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Fine Dining (Or Lack Thereof)


RaisaB
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I don't post as often as I did at the beginning of this board but I still read to keep up. The board or maybe our eating habits have changed drastically. When DR.com first started, you would read about mostly upscale restaurants. Palena's, Equinox, Citronelles, Corduruoy's, Maestro, Vidalia, Tosca, etcetera. Now the board seems more geared towards food trucks and ethnic eateries. These are all great, but do we not eat at the "finer" places as often or is it that there is just nothing New or Avant Garde coming out of them anymore? We will always have Michael Landrum and Ray's the Steak, but what about the other guys?

I know for myself, I still go occasionally, but I do tend to eat locally (Fairfax and Arlington) much more. The ethnic places are fine, but they are not something I go to regularly unless I love them. Any opinions?

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I don't post as often as I did at the beginning of this board but I still read to keep up. The board or maybe our eating habits have changed drastically. When DR.com first started, you would read about mostly upscale restaurants. Palena's, Equinox, Citronelles, Corduruoy's, Maestro, Vidalia, Tosca, etcetera. Now the board seems more geared towards food trucks and ethnic eateries. These are all great, but do we not eat at the "finer" places as often or is it that there is just nothing New or Avant Garde coming out of them anymore? We will always have Michael Landrum and Ray's the Steak, but what about the other guys?

I know for myself, I still go occasionally, but I do tend to eat locally (Fairfax and Arlington) much more. The ethnic places are fine, but they are not something I go to regularly unless I love them. Any opinions?

Well there's this thing called the economy ...

Fiola, Rogue 24, Elisir ... it's all cyclical, and the pendulum will swing again in the other direction. As to when, I have no clue, but people (as a whole) are going to want to splurge on luxury, sooner or later.

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I meant to mention that in there... Are we eating out but more frugally?

Yes and no. Our members still dine out quite a bit, but this is a pretty diehard group. Since Memorial Day, things have gotten very quiet in this town (and I've heard this from distributors themselves, not just restaurateurs). In terms of the past couple of years, yes, you bet people are eating out less and spending less.

If you think in terms of "decades" (i.e. The Roaring 20s, The Great Depression, World War Two, The Baby Boom) it makes everything a bit more delineated. My personal opinion is that it will take awhile for us to come out of this mess, but assuming we do (and with the national debt, I assume nothing), people are going to have a pent-up desire to spend.

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I meant to mention that in there... Are we eating out but more frugally?

To add to Don's post, I think new restaurants are swinging toward the frugal less refined market. New restaurants that opened recently that falls into this category and aren't in the fine dining are:

Hill Country

Freddy's

Toki Underground

Queen's Pub

Luke's Lobster

Fishnet

Oh Fish

Medium Rare

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I meant to mention that in there... Are we eating out but more frugally?

I think you're spot on with both points. Personally, my dining habits have changed over the last few years, with far fewer splurge/upscale meals and more dining at local spots that I feel provide high quality at a good value.

A few examples:

1) We used to spend a lot of time (and money) eating and drinking at the bar of one of the high-end favorites - we don't do that anymore. That's partly because it became more and more crowded and partly because it began to feel like an unnecessary luxury.

2) Birthdays used to mean a (pricey) multi-course meal at one of the hot spots. A recent birthday celebration was a meal prepared at home (per the request of the b-day celebrant). Granted, the meal included very good ingredients from the farmers' market, but it was still significantly cheaper than going out - and just as, if not more, enjoyable.

I sometimes wonder if I haven't been permanently spoiled for future upscale meals. The last couple have been somewhat disappointing, which I think has a lot to do with elevated expectations. The higher the expectations are, the more it takes to meet/exceed them, especially if they're based on past experiences.

At this point in time, I find it much more enjoyable to experience a reasonably priced, well-prepared dish/meal , with a few high quality ingredients. One of the more memorable/pleasant meals I've had recently was at Bayona in New Orleans. The $25 small plate Saturday lunch special allowed us to try several different dishes, featuring fresh, seasonal food. If it had been dinner, where the price of a main starts at $27, maybe I would have had higher expectations - it's hard to say.

