Good question. The answer has changed as we have changed. We have truly changed. OK, maybe not everybody but plenty of people recognize that the world of before (as in a year or so ago) is gone and may be gone for ever and with it the habits of frivolity. The belief was that it was never going to end. The good times would keep on rolling and restaurants would open on every corner paralleling the Starbucks mentality. The belief was simple: build it and they will come.
That world is over. Permanently over? I doubt it, but over. Whoever we are now is so different from who we were. We are a little more conscious of our dollar, a litle less forgiving of attitude and poor service and so much more interested in quality, in value–the total package.
Bragging rights used to include: “I ate at so and so’s new spot” (insert big name national talent). Now it is a little more questionable who is bragging about what. The whole bravura concept may be over. Are you going for the big name or for the food, the product, the value?
When you hear a chef on a nationally syndicated radio program say that customers will figure out that it’s about the quality and not the fancy name, you know you are hearing the real thing. Michael Landrum is one chef who gets it. He is not a big name national player, but he has fired up the Washington DC restaurant universe with four restaurants and his commitment to open another quality product in a section of town that was starving for quality and non fast food chain answers. He has lowered some steak prices, offered his burger menu at the bar of one of his full service restaurants and fills his dining rooms with guests who appreciate his commitment to quality.
At the same time chefs on the radio show were talking about the challenges facing them today, it became official that the new W Hotel (W Washington DC) which opens this summer near the White House (the former Hotel Washington) would have big name talent–Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Maybe that announcement is a true compliment to the city’s climb up the epicurean ladder. Maybe; maybe not. Of course, it’s exciting about Jean-Georges bringing his branded steakhouse to the city, but how many fancy cuts of steak can we support? Landrum does steak well (or rare, if you prefer), and does it at an affordable price point for beautifully hand-cut meats.
When the New York Times writes about so-called lesser beef cuts, and the food critic writes about restaurants that have reconfigured their space and their menus to accommodate the new diner, then we have further validation about the dining scene. The message translates simply into a new world order with a focus on quality.
We cannot return to those old days, no matter how fond the memories are. We need to respect our new world and make it work for us.
Those who get it will get us.