Among the variables that can impact one's meal, the context of the dining experience might be the hardest one to quantify. Assessing things like quality of the ingredients or the skill of the chef might be an imprecise exercise, but those who are avid students of the craft of dining eventually learn how to make reasonable determinations. For example, one can leasily earn how to determine whether they are eating prime or choice beef. Or with a little practice, one can determine whether the ingredients they are eating deserve the lofty A.O.C. pedigree. One can even learn how to determine if the chef is doing his job properly. Has that sauce sitting under your filet been made properly or is it seperating and coming apart at the seams? All in all, there are numerous ways one can assess the culinary aspects of a meal. But when it comes to things that are ancillary to the cuisine, how does one go about measuring how much they impact your meal?
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that ambience makes food taste better. After all, Bresse chicken of a certain quality tastes like, er, Bresse chicken of a certain quality. But if there was a restaurant where ambiance and environment made a meal more enjoyable, a recent lunch at Auberge de L'Ill stated the best case I had ever experienced. The setting alongside the very delicate river Ill was picture perfect, and if weather was something you could order off the menu, I am certain this is the day we would have ordered. So before anyone says that Plotnicki has gone off the reservation and overrated this meal just because of the glorious day and setting, I thought I'd offer full disclosure that maybe, just maybe, it swayed me a little bit.