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Personally over the past year or two I have grown bored of fine dining...it was all pork belly this, confit that, what can I turn into a slider. It seemed like for awhile you could walk into many fine dining restaurants around town and expect to see the same (or similar) proteins/presentations over and over again.

These days, I'd rather explore the extensive menus at say Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville.

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Personally over the past year or two I have grown bored of fine dining...it was all pork belly this, confit that, what can I turn into a slider. It seemed like for awhile you could walk into many fine dining restaurants around town and expect to see the same (or similar) proteins/presentations over and over again.

These days, I'd rather explore the extensive menus at say Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville.

Thing is though, pork belly and confit aren't traditionally components of fine dining; they're peasant food. When fine dining returns (and it will return, it's just a matter of when), we'll see foie gras (well, maybe not foie gras due to external pressures), caviar (well, maybe not caviar due to external pressures), Dover sole, souffl├ęs, fatty tuna (well, maybe not fatty tuna due to external pressures), Kobe beef, etc., along with upper level service. Fine dining isn't dead; it's merely less common for the time being.

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I have been doing a lot of my fine dining in other cities recently. But we too have not been doing quite as many big nights out, but it is more due to the dog taking our weeknights so we have to do take out or quick meals.

Another problem is a lot of these "neighborhood" places aren't all that cheap, like Rustico which I love, but isn't a real steal in terms of pricing so we spend more on casual places like that which eats away our big budget money.

There are also small places doing more tasting menus and such like Ardeo/Bardeo, Palena Cafe, etc.

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I tend to agree with ALL the points above. Yes the economy has cut down how much we spend. At the same time, I also have grown tired of glorified peasant food. I like one or two great ingredients cooked well. We regularly visit a restaurant in Fairfax City called Courthouse Thai, I have to walk in front of Villa Mozart to get there. I ate at both this past week. Courthouse is a much lower price point on the weekends with the most amazing softshell crabs I have ever tasted in my life. Villa Mozart has a weekday special prix-fixe $35 plus $10 for upgrades. Eating at Villa Mozart made me realize how much I miss things like Foie Gras and Magret. It is a cyclical thing, yet at the same time I think everyone except for the youngest will be more cautious on their spending habits when this WORLD economic crisis is over.

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Then there is the "education" some of the longer-time members of this group have gained over the years (!). I've simply eaten too many over-priced/over-hyped meals since the time I originally joined eGullet :D and then this group, that I cast a wary eye at every new place which opens with a whole lotta PR and fanfare. Or, every "blow-out" dinner announced on this board. I've also discovered that I don't care for endless courses of one-bite offerings--so you won't find me begging for a reservation at Minibar, Komi, or Alinea (should I ever find myself in Chicago). And, MAN, I really hate those places that are so noisy you can't hold a reasonable conversation.

In fact, one of my very favorite places to eat is at Waitman and Mrs. B's home, but you have to be invited to dine there. B) No molecular gastronomy or foie gras will be found there, but awfully good food nonetheless and absolutely stellar company and service (!)--not too many of us will forget that cassoulet they produced to celebrate the 2009 Inauguration. Sorta like what we think it would be to dine at Zora's home. Which gets us to the point that quite a few of us know how to cook at least a few things well and just aren't willing to forgive pedestrian mistakes in places that charge a lot of $$$ for the privilege of dining at their premises.

Factor all that in, plus the fact the some of us are more carefully watching what we eat for health reasons, not to mention conserving finances, and there is less talk of pig-outs that aren't worth the money or the calories.

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Economy ~ a lot of those fancy meals were paid for by expense accounts, wining and dining customers, contacts and prospects. For several reasons, those days may be gone. Not so much money sloshing around. Even if there is money it looks bad to be eating like a lord when the employees are doing twice as much work for no more money. And political climate has put the kibosh on wining and dining Congress critters anymore.

Demographics - aging - there is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots. And the haves are getting older. Personally I have lost tolerance for wheat, dairy, saturated fat, and sodium. Have to watch what I eat. A lot of older people are like that. Looking forward to Barbara Kafka's upcoming new release, "The Intolerant Gourmet."

