Opinionated Abut Dining Survey

« Monday Morning Agitator - When Restaurant Reservation Systems Are Unfair to Their Customers | Main | Monday Morning Agitator »

April 21, 2008


Silly Disciple

His actual name is Miguel Sanchez Romera, not Romero, and apparently he's closing down his restaurant and moving to NYC.

Steve Plotnicki

Yes I had heard that over the weekend. I guess Pim put him our of business. (wink emoticon.) I'll correct the spelling of his name.

Tell me, do you get your copy of the survey in the mail?

Silly Disciple

FWIW, I ate there with a bunch of friends and shared a reaction similar to Pim's. My wife at some point asked the waiter to stop bringing her dishes, telling him "enough with the jello".
And this is from someone who's a big fan of Can Roca (as so am I, and EB, Fat Duck, etc.).

In my opinion Sanchez Romera is an amazing cook, with great skill, but became so enamored and obsessed with his own product (Micri) that forgot the purpose of cooking.
It's a pity, because Micri is now out of fashion, as there are better products which serve the same purpose, and Sanchez Romera could be doing great things otherwise.

No, I did not receive the survey.

Steve Plotnicki

You have a wife?

I understand your point about the meal. But it really doesn't address my point of the potential of finding aesthetic value in food that doesn't taste the way you would like it to taste.

If you email me your address I will send you a copy of the survey.

Silly Disciple

Yes, a wife and two kids. You seem surprised.

No, it doesn't address your point directly, but it does tangentially. What I'm trying to say is that the pursue of aesthetic value per-se is not really interesting on its own; it has to come hand in hand with what we eventually expect of food: to be tasty. This is a point that Ferran Adria gets quite well(for a goo number of dishes at least, maybe not all).

You would get the point in a split second if you ate at L'Esguard. Each dish is a bloody work of art in aestethic terms, quite possibly the most beautiful food I've been served. However, as soon as you eat it, you're disappointed. And the dissapointment builds course over course. And it's not a question of avant-garde vs. classical cuisine. There's just no enjoyment in consuming the dishes, as they just don't taste good. Moreover, Romera's fixation with Micri ends up saturating and boring the patrons.

I would understand if someone enjoys a meal there for the aestethic or the technical pleasure of it. I know I enjoy the technical side quite a bit. But just not for the primary (at least IMHO) value of food: taste.

Steve Plotnicki

I am surprised!

All you are saying is that the conclusion (the ultimate taste of a dish)is most important, and the aesthetics are interesting but secondary. My point is that not everyone feels that way about it. Some people are willing to focus on the aesthetic as a seperate issue.

Look there are films that have no storyline but which are great cinema based on the director's use of imagry and cinematography. So why can't there be value to cuisine that revolves around texture and sensation and not taste?

Silly Disciple

See, your position doesn't hold. Ultimately, you eat the food. And taste (unless you're looking at just sustenance) is the measure of things.

Let's take your position to the extreme: would you rather have a fresh fish of pristine quality done a-la-plancha, odd looking and without any presentation, or frozen fish sticks (or worse, cow dung) prepared by Sanchez Romera? I am willing to bet the house that 99.9% of people would choose the former.

Aestethic pleasure is great, as a secondary thought. But if you're going to put it in your mouth, it'd better taste good.

Steve Plotnicki

But all that you are saying is that you are closeminded to seeing it from a different perspective. And you are saying that in the context of my having offered evidence that there is another way to look at it.

Look this is a very simple concept. You put 50 experinced diners in a room ask them about L'Esguard. 25 say it's terrible and the other 25 say, there is something to it despite the way the food tastes. Why doesn't the existance of the second 25 convince you that there is another way to look at it, rather than dismissing the second 25 as wrong?

Silly Disciple

I never said those 25 people are wrong. In fact, I said I agreed with those 25 people on principle, as I believe there is something of much interest in technique and/or aestethics. I even said that I have great interest in the technical part of cooking.

