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Fine Dining Restaurants and Taste

LaVernT's picture

I have a question of taste I have been raised with a Jamaican influence and both my grandmother and Mother are both incredible cooks.  In the last 5 years I have found that I am now moving to the kitchen.  The last two years my wife and I have been on a little quest trying as many different fine Restaurant as possible.  I my self have found that a lot of the ones I have gone to don’t live up to there reviews.  Well let me clarify the service for the most part is usually excellent.  The presentations are always eye candy but I seem to find the food for the most part to be very bland or buttered to death to add flavor.  Don’t let me get started on <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Florida except for Miami.  I believe from January to May I think a lot of Restaurant just put the seasoning away and I mean even Salt and Pepper.

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My question is this just a my taste buds or fine dinning experience all about who decides the Restaurant is good and food taste is secondary (i.e. Moses says the salt is good so everyone follow).  I ask this because at the same time I see a big raise in popularity of food from Mexico, New Orleans , Jamaica, Latin American ( is there a trend here all from regions or country that use a lot of spice and seasoning).  And it appears American are loving it.  Again is this just me or am I right about my assumptions?
Gretchen's picture

(post #26061, reply #1 of 27)

Not knowing the part of the country you are speaking of or the places in question doesn't leave us much to comment on.  The "fine dining" we have done seem to be pretty good on all the points.  And yes, ethnic cuisine has definitely been on the upswing for a good while.


LaVernT's picture

(post #26061, reply #2 of 27)

I live in Florida( West Coast, Sarasota) now, but have lived in Atlanta, Houston, New York, Denver and Michigan and I have travelled a lot overseas and in the United States. 

Zombiechef's picture

(post #26061, reply #3 of 27)

I generally depend on word of mouth to determine whether or not I will even try a place, let alone frequent one.  The establishment has to turn out consistently good meals to get a recommendation from me.  I don't pay much attention to newspaper restaurant reviews; although those in the Zagat guide seem to be pretty accurate.  But then, they are posted by diners and not "professional" reviewers.

Have you gotten feedback from other diners about the restaurants you feel did not live up to their reviews?  I know lots of people who are accustomed to extremely spicy food then eat at mainstream places and feel the food is "bland."  I know many people who salt things before ever trying them, and now their palates are trained to accept the extra saltiness as "normal."  I do agree that many restaurants now drown food in butter for the mouthfeel and taste but I haven't been to many where there is a complete lack of flavor due to holding back on herbs and/or spices - and certainly not a lack of salt.  (Can tell food is heavily salted by the 3,881 glasses of water I need several hours later.)

LaVernT's picture

(post #26061, reply #4 of 27)

Well maybe I'm being a little to harsh, but I find that a lot some of the people I talk to about different Restaurants seem to be lost in the experience of eating is what may be the spice of the day (no pun intended) but you are right I have been in restaurants and seem people pick up the salt as soon as the plate hits the table.

As for me I do eat a lot of spicy food but it not  all the time, and I don't always want  spicy food but if I order a garlic and herb dish I would like to know that the herb is in the food (i.e. Latin Food be it spicy or not you can usually tell what herb are in the meal, southern cooking and New Orleans also tend to be that way.

I just get the the impression that a lot of the American Palate has become adjusted the how great the masses say the restaurants is. 

Don't get me wrong I Know that there are lot of  fantastic restaurants.  but have also found the ones that seem to be considered great don't live up to there Name.  I want to keep this discussion general so I will not get in to name dropping. plus I still feel eating and taste is still a subjective experience.


shywoodlandcreature's picture

(post #26061, reply #5 of 27)

Hi Lavernt, and welcome to the board. Hope you stick around and share some Jamaican recipes, techniques and food traditions with us.

I think you've got a real point there - I've eaten in restaurants that have been highly praised, and left wondering what all the hoo-ha was about when the food was exceptional only for its price. People do tend to believe what they read in a newspaper, so they'll flock like sheep to any trendy new place, and if they're disappointed, often it won't occur to them that the hype is at fault, and not their own taste. 