Demographics - empowerment of women. It used to be that eating out was a special treat, and you'd get all dressed up for a special occasion, where Mom could get all dolled up and did not have to do the dishes. But that's not my generation. You still see this on, say, Mother's Day, where for some women it's still a very special treat to be taken out, and they get all dressed up for brunch.

Personal style - I just don't want to be fawned on. I want good food, and that's it. Happy as a clam to have my special meals at Rays or Dinos. No desire to even try The Inn at Little Washington. And what's the point of the funny thing that the wait staff do with their fingers when serving bread at Eve's, anyway? It creeps me out. Good manners are natural. Dignified, respectful, friendly, whatever suits the place and the time. Artificial manners are not good manners.

False dichotomy - fancy interior decorating does not improve the quality of the food.

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Demographics - empowerment of women. It used to be that eating out was a special treat, and you'd get all dressed up for a special occasion, where Mom could get all dolled up and did not have to do the dishes. But that's not my generation. You still see this on, say, Mother's Day, where for some women it's still a very special treat to be taken out, and they get all dressed up for brunch.

Yes, we eat out a lot during the week a lot because I am working until god knows what hour and don't have time to cook, but I enjoy being busy at work.

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Yes, we eat out a lot during the week a lot because I am working until god knows what hour and don't have time to cook, but I enjoy being busy at work.

That's an interesting thought. We eat out frequently because we have to, so having the time to cook and eat something special at home becomes the treat.

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That's an interesting thought. We eat out frequently because we have to, so having the time to cook and eat something special at home becomes the treat.

I agree, going to the farmers market on Saturday morning and making a special meal at home means more to me these days than going out for a five star meal. When I go out during the week, I am looking for value good taste and expediency.

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I agree, going to the farmers market on Saturday morning and making a special meal at home means more to me these days than going out for a five star meal. When I go out during the week, I am looking for value good taste and expediency.

One of our pleasures is preparing dinner together after buying truly exceptional ingredients often at a farmers market, Balducci's, and Black Salt. Chopping, slicing, diciing. Salmon, rockfish, halibut, swordfish grilled with interesting sides is my idea of a meal well spent. Low sodium, little fat, and great taste.

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My newish husband has pointed out that I am far more loathe to spend "our" money than I was to spend his on fine dining. While I like to think that it's due to a naturally evolving frugality, it's definitely true that the courting phase led to a lot more blow-out meals and food to impress than regular old married life. That plus general feelings about the state of the economy (oh, and he's still a student) has led us to do most of our fine dining during work (paid for!) or fun travel (one-time opportunities), while spending our local dining dollars on excellent, high-value establishments where we can't make something similar at home. We're getting to be pretty decent cooks and like to learn new dishes, so it's harder to justify going out when we aren't fairly certain we'll do significantly better out of the home. Also, I am extremely partial to the assorted Asian cuisines and we have so many great places around here where it's actually difficult to spend a lot of money (we don't really drink) before you're stuffed and happy.

I'd also say that a few high-priced failures to meet expectations at fancier and hyped spots makes one a bit gun-shy to try new places. It therefore follows that if you're going back over and over to your regular haunts, even though they are excellent fine-dining experiences, you might not always post about them here, slowing the thread traffic on our most reliable and beloved restaurants.

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Personal style - I just don't want to be fawned on. I want good food, and that's it. Happy as a clam to have my special meals at Rays or Dinos. No desire to even try The Inn at Little Washington. And what's the point of the funny thing that the wait staff do with their fingers when serving bread at Eve's, anyway? It creeps me out. Good manners are natural. Dignified, respectful, friendly, whatever suits the place and the time. Artificial manners are not good manners.

Is it just me being cranky, or has anyone else noticed a trend toward being fawned on? It's becoming a game for Steve and me to see how much hovering waitstaff does. I'm getting the sense that this is coming from managers who want their customers (oops, sorry, guests) to have a fine-dining experience regardless of the ambiance or what's on the menu.

