Thursday, December 06, 2012

Galatoire's as tapas

I like Rene's Galatoire's theory here. In the set up, he addresses the "Tapas/Small Plates" fad in a way that helps explain the frustration with it I was trying to express earlier this week.
Few things are misunderstood in the American dining landscape more than "tapas." Just the name is confusing enough to allow restaurateurs to fool an unsuspecting public. Tapas has come to mean smaller portions served at three-quarters the price of a normal plate. It's a great con if you can get in on it. Next time you split a hamburger or only serve your friends three small shrimp, call it tapas and people will swoon towards you like Hemingway to booze.

I am no authority on tapas, but my idea of tapas is that of a free form experience built mainly around drinking and socializing, and lastly eating. The food component is mostly small snacks delivered here and there, quick bites of something salty or sweet, or savory or bitter. Eaten alone, with strangers, or in the company of friends, tapas describes a style of dining more than the dishes served. Tapas are ordered at a set pace - yours. You choose when to switch from sherry to beer or anchovies to foie gras. There may be a menu, but more than likely you pay it no attention. The bartender or waiter guides you as you order. After a few bites, you move on to a different topic of conversation, drink, or food.
The problem with the "small plates" trend you run into nowadays is most diners are still really looking to have an appetizer and an entree. But presenting a menu in "tapas" format  tricks rubes like me into ordering more items than we really need or expected to pay for when we sat down.  What Renee describes as an hours long sampling of food at a relaxed pace gets compressed into a standard turn of a restaurant table.  And because each item appears to be reasonably priced on the menu, the bill ends up being a sort of death by a thousand cuts. Thus the unsophisticated diner (Hello!) can wobble away from such an experience uncomfortably overstuffed in the belly and light in the pocket.

The rest of  the post is about how Galatoire's (if done correctly) isn't like that... and therefore Galatoire's is deemed "Worth it."  Since we're almost done with 2012 and I assume the series is ending. I'd like to take the opportunity to say again that I've very much enjoyed reading the "Is it worth it?" posts at Blackened Out this year.

I find I don't always agree with the verdict in these reviews but, as Renee says in this comment thread, that's maybe to be expected.
This has been a point of contention throughout the whole series. Namely, that my opinion isn't supported by what other people perceive to be the status of the place in question. The main idea behind this series was to actually go eat at these places no one every really eats at and to judge the food, ambiance, and experience as objectively as possible. I am not saying you are incorrect for not liking Mother's; but what I am saying is all of these places have gotten one meal. YEsterday that meal at Mother's happened to be very good.

I'll buy that. Furthermore I'll add it's even beside the point of the series anyway.  Instead, what's made these posts essential is they're based around the concept of locals maintaining their claim on their own celebrated institutions. Or at least, the idea is that locals should see these places as viable dining choices rather than always chase after the newest trend. New Orleans is still unique among popular tourist destinations in that a heavy proportion of its cliches still have actual meaning for the people who live there. I think we're always a little bit in danger of killing that culture but we haven't quite done it yet.

It's good for us as a city and, hopefully good for these restaurants to remind themselves that local reputation matters.  Otherwise, they really are nothing more than the "tourist traps" they're often accused of being.

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