The Dining Experience

Restaurants in the US range from hole-in-the-wall joints, every variety of steakhouse, and then, of course, American-Chinese restaurants, American-Italian restaurants, American-Greek restaurants, and so on.  The US does its best to capture the essence of each of these cuisines and sometimes succeeds, but we in the US have also managed to invent cuisines that are uniquely our own.  Sometimes the little, out-of-way places have the best burgers you’ve ever tasted and then, at other times, those places will send you straight to bed, or even to a hospital.  On the other end of the spectrum there are restaurants like Per Se, where every single detail of the restaurant and the service is calculated to ensure that every guest will have the best possible experience.

dish at Per Se

dish at Per Se

What is so popular about restaurants? Is it the laziness one feels about approaching the kitchen? Is it the experience that comes along with going out of the house for a meal? The ability to people-watch, and see who else is out and about?  Is it the specific meal the chef comes up with? The exquisite concoction made by the chef to enhance the flavor in your mouth?  Perhaps it is all of the above.

Starting from the location of the restaurant to the atmosphere created by the décor, the seating arrangements, and the lighting, and then ranging to the ingredients included on the menu, it is all amazing.  It’s like an amusement park, a carnival, and a roller coaster ride for your palate!  Is the menu predominantly spicy, vegan, mostly fishy, foreign, or some fusion? Is it mostly healthy? Are the portions small? Or is there more of a balance, with small plates and large plates? How much do they charge?  Would you go back?  Is it worth a second trip?  A third or even dozens?

Another great eating concept is the “safari supper” in the UK, referred to as a “progressive dinner” here in the US.  This refers to a special dinner in which the guests travel from house to house for different courses of dinner.  Each house is assigned cocktails, appetizers, soups, salads, main courses, desserts, or coffee,  — so that each host at each location contributes his or her particular zest to the meal, including the ambiance of the host’s house.  Ideally all of the guests are in the same neighborhood or residence hall (yes, you college students out there can do this, too!) so the distance to travel is short.  Another benefit of this type of dining is that you choose how much you spend for the course you host – go frugal or blow the budget!

Another type of dining just becoming popular in the US is the “pop-up restaurant,” also known as closed-door restaurants.  This type of dining is popular in Argentina as well where chefs cook different types of cuisine for customers looking for something different than the typical, same Argentine food that exists most everywhere. The chefs highlight cuisines ranging from Asian to Columbian to New Orleans soul food, but the treat only lasts for a short time.   Pop-up restaurants are typically open a few nights of the week, only advertised online, only take reservations, are located in temporary spaces (between tenants or in parks during the nice weather) and the prices can be high.  The chefs invite 10-20 people for the dinner, sometimes choosing another location, such as a museum or the chef’s home or a great art gallery.

Washington, DC is reportedly home to one very unique closed-door restaurant, Thai-x-ing, where you have to make a reservation very far in advance over the phone, and those at the other end of the line don’t always pick up and don’t believe in voice mail.  For many diners, this hidden, uninviting element actually adds to the appeal.

Thai Xing

Thai Xing

Located in a residential area, at the home of the Thai chef’s family, the tables and chairs for the meal are all different sizes.  There is no menu, as instead the chef brings you food in waves, however and whenever they see fit.   According to those who have dined there, each dish is incredible, authentic, and bursting with flavor.  Those lucky few who have enjoyed this unique dining experience say it is impossible not to finish your meal because every bit makes you so happy.  You can also tour the chef’s kitchen, and his outside garden where he grows authentic Thai herbs.  Considering the large portions and excellent quality of this food, a price of $35-40 per person seems more than reasonable.  As one patron put it, it is also true that this family is constantly smiling; their happiness is infectious and their guests find it difficult not to share in their joy.