Writing students are taught that good writing doesn't call attention to itself; the reader should stay immersed in the narrative. Good service shouldn't call attention to itself, either. Just let me enjoy my food and friends.

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Agree with the two posts above. I feel most comfortable in a place that has good food but is more laid back than formal. I don't want to be doted over. I also feel kind of bad spending a boat load of money on dinner. Over $100 per person and my enjoyment becomes inversely proportional to cost.

Mr. MV and I have a big anniversary coming up and I'm dithering over whether to book an expensive meal. Even Eve seems like too much green for one meal, let alone TIALW. I don't know, perhaps we'll let loose for once :mellow:

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Agree with the two posts above. I feel most comfortable in a place that has good food but is more laid back than formal. I don't want to be doted over. I also feel kind of bad spending a boat load of money on dinner. Over $100 per person and my enjoyment becomes inversely proportional to cost.

Mr. MV and I have a big anniversary coming up and I'm dithering over whether to book an expensive meal. Even Eve seems like too much green for one meal, let alone TIALW. I don't know, perhaps we'll let loose for once :mellow:

This is one reason I like Komi so much. The food is fantastic, but I also find the atmosphere and service to be gracious and friendly-- top notch but not over the top.

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Agree with the two posts above. I feel most comfortable in a place that has good food but is more laid back than formal. I don't want to be doted over. I also feel kind of bad spending a boat load of money on dinner. Over $100 per person and my enjoyment becomes inversely proportional to cost.

Mr. MV and I have a big anniversary coming up and I'm dithering over whether to book an expensive meal. Even Eve seems like too much green for one meal, let alone TIALW. I don't know, perhaps we'll let loose for once :unsure:

ditto here...Mr. S and I also have a big anniversary coming up. Though we go every year to Palena for our Anniversary, I posed the question to see if he wanted to try somewhere else, or somewhere new? But we both realized that Palena has everything we want--reasonable price for a special occasion, good food, good service and the tradition we've established going back every year. We'll have to save TIALW for when we win the lottery. :mellow:

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ditto here...Mr. S and I also have a big anniversary coming up. Though we go every year to Palena for our Anniversary, I posed the question to see if he wanted to try somewhere else, or somewhere new? But we both realized that Palena has everything we want--reasonable price for a special occasion, good food, good service and the tradition we've established going back every year. We'll have to save TIALW for when we win the lottery. :mellow:

I've posted this in other threads but L'Auberge Chez Francois has OUTSIDE tables on their patio which are first come, first serve. Incredibly romantic. L'Auberge's regular menu but I cannot emphasize the candlelit ambience enough. Simply an extraordinary experience worthy of an anniversary or a stop while trekking through the countryside. For all the world you could be in the Alsatian countryside. This is also available for lunch but the real treat is dinner.

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This is one reason I like Komi so much. The food is fantastic, but I also find the atmosphere and service to be gracious and friendly-- top notch but not over the top.

With the wine pairing Komi is now $205.00 per person prix fixe ($135 + 70). For two people that's $410 + approximately $39 tax + $90 tip which equals $540 for dinner for two. Of course Komi is an outstanding restaurant. But today, at over $500 for two, it should be. It must be. Truthfully my attitude towards Komi is a bit different today than several years ago. There's no longer any margin for error at this price point.

The Inn at Little Washington is now $188 per person for dinner on Saturday night + wine + tax + tip. (No this is NOT for the Chef's Table which is now a $450 suppliment on Saturday. Of course this is for up to six people...) The menu for this is shorter than Komi but The Inn offers sumptuous luxury. Having said this, dinner for two on Saturday is $600-700 (188 X 2 + wine (assume $100/bottle) + tax = tip) and there is even less margin for error.

