I’m trying to figure out why certain restaurants are worthwhile and it comes down primarily to the memory of taste: What taste evokes from prior experiences and what taste will evoke from the food in the here & now. More specifically, the best restaurants usually do one or only a few things well: It’s easier to remember those few things; those few things evoke a few memories. That’s why, in Boston, Galleria Umberto’s pizza and C.K.’s Shanghai are about the best dining you can find in the city. The kitchens are establishing a relationship with the customer from only a few things: it’s simple in the best sense. How much can you remember? How much can be evoked? Only a few things.
The more complicated restaurant kitchens that actually are capable of serving memorable meals are rare. In New York, their number is frankly astonishing and that may be a result of the level of talent, the volume of customers served (sometimes you get better at doing something the more that you do it), the years in business, the competition, the emphasis on specificity, and the more critical customer base.