LaVernT's picture

(post #26061, reply #6 of 27)

Your right I think they just don't want to admit they wasted there money. Here's a story.  When I was in High School I wanted a pair of Leather Driving Glove (you know the cool ones with the holes in it) well I lived in Michigan and it was winter. Well My father gave me the money and ask if I was sure that what I wanted and I said yes.

Cool I got my glove and I look so good with them on... then one day I got caught in a snow bank and my father came and help get me out.  After all the work in the Cold

we went home when I got home he asked me how I like my gloves I said they where great.  He just laughed and said remember this a man will say anything is great after he's spent a lot of money for it.  A lesson I have never forgot because he was right.

You see I was freezing my @#@#@ of with those glove on.

Glenys's picture

(post #26061, reply #8 of 27)

Lavernt, it's great that you're bringing some spice to our board! As far as trends go, one statistically trackable pattern as baby boomers age is the uptake on spicy foods -notably salsa- because as we age, our palates do too. Coming from a cuisine of complex spicing, you must be just as frustrated with too hot but still boring food. I was at the Fiery Foods and Barbecue trade show a couple years ago where there's at least a thousand hot sauces based on habanero, vinegar, water and a lot of money spent of the design of the label. Hot yes, flavour no; packaging sells. Packaging for restaurants works as well.

Fine dining is a strange and ambiguous concept. As you said, is it the food, the decor or an illusion? Our city has a lot of eating options but there are a few spots anchored in many consumer's thoughts as definite "fine dining" special occasion venues. Oddly, the mediocre food is more expensive than at the venues of our stellar chefs and yet the same group of people would never dream of venturing out to experience what they have to offer. So it's interesting to look at what really is upscale or fine dining and see if the food follows along.

Zombiechef's picture

(post #26061, reply #9 of 27)

...I just get the the impression that a lot of the American Palate has become adjusted the how great the masses say the restaurants is. 

This might guarantee a one-time visit.  I don't know anyone who repeatedly dines (and pays for meals) at a restaurant that doesn't satisfy them.  Especially if there are an abundance of places from which to choose.  A good reputation might draw people in but only good results will bring them back a second time.

Glenys's picture

(post #26061, reply #10 of 27)

Are the masses the general dining population or are you defining the "American palate" by what's consumed en masse?

BigDaddy0146's picture

(post #26061, reply #11 of 27)

A good reputation might draw people in but only good results will bring them back a second time

Well said, Chiffy.  The corallary being, if it taste good, it is good, reputation be damned.

This is such a subjective area.  DW and I have known a particular couple for years and we have dined together many times over the years.  When they come to our home (and it seems that it is always our home) for dinner they always rave about how great the dinner was (this explains why they are such dear friends :), so they clearly know reasonably fine cooking when they get it.  But when it comes to restaurants we couldn't be further apart in our opinions.

They invariably dine at the local greasey spoons and then wax poetically about the $5.99 special.  But when they join us at something more upscale (and I use that term in it's most positive form) they pick it to death.  What I've concluded is that when they pick a restaurant their notion of value weighs so heavily in making a judgement that it colors their perception of quality.

I guess my point here is that is very, very hard to discuss and compare the quality of a dining experience without hard and fast criteria.  Otherwise you never know for sure what weighs most heavily in people's minds when they make a judgement.


Big Daddy

JennInTo's picture

(post #26061, reply #12 of 27)

There is something to be said about the "Fast-food, fine dining" type of restaurant. They exist everywhere, and are usually located around tourist destinations or near hotels, or in busy downtown areas. The food is overpriced, and generally boring, bland, pretty much pre-made, and full of processed ingredients.

They trick people with their expensive, exciting decor, and their expensive menu. And, they will invariably have 'Chicken Alfredo' on the menu (along with 30 other choices).

I know because as a waitress, these are the places to work.