Honestly, we're not doing $600-700 dinners these days. Frankly, we're not doing $540 either. For our anniversary last month we drove to rural Chester county, PA and had dinner at the incredible Birchrunville Store Cafe http://www.birchrunvillestorecafe.com/ (reserve three months in advance for Saturday; Zagat's highest food rating for the greater Philadelphia area) which was about $190 including tax and tip. ($75 prix fixe for the tasting menu) Of course it's BYOB so I brought my own wine. We stayed at a new Marriott Courtyard in Downingtown which was about $150 including tax. Gas and tolls added around $60. Breakfast at a diner was $30 with tip. All told our anniversary including the $75 bottle of wine that I brought was less than Komi or The Inn and, I thought, special enough that we will go back every year as long as I can get the reservation.

Birchrunville is a different experience than Washington, Va but I thought far more atmospheric. Almost a Twilight Zone kind of experience at an 18th Century crossroads.

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Interesting thread, and lots of good comments. I tend to follow different directions nowadays, in part because of the economy, but mostly because of what the economy is doing to the mom-n-pop operations. I want to seek them out, discover the love coming from their uplifted peasant fare, and help support them through the rough times. Yes, I still pop into PS7 for a burger or Michel for a $20 omelet, but I'm more interested these days in discovering the best of the ethnic mom-n-pops. And in particular, the much-ignored Middle Eastern fare of my heritage propels me on my haunts around the metropolitan area, always seeking the best kibbee nayee, among other treats.

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Just as the infamous, unannounced, tweet-review fiasco of Adour heralded the beginning of the recession and the general decline in restaurant journalism, this seems like the other extreme: a beautiful restaurant, grabbing the bull by the horns, and compromising their principles via questionable PR in order to pander to the press and unsuspecting dining public by dumbing themselves down, and shackling the talents of a chef such as Bertrand Chemel, perhaps hoping that nobody will notice the difference.

I'm sorry this is going to happen to you folks over at 2941. Since I haven't seen your financial books or business plan, I can't say it's a "huge mistake," but I'm pretty sure we can, at least for the time being, kiss Bertrand Chemel goodbye in terms of being a world-class chef. I hope I'm wrong, but I see nothing that would lead me to believe otherwise. If this is what's happening, I pray that our economy rebounds well enough so that restaurants such as the great 2941 (and make no mistake, it was great) regain their footing.

As it stands, we've lost many great restaurants over the past several years through marketing, false criticism, and attrition from the recession; gained only a tiny handful; and worse still, have witnessed upscale restaurants slide down the scale, not to rock bottom, but to an exit such as this. Is Chemel really motivated enough to take his French-influenced cooking, and dumb things down into plates which are "modern American with Mediterranean influences?" Does everyone hear how boring that sounds?

I hate that fine dining, though not dead, seems to be on the downswing...

...and it was at this point that MrP said, "or maybe people are just wising up to the fact that they don't have to be fawned over to have good food."

I think molecular gastronomy and its lesser spawn have done a lot to kill fine dining.

and just after I posted this ktmoomau wrote (in the 2941 thread):

"If I want find dining, I want creativity and to let the chef really do his thing."*

Which kind of illustrates my point. Is old-school fine dining still alive?

*not that there's anything wrong with it

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Well, at least we haven't been reduced to discussing the finer points of comparison between Wendy's Triple Bacon/Triple Bypass burger versus McDonald's 4 oz (excuse me, quarter-pound) Cheeseburger with a side order of artificially simulated, semi-frozen, chocolate flavored-milk byproducts.

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I dunno -

My last attempt, about a month ago, to seek the high ground was a complete disaster. The whole experience left me confused and extremely angry - at points wondering if I'd broken the law and at other points deciding we'd have to chance breaking the law. Food alone was $250 for two (I think, I'm still not sure what I was actually billed) and the food was actually quite excellent - but I left with a vow to not be so careless next time and not walk into such a disaster again. It was a shockingly bad overall experience at any price point.

We were out of town and on the way back the next day and we stopped at a roadside harley stop/pub where we had cheese soup. Might have been cheese wiz boiled with Miller High Life for all I knew - but the place was simple, that soup was good and at $6, it was a value we couldn't beat. For that experience I'll crumb my own table and leave happy.

I think that times like this highlight the value of a place like L'auberge Chez Francois. For a fair price, you get well cooked food, a respectable environment and experienced service. Most importantly, it seems everyone there gives a shit, not just some. So guess who will still be serving Dover Sole in 5 years after the economy wipes out some of the others?