What I also said is that food, without the main component of taste, is worthless, whether it be beautiful or technically mind blowing. Please refer to my earlier example. If you ask 50 people if they'd rather eat odd looking fresh fish or beautifully looking frozen sticks, 49 of those people will go with the former. Following your argument though, you, the fiftieth person in the room, would prefer to eat cow dung, as long as it looked good, since you argue that taste isn't everything, and that a meal with just aestethical value can be good.

Steve Plotnicki

"What I also said is that food, without the main component of taste, is worthless, whether it be beautiful or technically mind blowing"

But the point of my post is that there are people who disagree with you, and that for some reason, people who hold your opinion feel a need to delegitimize their position by calling what they find value in "worthless." Not to mention that history shows that in 100% of the occassions this argument occured, the opinions of those who criticized the results of a shifting paradigm as being "worthless" became outmoded and obsolete.

You know there are people who dislike modern art. Some of them simply say that it isn't to their taste and others claim that it is a hoax and worthless. Well how can it be worthless when the support for it is so strong that there are entire museums devoted to the topic? You don't have to answer because that is a rhetorical question and the answer is really self evident.


I agree w/ you Steve from a critical perspective, although I've certainly been guilty of judging a restaurant by what might be irrelevant criteria.

In art and literature, the medium went from communication to aesthetic and, ultimately, to pure conceptual. The critics followed them, for whatever reason; possibly because there was an infrastructure (academia) for it or that's what where the readers/audience were headed.

Reading has transcended communication to ideas and Literature. Art has transcended the visual to ideas. Is there a reason food has to be limited purely to taste? It obviously plays a larger role in our lives, not to mention throughout history.

Obviously, conservative forces would like to keep food at whatever plateau they happen to like (whether that be authentic food made by peasants, the height of haute 1980s french cuisine, or some point in-between.) There might also be precedent in literature and the arts, as post-modernism has been blamed for everything wrong in those fields, including leading both to dead ends.

Another reason might be the perceived elitism in fine dining; it is, afterall, a hobby that requires some form of significant disposable income. What's worse than a bunch of rich people spending hundreds of dollars on a meal? Why, pontificating its importance for nothing but for its own sake. Who has the ability to do such pontificating? Only rich people who can afford to eat in the restaurants.

I think it's the same as any art - there will be great resistance to new paradigms but, as they become ubiquitous in everyday life, which many of these experimental techniques are, people will finally accept them and wonder what the fuss was all about.

Another interesting dynamic - many of these experimental restaurants are cheaper than their 'organic' counterparts. With that, they are also democraticizing fine dining w/ less strict dress codes, lower price points, more accessibility, etc. Suddenly, a new, and presumably larger, group of diners will come to accept the experimental as routine; and the old system could be regarded as a relic of a bygone era (as some French 3-stars already are.)

Some thoughts...

Steve Plotnicki

That was a great post Chuck. I'm off to London in the morning and I will write more about your post when I get in.


How about separating the issues? Perhaps we can appreciate some food (dishes) as successful art, but acknowledge that they fail as food.

Silly Disciple

Steve, you're so eager to generalize and take things out of context, yet so reticent to understand the consequences of taking your position to the extreme.

Answer this simple , multiple chose question:
would you rather eat
1. Cow Dung prepared and plated by Miguel Sanchez Romera.
2. Fresh fish a la plancha prepared by someone who really knows how to make it, but who adds no aestethical value whatsoever to food.

I will say it again, for the cheap seats: I care for technical and aestethical components in food. But if you are going to eat it, it has to taste good. As Nina says, otherwise you can judge it as a great work of art, hang it on your wall (that's what Sanchez Romera does, actually: he has huge pictures of his plates in the main hall), whatever you want. But eating it, if you know it doesn't taste good....


First of all, to Silly, food does not have to taste good to be worthwhile. Reasons to eat include eating for fuel, and eating for health. Second of all, I don't love the question about dung versus fresh fish.