2 bits of advice. Don't eat at a place that offers 'Chicken Alfredo'

(unless it is a true white tablecloth-red sauce italian rest. with a real Nonna in the kitchen), and if you have to, order the special.

The thing about these crappy, expensive restaurants is that people keep coming back! It drives me crazy! All that affluence going to waste. People come in to a (quasi) creole restaurant, spend 80$ on a bottle of Merlot (we'll have this merlot... the red one) (gotcha, good thing we're out of the white Merlot), and order chicken Alfredo!!!!!

No!!!!!!! And they rave about it!

Now I sound like the biggest food snob in the world.

TracyK's picture

(post #26061, reply #13 of 27)

If you're the biggest food snob in the world, you're in good company here. <G>

I find I don't go out to eat nearly as much as I used to, just because I can usually do better making it myself! I turn my nose up at a $7 creme brulee that isn't nearly as good as mine (it's egg yolks, sugar, and cream, people!!), I get pissy when the meat isn't done as I would do it. I've basically decided that I'll be better served by eating at home, and saving the money I'm not spending eating at mediocre places often for an occasional dinner at a restaurant that I know will knock my socks off.

Except for that $3 Peruvian chicken joint. That's a deal, no matter how you slice it. :-)

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly. --M.F.K. Fisher

BigDaddy0146's picture

(post #26061, reply #14 of 27)

I find I don't go out to eat nearly as much as I used to, just because I can usually do better making it myself!

I certainly agree with the sentiment expressed here, Tracy.  I've found myself saying that quite often.  But I find that I can be forgiving if the total experience is satisfying, even if it's not to-die-for.  For starters I tend to order dishes that I don't prepare at home.  For example, shellfish, which DW won't eat, is almost never served at home unless I'm bach'ing it for a day or two.  Or perhaps I'll order something that tends to be so time consuming that I rarely bother.

Beyond that I sometimes find that I just want to be pampered.  I'll sip my drink, enjoy the atmosphere and the company and let someone else cook my meal, serve me and clean up after me.  When I go out for a restaurant, unless I'm on a trip or something like that, it's about more than eating a good meal, although that certainly is part of it. 

And if the chicken Alfredo and creme brulee is well prepared and the espresso is done right, well, bring it on :)


Edited 4/3/2002 2:18:59 PM ET by Big Daddy

Big Daddy

TracyK's picture

(post #26061, reply #15 of 27)

I totally agree!

Obviously there are lots of things I don't/can't make at home... many ethnic specialty foods come to mind, particularly Thai and Vietnamese, which I've just not gotten around to trying my hand at. Also, I am lucky to live in an area well-populated with authentic, cheaply-priced ethnic restaurants, so I'm not as motivated to learn how to cook it myself as I can buy it, already made and delicious, for about as much (or less!) as it would cost me to make it myself.

I do like to take advantage of going out for meals and order things that SO won't eat... he doesn't like spicy food or cheese (other than mozzarella, ricotta, or parm) so it is nice to get stuff I avoid making when we're eating at home.

BTW, don't you just love "baching it" for a day or two? My favorite "bachelor meal" is a big bowl of steamed mussels with PLENTY of garlic (SO would rather eat pork bung, I think!) and a pile of crusty bread. Or macaroni & cheese. Or buffalo wings. :-)

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly. --M.F.K. Fisher

BigDaddy0146's picture

(post #26061, reply #16 of 27)

don't you just love "baching it" for a day or two

Absolutely.  I suspect everyone does.  We should probably start a thread entitled "What Do You Eat When SO is Away."

For me it's crab cakes.  Not only won't DW eat them but I don't believe a decent crab cake has ever been found north of Pennsylvania.  And Friday night she'll be away...:)


Big Daddy

TessaK's picture

(post #26061, reply #17 of 27)

Big Daddy, would you mind sharing your crab cake recipe? We (well, SO that is) made them for the first time ever this weekend and they were quite good, but a little too crispy on the outside. SO thinks he cooked them on too high heat. Still, since you are a sea food aficionado, I would like your recipe too if you don't mind.