Net: While it is partially a simple reduction in lavish meal purchases, I also suspect there is less of a willingness to chance the new/experimental/fashionable place vs. the tried-and-true. The herd is being thinned by the economy and the weak won't survive.

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I dunno -

My last attempt, about a month ago, to seek the high ground was a complete disaster. The whole experience left me confused and extremely angry - at points wondering if I'd broken the law and at other points deciding we'd have to chance breaking the law. Food alone was $250 for two (I think, I'm still not sure what I was actually billed) and the food was actually quite excellent - but I left with a vow to not be so careless next time and not walk into such a disaster again. It was a shockingly bad overall experience at any price point.

We were out of town and on the way back the next day and we stopped at a roadside harley stop/pub where we had cheese soup. Might have been cheese wiz boiled with Miller High Life for all I knew - but the place was simple, that soup was good and at $6, it was a value we couldn't beat. For that experience I'll crumb my own table and leave happy.

I think that times like this highlight the value of a place like L'auberge Chez Francois. For a fair price, you get well cooked food, a respectable environment and experienced service. Most importantly, it seems everyone there gives a shit, not just some. So guess who will still be serving Dover Sole in 5 years after the economy wipes out some of the others?

Net: While it is partially a simple reduction in lavish meal purchases, I also suspect there is less of a willingness to chance the new/experimental/fashionable place vs. the tried-and-true. The herd is being thinned by the economy and the weak won't survive.

I, for one, would be curious to hear more about the disaster.

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I, for one, would be curious to hear more about the disaster.

Hi Waitman - I cathartically responded to Don's PM'd request for same. Therapist Don has my story, my persmission to reprint it if he deems appropriate and the tear stains on his couch. I felt really...violated. (sob) Maybe it was my fault (victim-speak)

I considered starting a thread to let people vent about "the best of times; the worst of times", stories where the carpet didn't match the drapes and superior service was met with horrible food or vice-versa. Just wasn't sure if/where appropriate.

So back on topic - where would one go in Montgomery County for a classic fine dining experience, if any place at all? Places like Addies, Il Pizzico and others are nice but not (IMO) in that class. Someplace in Bethesda maybe? Voltaggio in Frederick Co. of course...

And does anyplace serve a Beef Wellington these days?

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So back on topic - where would one go in Montgomery County for a classic fine dining experience, if any place at all? Places like Addies, Il Pizzico and others are nice but not (IMO) in that class. Someplace in Bethesda maybe? Voltaggio in Frederick Co. of course...

...of course? I don't know; isn't his style rather experimental?

Not to get all semantic, but to answer your question we need to define "fine dining." I suspect it's rather like art. Rocks wrote about an old-school French place in Gaithersburg a while back that sounded like it might fit the definition. I can't recall its name, though. Would a place like Normandie Farm be considered fine dining these days? (though I can tell you, the food ain't all that.)

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...of course? I don't know; isn't his style rather experimental?

Not to get all semantic, but to answer your question we need to define "fine dining." I suspect it's rather like art. Rocks wrote about an old-school French place in Gaithersburg a while back that sounded like it might fit the definition. I can't recall its name, though. Would a place like Normandie Farm be considered fine dining these days? (though I can tell you, the food ain't all that.)

Agreed - I tend to really mean "formal dining" when I'm talking about "fine dining." And agreed about Normandie Farm, it has been a while since I was there - I wouldn't class it as very fine dining despite the appearance of formality.

So because I'm one of the least experienced on this board and I won a definition-writing contest in grade school, I'll take a first crack at it - others can edit it to where it needs to be.

