Why We Eat in Restaurants and Why We Don’t

I stopped eating dinner out in Boston a few years ago.  Unless it’s a new place or a friend’s place, and then I go three or four times within the first six months before I quit, I eat my dinners at home.  Too many overpriced dinners, dinners so high in fat and salt I was sick afterwards, dinners with cheap ingredients cooked to burst with flavor that were soon forgettable, dinners of burgers, $15 beets, pork bellies, and a contest in which the chef tried to show how much he can put on the plate.

What’s odd is that this is a city with some of the world’s greatest fish and seafood, first rate cheese shops, first rate bakeries, and a few first rate stores selling fruits and vegetables.  So why are the restaurants so awful?

There are many reasons.

Collusion of critics who encourage chefs to do things new when, really, tradition not only has a lot to teach us in terms of taste, but, let’s face it, how many ways are there to roast a chicken?

Customers who like the big city feel of a $43 steak of choice (not prime) beef.  Chefs who lack imagination.  A base of people who want a quick bite of “ethnic” food before going back to work or home.  Etc.

That last observation–people and the quick bite–seems to be the overriding paradigm, which I hadn’t understood until recently.  Here’s the thing: This is a town with great indoor space.  When I go to people’s homes for dinner or eat at home, the physical space is pleasing in a way that a restaurant isn’t.  In contrast, in NYC, it’s very much the opposite: The indoor spaces are often cramped, restaurants offer a place to socialize and work.

In Boston that role is taken up by bars.  Of which we have plenty, and many are terrific.  That influences the cuisine: Burgers, pizza, fried this and that, spicy food that makes one want to drink more.

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