Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Quiet Little Restaurant Rant, Picking Specifically on New York

 I'm picking on New York because as is so often the case it is leading a trend.  In this particular case, unfortunately, it's a very bad one.  Worse, it's already widespread.  Worse yet, it is being abetted by certain writers who carry a certain authority, and who ought to know better, but whose wanting to sound young and cool has muzzled their critical faculties.

For the moment I wish to leave aside the metastasis of "sensation" as the governing experience of the food in too many highly competitive New York restaurants.  It's a complicated business, but--since restaurants are businesses--it is admittedly almost irresistible in the face of all the morons taking pictures of their food and reviewing it while they eat it for Yelp or whatever...morons who really don't know anything about food and whose combined knowledge disproves the last vestiges of the notion of the wisdom of crowds.

But as I say, let's please pass over that for the moment to another and worse sort of ignorance, that of professional critics caught up in coolth.  I'm reluctant to pick on the New York Times, because I love and revere the New York Times but also because it can bite back.  Nevertheless some of what has been appearing there has stirred me past the point of prudence.  I'm going to take just a little-bitty example, namely, the recent review of another "theatrical" or "theme" restaurant--these are getting big lately--the kind that works very hard at seeming "authentic" in a ghoulish possible-only-in-New-York fusion of snobbery and Disney World, this one a "French" restaurant called Lafayette.  (How many of you remember the old Lafayette?  It was a French restaurant that didn't require quotation marks around its ethnicity.)

And from that review only an eensy-tinesy detail, from down in what they call the "service information."  One of the items listed there is "sound level," and a good idea that is, too.  But in this review the sound level is described as "authentically loud."

Ooch.  This, I infer, means that the writer thinks that "real" French bistros (i.e., in France) are loud.  Well, they're not.  French people don't bellow.  Sometimes Parisian bistros get loud--when there are a lot of American tourists there.  Otherwise, the word for a French bistro full of people talking would be "lively."  Nobody hollering, no danger of hearing damage.

An aside: I've finally gotten something figured out, in at least a physiognomic way: Americans have started opening their mouths really wide, especially the women, especially when they laugh.  When you open your mouth really wide, you make a lot of noise, ipso facto.  (You also often show a mouthful of half-chewed food.)  Then look at a bunch of French people at table.  They really don't know how to open their mouths wide (exception for opera singers).  Anyway: French bistros in France are full of conversation, because, absolutely, French people, especially Parisians, love to talk, usually all at once, and at a lively level.  But it's like one of those limiters we used to use in the recording studio when I was in the record business (when LPs could take only so much)--the volume hits a certain level and that's it.  They don't bellow, they don't holler, they don't scream, they don't do that shrieking laugh that women in San Francisco and New York have so horribly made their own.  (And what's so not funny about it is that when you find out what they're laughing about, it's invariably not funny at all.  They'll admit it themselves.)  Thus the young and/or never-been-to-France or never-noticed-if-they-did reader of the Times review has his or her open-mouthed bellowing certified as "authentically" French-bistro-loud.

Okay, I know, I know, next thing is an aluminum cane with four rubber tips.

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