  • "Formal Dining" is a service approach that focuses on a defined, elaborate dining experience; most typically multi-course, white table cloth, attentive pacing, formal dress, professional attitude and speech, multiple staff (different people to wait, serve, clear, provide wine, etc). It has hallmarks like crumbers, palate clensers and service that knows the dishes in great detail. Surprises, if any, are positive, subtle and refined. It doesn't have to be stuffy or old world, but can sometimes seem that way after many non-Formal meals.
  • "Fine Dining" is more about the food. The food far exceeds average in all ways, including taste, plating, sauces, temperature, texture, choices and overall execution. Other aspects of the experience, such as the service and atmosphere, must be of above-average quality but need not be on a par with the food.
  • "Elegant Dining" is the whole package; it is Fine Dining wrapped in a far-exceeding-average Formal Dining experience. The atmosphere is excellent as is the service, no aspect of the meal leaves you significantly disappointed and consistency is a hallmark. This is destination dining.

So for instance, Normandie Farm might be Formal Dining (mostly) but probably doesn't make the Fine Dining cut. Black Market Bistro seemed to me to be Fine Dining but not strictly Formal, thus not Elegant. Chez Francois (to me) has all the elements and thus becomes Elegant. I'm sure many of the others mentioned as great on this board would qualify as well.

Edit away!

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Oh, and by these defintions, Volt would likely be Elegant Dining, regardless of how experimental the menu. Unless, of course, the experiments fail. In full disclosure, I haven't eaten (yet) at Volt. But I've read about it and peeked in the windows - making me fully qualified to pass judgement on the interwebs. And yes, I know the difference between Volt and Voltaggio ;)

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One other comment about the board sliding away from fine dining - by opening it up to slobs like me, it will almost necessarily take that path. That doesn't need to be a bad thing, it just is.

A guy (young kids, job) doesn't go to the highest-end places very often. But I do go out and would like to spend my money on quality that also accomodates my family, time pressures, etc.

So for me, that means meals at places like Cava Mezze, Batik, Black's Kitchen and the like, along with a healthy dose of Noodles and Co, random Pho places and such. So why do I come here? Because I trust the opinions of the people on this board more than anywhere else. So I (and many like me) ask questions about such places and thus bring down the overall average level of focus on this board from "Fine Dining" to..."Fine Dining plus lots of other places."

The good news is there is still room to talk about Eve and Volt and the upper-echelon estalishments. So there isn't less talk about High-end Fine Dining here, just more talk about the other more-average places. The fix would be simple - tightly limit those who can post. I'd understand. But I also think that despite the slide in focus, it remains a valued, quality site and offering.

Don - whay don't you have at least some Google ads here? Just put a line above where the ads would show that says: "This ad is generated by Google and isn't chosen by me - DonRockwell.com doesn't endorse anything but their checks" and get paid a bit for your efforts here.

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I would hesitate to get too precise in differentiating "fine" from "elegant" from "formal" dining.

Why not just say that fine dining is characterized by excellent food (of whatever type), elegant surroundings, unobtrusive but exceedingly competent service, and a leisurely pace. And wear something decent, for crissakes.

Sometimes, to sophistos like us here, the "excellent food" can be less excellent (I had a fine fine dining experience in the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond the other week, the food was nothing to write home about, but the experience was definitely "fine dining"; others have come away from l'Auberge with similar opinions, I believe), so let's just say that the restaurant aims to provide what its market and its customers consider "excellent."

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One other comment about the board sliding away from fine dining - by opening it up to slobs like me, it will almost necessarily take that path. That doesn't need to be a bad thing, it just is.

The fix would be simple - tightly limit those who can post. I'd understand. But I also think that despite the slide in focus, it remains a valued, quality site and offering.

I don't think the board was ever intended to be exclusively focused on fine/formal/elegant/expensive dining - and that's a good thing. There's room here, and always has been, for discussion of dining of all different types. To me, that diversity is the beauty of this place. Why on earth would we want to limit it to one specific type of experience that is only accessible to a small elite few?

As has been discussed before, there may have been a change in people's dining habits which has been reflected in what is posted. I don't see that as a problem, just a change. I, for one, have been fortunate enough to dine at a lot of the 'big deal' places over the last 5 years or so. I do that a lot less now, for a variety of reasons including cost, calories, and a couple of disappointing experiences. On those rare occasions when I do go out for a big splurge meal, I know I can come here and find invaluable information from other members to help me make the best choice for my needs/expectations.

