It starts with the food, it has to be good, of course, but after that so many other more important factors determine if a restaurant is worth your time and money.
Service is key. Ken Aretsky, owner of Patroon–a delightful restaurant with a hidden bar–told me for a piece I was writing: “A restaurant can get get away with bad food, but not bad service.”
So what is good service? Chiefly, it’s the ability of the staff to anticipate the wants of customers and make them feel welcome and uniquely understood. David Mamet, I was told by a chef, told the restaurant where he was a regular that he never wanted to be asked how he liked the food.
But more broadly, I’ve been wondering why I like certain restaurants more than others. My pantheon of the top ten are casual, high end, and ingredient driven, whether it’s alle testiere, Bukhara, Zuni, Fore Street, Esca, or il Buco.
But back in the day, I just liked eating out. The noise, the excitement, the variety. And I also loved serious dining far more than I do these days. Years dating I sought out cuisines I could afford, early family days I looked for affordability and a friendly atmosphere, early adulthood it was fancy.
These days it’s all about a cuisine that creates immediacy. A yakitori place that has a spool of Beatles hits spanning the entire career of the band. A pizza and pasta joint with a huge red brick oven. A room of well-heeled people laughing over fresh fish.