BTW, we got an excellent deal on the crabmeat: it was free! This was just the local supermarket (it didn't look bad and tasted quite good) and the little tub scanned much higher than I thought it should be. The cashier checked and sure enough I was right. So then they gave it to me for free!

BTW, SO says the same thing about cooking at home and eating out.

BigDaddy0146's picture

(post #26061, reply #18 of 27)

Hi Tessa,

I tinker with this recipe all the time in a quest for perfection but this one is pretty good.

1 pound

crab meat

3 tablespoons

sour cream

1 large

egg, beaten

2 tablespoons

butter, melted and cooled

½ cup

scallion, green parts, finely chopped

1 tablespoon


1 tablespoon

fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons

Old Bay Seasoning

½ teaspoon


½ teaspoon


¼ teaspoon


¼ teaspoon

black pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons

fine fresh bread crumbs

1/3 cup


½ cup

vegetable oil

Make sure to pick over the crabmeat very well to remove any bits of shell. Shred or chop the crabmeat into small pieces.

In a bowl whisk together the butter, the egg, the sour cream, the scallion, the parsley, the lemon juice, the Old Bay, the paprika, the salt, and the cayenne. Stir in the crab meat and the bread crumbs gently.  The amount of bread crumbs you add will depend on the crabmeat’s juiciness. Start with the smallest amount. If the cakes won't bind at this point, then add more bread crumbs, one tablespoon at a time.

Form ½-cup measures of the mixture into six ¾-inch-thick cakes.  Lightly dredge the cakes in flour and transfer the crab cakes as they are formed to a platter covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour or overnight.

In a large heavy skillet heat the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking and in it sauté the crab cakes in batches, turning them once, for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until they are golden, transferring them as they are cooked to paper towels to drain.


Big Daddy

Gretchen's picture

(post #26061, reply #19 of 27)

With crab cakes, less is more in our part of the counry.  We have these for Sunday brunch at the beach.

Lowcountry Crab Cakes

1 egg, beaten
3-4 TBS mayonnaise
fresh ground black pepper, dash of salt.
1/4C Chopped red bell pepper
dash Worcestershire sauce
1/2C Ritz cracker crumbs

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly except cracker crumbs together. Add cracker crumbs.

Add 1# lumb crab meat, folding in gently leaving it in large chunks. 

Heat butter in a skillet until hot. Drop by large spoonfulls in to hot butter flattening to make a patty (makes 6 large, 8 medium).  Saute until golden on bottom, turn, and finish.












TessaK's picture

(post #26061, reply #27 of 27)

Oops, and thank you Gretchen! I am printing all of these out now!

TracyK's picture

(post #26061, reply #20 of 27)

Hey Tessa!

I grew up eating crabs mere minutes after being plucked from the blue-ish waters of the Chesapeake Bay, and this is the only crab cake recipe my grandmother ever used.  I think it comes from the can of Old Bay seasoning, with a few tweaks. :-)

2 slices bread, crusts removed
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Old Bay
1 pound crab meat (preferably lump or backfin)
Flour, seasoned with salt and black pepper, for dredging

Break bread into small pieces and moisten with milk. Add remaining ingredients; shape into cakes, being careful not to disturb the lumps. Lightly dredge in seasoned flour and fry or broil until golden brown.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly. --M.F.K. Fisher

JennInTo's picture

(post #26061, reply #21 of 27)

I have made crab cakes a couple of times, and although they aren't as traditional, they are still pretty good.

I have yet to find non-canned, but out of the shell crab meat in toronto. So I make these when the grocery store has a sale on snow crab legs and supplement it with the best quality canned meat i can find. The bonus is I can use the shells and the steaming liquid to make a little lime-y cream sauce to serve with them. I like to serve them with a dollop of 'caviar' /roe just for fun. (I stole this idea from the swan restaurant in Toronto -- credit given where credit is due)

I also make them really small. Not much more than an inch and a half in diameter.

