Right now, restaurants in London, Paris, and most big US cities are dark and dismal places, closed temporarily or unfortunately, often for good. Restaurant critics -- along with chefs, waiters, sommeliers, and so forth -- have had to find other work. The future might hold better luck for them and for us. Maybe we will be able to eat out again in the not-too-distant future, maybe even while traveling to England or France where I've definitely enjoyed many good meals. Meanwhile, I have books to read.
While Appelbaum denies that he's a restaurant critic, he does describe several experiences that he and his wife had trying to find good restaurants in London, Paris, and other French cities. Mostly, he complains because the combined food, service, and atmosphere never live up to his expectations. This is a bit tedious.
He does accomplish something: his method of picking out restaurants could be a lesson on how to eat badly in London and Paris and probably lots of other places. Here are a few of his documented approaches to ensuring that he will be disappointed:
- Go to a neighborhood in the chosen city where there might be good restaurants. Or maybe to a neighborhood that had good ones in the past and is now touristy, like Montmartre or the Left Bank in Paris. Wander around until you are becoming exhausted and your wife is complaining because her feet hurt. Finally choose a restaurant in desperation even though you don't think it will be great. It won't.
- Go to a restaurant with a good reputation, or at least a pretty good one. Order the cheap tourist menu. Make your wife order it too. It will turn out to be poor quality. As you suffer with each bite, watch the other diners in the restaurant -- they are locals who ordered à la carte, and who are enjoying truly delicious and well-prepared-looking dishes.
- Go to a restaurant that was famous at some time in the past. You might find out that it is now owned by a faceless corporation and it's no longer out-of-the ordinary. Just predictable.
- Go to a restaurant in an ethnic community (say, Chinese or other Asian), but order the dishes that are intended for timid non-ethnic customers. This is probably a route to disappointment anywhere, even in small US cities.
- Go to a very expensive and highly respected restaurant. You will have very high expectations but a lowish budget. Order your food carefully, but let the waiter manipulate you to order wine and extras that run up your tab to way past what you hoped to pay. You may have enjoyed the food, but you'll regret the experience.
- Pick a restaurant that has been decorated to look like it has a distinctive historical identity, for example, one that's based on the famous bouchons of Lyons, France. In Lyons or maybe even in Paris itself, there are still restaurants that preserve this tradition -- Appelbaum, however, goes to a fake bouchon in a completely inappropriate area that has completely different traditional restaurants. Try this: you might be lucky with the food. You might not.
- Above all, don't follow the advice of guide books or mainstream restaurant critics because, as Appelbaum warns, they are inferior writers who deserve to be analyzed, not used as expert recommenders. Don't research reputations or current status of restaurants -- don't ask local friends where they eat -- don't do anything that would maybe get you a good meal that you could afford!