After a deeply enjoyable lunch at Per Se recently, I started thinking about what it means to be a four-star restaurant.
Not so with four-star restaurants. There’s a large sub-culture that finds these bastions of luxury actively worse — who wouldn’t care to visit them, even if they were free, and who certainly don’t find the stratospheric sticker prices remotely worthwhile.
Luxury restaurants coddle you. Some diners are stubbornly resistant to coddling. It’s not just that they’re willing to pay less, in exchange for the same food with worse service. They actually prefer it that way. Frank Bruni captured the ethos of the new generation in his first review of Momofuku Ssäm Bar:
Ssam Bar answers the desires of a generation of savvy, adventurous diners with little appetite for starchy rituals and stratospheric prices.
They want great food, but they want it to feel more accessible, less effete.
These comments captured the false dichotomy. If you don’t join them, you’re un-savvy and effete. Good service is a “starchy ritual,” a religious ceremony repeated endlessly for no logical purpose.