I was listening to a broadcast of Forum on KQED last week and the discussion was about restaurants and the best places to eat in the Bay Area. It got me to thinking about what makes a good meal, what makes for a disappointing meal and what cuisines are the most disappointing and why and what could be done to change them for the better.
1. Great Ingredients
2. Skill in the kitchen
3. Great flavors
4. Good service in all phases
5. Creating a memorable and satisfactory meal from beginning to end.
I often find that many places use great ingredients, or at least say they do. I find that skill in the kitchen is usually pretty good, sometimes sloppy, but usually pretty good unless it is intentionally poor i.e. with chain places that put a premium on mediocrity for the sake of profitability. Perhaps the most disappointing cuisine to me, almost uniformly is Chinese. I rarely have great meals in a Chinese restaurant. On occasion I have had a great dish, but never a uniformly good meal. Part of it, I'll admit, is that some aspects of the cuisine just do not appeal to me much at all. But much of it is because ingredients are not fresh and food is prepared sloppily and the experience is often marred by bad service. It's such a disappointment because the cuisine holds a lot of promise that is so unfulfilled at least here in San Francisco. I trust that some people will start to create dishes that are fresh, flavorful and full of the excitement and surprise that I think can be there in a meal from beginning to end. Part of the problem is economic, the cuisine can be had for next to nothing and competing is hard in that kind of environment. But I hold out hope that someone will succeed.
My favorite restaurants in SF are still Canteen, Masa's, Zuni Cafe, Bar Jules, Coco500, Fringale, Piperade and Chez Papa Resto. I look forward to adding to the list soon.