But there are other issues with the original post. In film and literature and art criticism, there is plenty of dismissing of things wholessale, even when there is arguably an element to be admired, and even when other critics and lay people are finding something to admire. And, in the present discussion, it's obvious that many people ARE quite capable of separating out the elements in a given cuisine and pointing to the things that work and the things that don't. So, not really sure there's an argument here.

It seems like Steve's main point is to argue that because many people want to dismiss a certain thing about which many other people find something to admire, therefore it will be the next big/important thing. That's not a good argument.


Maybe it doesn't have to taste good to be worthwhile as art, but to succeed as food, it has to taste good. We are not talking about food for health or survival here, so that point is not relevant.

Steve Plotnicki

First of all, thanks for all of the great comments. But let me do my best to simplify the discussion and I will use Silly's question as my profer:

Value is an artificial construct made by social agreement. If serious foodies say there is value in cow dung prepared by Sanchez Romero, then there is value. Once that occurs, how can it be considered worthless? It is illogical.

Second, Michael says "And, in the present discussion, it's obvious that many people ARE quite capable of separating out the elements in a given cuisine and pointing to the things that work and the things that don't. So, not really sure there's an argument here."

Well if something works, then there is clearly some value present. So what we are left with is how one balances each element in order to reach a conclusion.

Michael - I haven't said that the disagreement is causation for it happening, I have said that historically, this disagreement is an indicator that it has a good chance of happening.


I think I get Steves point, and I have the impression that Silly doesn't still. Steve is only trying to let the results of his survey speak for their own. His own opinion on the restaurant in question is not the subject of his post. He just wants to point out that, when u consider the survey result, it might be possible that many people, even experienced diners might attach more importance than you'd think to presentation in comparison to taste,or to other factors or to break it down to an old and simple adage: "it's a matter of taste, and tastes are different". That you disagree with the other 25 people of Steve's example is not the point. The point is that there are 25 people with another opinion. We know yours now silly, and mine isnt that far away, I'd be among the first 25 people also, but still there are other views on the restaurant!Applying your multiple (actually only one choice here) choice question makes no sense. Steve got your point, and we all know he wouldnt eat good looking cow dung, he s also among the first 25 people I believe.

But what I'd just like to throw into this conversation, is how the notion of taste itself can be evolutive, besides being subjective. How many tradtional regional dishes, or even widely served foods and drinks are dishes that you somehow have to get used to, before you actually find they taste good??? Think of regional dishes with tripes, snails, even think of coffee and beer, how many people dislike beer when they first try it in their life? (I did)
Think of Frankfurt Green sauce (specialists might know it), think of andouillettes etc.. Recently I tried the Malaysian breakfast Nasi Lemak, which is coconut rice with curry sauce and dried anchovies and nuts, I only liked it from the 4th time I had it.

There is a learning curve linked to taste, and also some kind of social-cultural agreement on regional dishes which makes it hard to generalize about the notions of taste and preference. Maybe in 10 years, we're all fond of Micri-taste (ok that's a quite extreme example I agree :=)).



I am not interested in assessing what a restaurant is "worth" and I certainly do not believe in an objective listing of them. I am more interesting in appreciating than judging or rating, so if half the people in there enjoy it in some way, and half don't, I feel sorry for the latter half and I wish I am not part of it. Unfortunately, for restaurants like Gagnaire, I feel like those middle-aged women asking younger women increduously "what's so great about sex?".

But how it tastes was never the unique criteria for the appreciation of a restaurant. See the success of Taillevent, of Troisgros, of Ducloux. There are many other motivations than food to go a restaurant. Even when you consider how it tastes, there are tons of contextual and cultural elements entering in line. For instance in traditional restaurants like Bocuse of Rostang, you need to be hungry to enjoy them. But there's no such issue with, say, l'Astrance. Among the things we enjoy tasting are also, for instance, novelty, but familiarity should not be underestimated as well. I would even argue that in the great restaurants, even how it tastes actually is an illustration of a larger statement about food, way of life, civilisation.

