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Expectation

06-Apr-2005

Where does the time ago?  I’m finally getting back to my little "two-part series" on Context and Expectation!  The context part has been covered and now on to expectation. 

A couple of months ago, after reading a post at The Tasting Menu about the lack of decent restaurants in Seattle, I started thinking about Hillel’s observation that there were only half a dozen or so really good places in Seattle.  My immediate reaction was that he was so wrong! But then I started thinking that perhaps I was setting the bar too low.  Maybe I had been settling for substandard food for so long that I no longer realized it.  Substandard is probably too harsh of a word – maybe the idea is more that while something might be good it misses opportunities to be great. 

Over the next few weeks I started examining my dining experiences with a more critical eye.  I examined the food more closely: Maybe it was good but could it have been better? How was it prepared? Could you feel a sense of pride in the presentation? And it wasn’t just about the chefs and servers but also about me (and/or my friends):  How do I choose the places I frequent? What is it that makes a dining experience "good" or "great" for me?  Or for that matter, what makes it "bad"?  How much of the dining experience is in my control and how much is it controlled by those presenting it? This led me to think about what it is I want when I go out?  Which, of course, leads to the idea of expectation. 

From all that thinking and evaluation (my how my head hurts!) I’ve determined that for me, the way I feel about a meal and my dining experience is often out of the chef’s control. 

There are times when I am expecting a fabulous experience to unfold course by course as the night goes on.  I want to be entertained, so to speak, and I don’t want to bring anything to the table, expect perhaps an open mind.  And those are times when I head to places like Lampreia or Rovers.  At these places preparation and presentation have been raised to the highest art form and the meal is a great symphony with all the different parts coming together in a wonderful experience that fills your soul.  The focus is primarily on the food; it almost doesn’t matter if you have a dining partner or not, except that it’s nice to be able to share the "Ohhhs" and "Ahhhs" with someone. 

Then there are times when I want really good food and that generic idea can take several different meanings.  It might be that I want something new or different; that I want to try some preparation or ethnic variation that is unknown to me.  It might be that I want something that I know well prepared in a way that is comforting and familiar yet with a little surprise of some sort – an element that raises the food to a "wow" level.  These experiences for me can be either about the food or about the people I’m dining with.  I want to be happy with the food but I’m probably going to be too involved in conversation to focus on it.  This is more like a concert with a band that’s been around for awhile, has lots of standards that you’ll expect to hear during the concert – things you can sing along with yet they may throw in a few new things or take one of those standards and extend it to include a bunch of solos by the individual artists.  You will really enjoy it because it has that comfort factor of the familiar yet will surprise you with something new. 

There are two things that can make me feel that one of these experiences was less than expected.  Sometimes I either pick something that I really didn’t care for or that was so far from what I was expecting that it becomes disappointing.  A good example of this is the hamburger at Bick’s Broadview Grill.  I love Bick’s and the way they put a little heat in everything.  But one day I was in the mood for a good burger and didn’t really read the menu description.  Well, what arrived was a Bick-ified Burger with lots of peppers and a spicy sauce.  Not a tomato or piece of lettuce to be found.  On another day I would have liked it but that day I was so disappointed. 

The other thing that can ruin one of these experiences is if the company is not up to par.  The primary reason this occurs can be summed up as "bad date"!  I pride myself on being able to talk to almost anyone about anything.  But every now and then things just take a bad turn.  Like the time I dated an attractive lawyer and found out that his only interest in life was basketball. College basketball.  Now I know a fair amount about sports but more about professional sports than college.  After the first hour and a half or so of trading comments, and then me asking questions to learn a little more, and then trying to change the subject to something we might actually be able to have an actual conversation about, I gave up.  And listened to him drone on and on about every team in the U.S.  And this wasn’t even during March Madness!  Well, needless to say I did not enjoy the meal.  But this was not the chef’s fault or the server’s fault it was just the surrounding experience that made the whole thing bad.  Very bad!  Luckily I’ve forgotten where we actually went for dinner as I’m not sure I could go back! :-)  

Then there are times when the food is actually a prop for other activities.  Maybe the focus is a glass of wine or a cocktail – and of course you want a nice little snack to go along with it but sometimes what you want is good old bar food – some spicy wings or fried calamari.  Something bad for you that makes you happy with every bite you take.  Now, I’m not saying that bar food or appetizers by their nature can’t be good but sometimes I don’t really care.  Sometimes you want to just sit somewhere on a deck and your primary purpose is to enjoy the sunshine or the view.  And I sometimes even pick places that are really only good at one thing – but if they are really good at it, I don’t care that everything else might be a little lacking.  Let’s see – what’s my music analogy for this?  This is like the music or an artist you are a little emabarrassed to let anyone know that you like!  You actually listen at home but you’d never play the CD when there was company!  I have a Chic CD that I periodically play and dance around like a crazy woman when it’s on.  But I’ve only shared it with friends on some of our Whistler trips when we are in the condo being completely stupid.  It fits that mood and in between I hope they all forget I own it! :-)  

Well, I realize that I’m starting to go on and on about this so I’ll get off my soapbox and summarize.  I think there are lots of great places in Seattle because there are places that will satisfy my every mood and expectation.  For me, it’s often more about the total experience of friends, service, food, atmosphere and how they all come together.  And I believe I have a significant roll in that so what I get is often what I create.  And I like that. 

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