Restaurants and Their Patrons: An Elitist Rant

So why are most restaurants disappointing?  For instance I have been on a creole food kick making jambalaya, shrimp etouffee and chicken/sausage gumbo and I do not exaggerate when I say that it was by far best version of these dishes I have had.  Now creole/cajun outside of the deep South is pretty rare, but I have eaten at New Orleans Takeout in Madison which some have labelled as one of the best creole restaurants in the Midwest and found it merely adequate.  But I have no secret, just using John Besh’s recipes and he is not even native to Louisiana.

The thing is, these dishes originated among poor people taking inferior ingredients and trying to make something really delicious out of them without a lot of fancy technique.  However, this is the case in a lot of cuisines.  The best Vietnamese food I have eaten is drawn from their myriad soups.  So flavorful and filling.

So we have these relatively cheap dishes that are extremely flavorful and can be made way ahead of time and easily served.  This raises the question why most restaurants aren’t doing this as it seems perfectly germane to their business model?  It is endlessly annoying and invigorating that stuff I make at home is better than the vast majority of what you can get at restaurants.  However, there is really no good reason as I really don’t take on anything requiring exotic ingredients or techniques.

However, maybe the problem is consumers.  It really gets my goat when I go to an asian restaurant and hear a group of usually white diners order.  Crab rangoons and egg rolls and pad thai at one of the best Thai restaurants in the city.  WHY?  Not only are these not really good or authentic, but they are absolutely less healthy than actual good dishes at these establishments.  As my wife pointed out though, sometimes they seem legitimately excited about their spicy udon noodles or whatever.  So I guess I shouldn’t judge them too hard.

But it is my firm belief that most people actually recognize really good food when they eat it and are just too conservative to really try something new.  I am always tempted to order them something I know is amazing and see if they agree.  I know I once used to exclusively eat pad thai and curry at Thai restaurants because of ignorance and too many bad Thai places.

Anyways, my point is that as long as consumers seem content with their steaks and hamburgers, that is what restaurants are going to focus on.  Yes food culture is historically at its peak and getting better every day, but it is really a small portion of the population actually driving that.  For many people, Italian is still about as ethnic as they want to cook or eat.