The 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark’s expedition with the Corps of Discovery is still rattling around in my skull and some recent experiences “discovering” restaurants in Paris prompted me to do some more thinking on just what it is I do and how I do it.
In January and February, I ate at some 30 restaurants that were “new” to me, most having opened recently but a few off old lists that I’d never gotten to. Some blew me away and some were terrible, but the majority were either average or had dazzling and disappointing elements mixed into a single meal.
When March came, two of the three people joining me for two weeks dining, did their own research and we agreed to go to both some ‘golden oldies” as well as new discoveries.
At one point after an average, some would say awful, meal at a place I’d raved about earlier, Lena + Mimile, I began to think that maybe every place I think is terrific the first time is really lousy and vice versa. Why is that? It seems there are several options, some non-competing.
One, I’m simply not a good judge of newly opened places. But then I have my acolytes who swear that my taste is like theirs and I save them a lot of time and money weeding out the weak ones.
Two, the “Sophomore jinx,” or “familiarity breeds contempt” theory, that I’ve written about before. That is, places are never as good on subsequent visits than at first meeting. But that is refuted by places such as Le Clocher Pereire*, that hold their standing time after time.
Third, eating alone and only once at a place is dangerous misleading. Certainly folks like Frank Bruni who have almost unlimited staffs and budgets have the opportunity to factor in multiple meals by multiple eaters which corrects for outliers. But how many Bruni’s are there in the world? French critics tend to go once, granted usually in pairs, and are confident in their judgments after that one time.
Fourth, it’s a crap-shoot at any meal and like NFL teams, any one of which can win any one Sunday, the best of places has an off day and vice versa. While I think that’s possible, it’s much more likely that good places occasionally have a train-wreck but awful ones rarely dazzle.
Finally, it can be due to the concept of regression to the mean, that is, good places must lose their luster and bad places look better, subsequent times around, until everyone is heading for an average rating. But that fails to explain why some places, for example, Ze Kitchen Galerie*, just keep getting better and better.
* Our last meals here were this week, fully paid for.
My favorites this week are:
Le Clocher Pereire
Closed Saturdays and Sundays
Lunch menu 17, dinner 29 and 38, a la carte 35-50 €.
4, rue des Grands Augustins, 6th (Metro: Saint Michel)
T: 01 44 32 00 32
A la carte 30 €.
*Originally published in March 2008.