So I think that the idea of a "new set of criteria" is actually reductionnist. For any restaurant, there is a user manual. You need to find out how it is best enjoyed, not only what to order, but also what to focus on, how to "understand" that food. Opposing how it tastes and what it means is, in my opinion, not taking the restaurant seriously. If it's interesting, it is interesting to taste.

In a word, what I'm saying is that, without the unfounded obsession of novelty/modernity, what you have going on with l'Esguard is very similar to what you have going on with Bocuse. Some people hate it, some people love it. I already told how I think there's always a better side to be on in that equation./


Actually, yet another way to say it: I don't believe that taste is more immediate than say, sight. We learn to taste the way we learn to hear and see, and just like we need some education and practice to en joy forms of art we're not familiar with, taste is a mediated sense, it is aquired, cultural.

Steve Plotnicki

Value is not something that can be parsed. If you like something, then it has to have some value or worth. So to say you're not interested in its value is really trying to split a hair that can't be split. As to objectivity, all you are saying is that you want to be able to criticize food unchecked. While that's perfectly okay from a personal perspective, the result is less reliable on the whole than criticism that is offered within a larger framework.

But you know that even when criticism is strictly a personal thing, you are still working within somewhat of an objective framework. That's because standards exist for the quality of ingredients and technique, and you are personally interested in measuring whether those standards have been met.


You keep missing my point: value is an imaginary thing, whereas people enjoying something is real.


For the record, middle aged women enjoy sex. :-)

Steve Plotnicki

Value is the result of a social construct that is based on common agreement. It is anything but imaginery because the causation of the value is based on fact. For example, there is no reason that syrah that is raised in vineyards with an AOC codification should cost more than syrah grown in vineyards that don't have that classification. But since there is widespread common agreement that it is getter, one is valued more than the other.


As a caveat I have never been to l'Esguard, but I think there is a point that is being missed in this discussion. I'll use the example of WD-50's knot foie vs. their French onion soup. The first is a bad dish. Why? Not because it tastes bad but because it fails as an aesthetic statement. If the point of the dish is "I can turn foie gras into a knot" then it's technique for technique's sake. It's the equivalent of a violinist playing scales, not of one playing a sonata. Which, while impressive, is not great music. Worst of all, the knot foie dish destroys the flavour of the foie. Contrast this with the french onion soup. The techniques, creating the cheese 'raviolis' and the caramalized onion puree, are as deft as the ones used for the knot foie. However, they are used to enhance the flavor of the dish. It's as if Dufresne is challenging you to rethink what french onion soup is: is it the ingredients? the taste? the textures? can something that appears to be something else actually be french onion soup? The same concept works less successfully with the pizza amuse. The difference is that with the french onion soup dish, Dufresne preserves the defining element of food: It is the application of technique to ingredient to express falvour. Best of allm He is doing it in a novel, intelligent way.

Now, I may not like french onion soup. But the role of the critic is not to tell us whether or not he likes french onion soup, it is to tell us if this idea is executed as well as it can be and if it is successful in what it purports to be. How close is this to an ideal french onion soup (a bit aristotilian, I know)? Or, is this a worthwhile vision of what a french onion soup can be? Even further, is, and why is, this still french onion soup? This is why Taillevent and WD-50 can be rated on the same scale: we are judging them based on how well they execute what they are trying to do and taste is a huge part of that.

To come back to the knot foie, the reason I think it's a bad dish is not because it doesn't taste good, it's because the statement it's trying to make is self-destructive; it's technique for technique's sake. It may be neat, but it's not great food. I can say that a dish at WD-50 that explores bitter flavours is successful in what it's trying to do even if I don't like bitter flavours because it is expressing those flavours how it intends to. I can go further and offer my opinion as to whether it works, but that is the subjective portion of the critique. But if the point of food is the expression of flavour (and presentation and other lesser things) through the application of technique to ingredients, I can't laud knot foie for the statement it makes. Because it doesn't make any sort of statement beyond "that's cool".

The comments to this entry are closed.