I mix up a few tablespoons of finely grated gruyere, a touch of grated parm, some beaten cream cheese, a bit of finely chopped green onion, a teensy bit of garlic. A bit of finely chopped parsely, and of course, the crab meat, a beaten egg and dry bread crumbs.

I shape them into small cakes as I mentionned above, and fry them up in butta baby!!!!

Sorry i didn't include any measures, it all depends on the tastyness of the crab, the moistness, and how much of it I have.

kai230's picture

(post #26061, reply #22 of 27)

mix up a few tablespoons of finely grated gruyere, a touch of grated parm, some beaten cream cheese, a bit of finely chopped green onion, a teensy bit of garlic. A bit of finely chopped parsely, and of course, the crab meat, a beaten egg and dry bread crumbs.

Yum! I like the cheese additions. Thanks, Jenn :-)

JennInTo's picture

(post #26061, reply #23 of 27)

Gruyere also tastes great with lobster. I put the two together for a stuffed pasta once. Other than tuna melts we don't often think to put seafood with cheese.

kai230's picture

(post #26061, reply #24 of 27)

Hoo boy, takes forevah to [not] load, when impatience took over and "made" me then press the NS X icon in the top bar a few times when the "progress bar" (at the bottom) showed less than 10% after a minute or so, and--surprise--the reply box comes up. Good work, uh :-( and I only have one instance of NS open.

As my remodel ordeal continues to slide, I'm suddenly starving for lobster and gruyere. Greatly appreciate your tip Jen! Many thanks!

As for the topic, food taste/whim is the main thing I look for (unless dining out in a supposedly fancy-schmancy place where one has to dress up, in which case I also want impeccable service as well), and these days, convenience, i.e., someone else cooks or it's a simple pairing. Ingredients must be fresh to the max. Ultimately, it must fit the occasion--am I in a hurry? at work? taking a particular type of food to someone?

I want that lobster deep-fried, and served w/drawn btr & lemon, and gruyere.

Right when this forum went wacko, oops, prospero, I swear I remember reading someone else posting from San Diego (CA). Maybe they know of somewhere N of the border that fixes lobster that (Puerto Nuevo) way. No way in HE ll will I ever find that post/er.

Many thanks to all. I didn't search on this yet.

TessaK's picture

(post #26061, reply #26 of 27)

I tried to reply 2 mins ago, but it timed out. Anyway, Big Daddy and Tracy, thanks for the recipes! Lump crab meat was on special at the supermarket yesterday, so we are trying again tonight. I will let you know how it turns out!


nutcakes's picture

(post #26061, reply #25 of 27)

I have to agree Chiff.  I live in a food town, and there is always the hot place of the moment, however, we have extremely high standards so people do admit and discuss when they paid a lot and did not like the experience, and this can quickly translate as disaster for the restaurant if they are not supplying a good overall experience, which here, would start with the food, then service, then ambiance.  Other towns have other priorities, for sure.   


I find that the standards here do not translate even within the state, so what one thinks of as fine dining in one place will not be the same as in another.   So I can't imagine the values in another state very well. 

I don't recall that our original poster has discussed cooking here, so it is impossible to guess at her taste, or begin to answer her question.  Interesting topic, I suppose. 

MEANCHEF's picture

(post #26061, reply #7 of 27)

I guess part of the answer depends on which kind of  fine restaurants you are referring to.  Certain cuisines are far more subtle than others.  If you are used to spicy food, it may very well be that other food could taste bland.  I prefer food with flavor impact, so I tend toward cuisines that cater to my tastes.

As far as restaurants, raving reviews do not always translate into a great meal.  We all have preferences/tastes to deal with.  Were I live I have found certain restaurant reviewers to be right on for my taste.  Other reviewers have led me astray enough that I ignore them.