-average service. One of my dinner companions disagreed, insisting that the quality of the food was most important. I was still thinking about this conversation, and the quip that started it, a few days later. Then I realized that I had been a bit too glib,  too clever-by-half. Perhaps I should have said that I would rather have a below-average meal with above-average company than the other way around. (Of course, I don't intend to imply that the company that night was in any way below average!)

And while the food served in a restaurant is important, let us not forget that the word “restaurant” derives from the French word for “restore.” Like eating with family or with friends, dining out is a commensal act that should restore us from a hard day at the office, at school, in the field, or on the factory floor.  The communal and restorative act of eating in a restaurant remains so, even when dining alone. 
I travel a lot for business, and unless I’m dog tired, I will go out to eat, even if in the hotel restaurant or bar. After all, you can always chit-chat with the server and, better yet, the bartender. I’m a big fan of eating at the bar. You don’t have to wait, and bartenders by nature and their profession are ready conversationalists. Strangers also are more friendly at the bar—the bottle instills an easy, natural Hemingway camaraderie.
Going back to the conversation that started all this: have we gone too much to the “food-is-more-important” side of the restaurant equation? As Adam Gopnik points out in his book, The Table Comes First, “Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject.” I agree. Eating should be a bigger subject, not only when we talk about restaurants, but when we engage in the larger conversation about food. 
I’m struck by that moment when Julia Child had her first meal on French soil: sole meunière. It sounds fancy to our Anglo-Saxon ears, but this simplest of French preparations is nothing more than fish, butter, a bit of flour, lemon, and parsley. Julia Child never forgot that meal. 
So restaurants really are more than the service-vs.-food dichotomy that got me started a few paragraphs back. They are where we have our first peek as children into that mysterious world of adults; where we have our first dates; where we propose marriage; celebrate births; and console the loss of those no longer with us. Restaurants, good and bad, will change with the times, but I can’t imagine a world without them. 

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