Bells, whistles, and white gloves are great, but there's also great pleasure to be found in simplicity. I'm glad we have a place to discuss the entire spectrum of dining experiences.

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I don't think the board was ever intended to be exclusively focused on fine/formal/elegant/expensive dining - and that's a good thing. There's room here, and always has been, for discussion of dining of all different types. To me, that diversity is the beauty of this place. Why on earth would we want to limit it to one specific type of experience that is only accessible to a small elite few?

I don't mean to advocate such a move, just to point out it is possible. It was just a response to the original post that asked why the board has shifted from higher-end discussions - and provided one more reason why that might be. I then provide a way to 'fix it' (mostly) but agree it would be a bad idea overall for such a fix. Simply put, the average board discussion will slowly slide to more average offerings as the popularity and diversity of the board increases.

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Hi Waitman - I cathartically responded to Don's PM'd request for same. Therapist Don has my story, my persmission to reprint it if he deems appropriate and the tear stains on his couch. I felt really...violated. (sob) Maybe it was my fault (victim-speak)

I considered starting a thread to let people vent about "the best of times; the worst of times", stories where the carpet didn't match the drapes and superior service was met with horrible food or vice-versa. Just wasn't sure if/where appropriate.

So back on topic - where would one go in Montgomery County for a classic fine dining experience, if any place at all? Places like Addies, Il Pizzico and others are nice but not (IMO) in that class. Someplace in Bethesda maybe? Voltaggio in Frederick Co. of course...

And does anyplace serve a Beef Wellington these days?

I'd love to have a thread like that. More than reading about bad experiences, I'd like to read about places where you were pleasantly surprised, enlightened and inspired. Of course, I'd also like to know where to avoid dropping major coin for a special occasion. B)

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Hi Waitman - I cathartically responded to Don's PM'd request for same. Therapist Don has my story, my persmission to reprint it if he deems appropriate and the tear stains on his couch. I felt really...violated. (sob) Maybe it was my fault (victim-speak)

Okay, here is Jay's rant!

We were in the Poconos, a place called the Skytop Lodge http://skytop.com/

And I'm not really suire about the $250 - bear with me over my rant.

So the story, as brief as I can make it:

We make reservations that morning - Saturday. We show up to the grounds and are faced with a driveway choice - to go to the main lodge or to the dining hall. So I call from the car - where should I go? "Well, where did you make the reservation?" "That's what I'm calling to find out..."

ok, no big deal, we find it. We pull under the portico and hand the keys to the valet. My wife and I, two behaved kids (10 and 7).

We're seated (6pm saturday) and there's not really anyone else there. Lights are pretty bright, almost like after closing for cleanup. ok. People do start to come in while we're there and the place is mostly full by the time we leave. It is a big, old school dining room, like a longer, bigger Willard.

We sit and eventually get menus. No prices on the menu, so I assumed it was a prix-fixe deal and it would be explained. We order our food, but the waitress is gone for long periods. We get no explanation.

They take my wife's wine order but tell us it will be on a separate check. ok, whatever. still no prices.

The kids are shown to a steam tray table with fries, chicken strips and corndogs. ok, whatever, they're happy.

Our food starts to come and it is REALLY fast. Like, the appetizer comes as soon as the waitress can jog back to the kitchen and grab it after we ordered. Then the main course is brought out and the waitress stands with the main plates as we eat the last bite of the appetizer, then swaps plates. ok.

At this point, I've checked by the host stand for some indication of a price or even what the deal was. none to be found, no hostess, no matre d. I'm getting really mad at this point - while the food was really excellent, the whole rest of this was completely inept and really pissing me off.

So we finish and no waitress. She finally comes back after a long wait and asks if we want dessert and we decline. We really just want out and don't care or know if dessert is included or not. So she looks at us funny then says "see you in the morning."

Huh? ok - so, now, I've been shown the door and am faced with a choice. Clearly, she thinks this is on a room tab. Clearly, we never indicated as such. But we're honest people and want to clear this up, so we wait...and wait...another 15 minutes for her return to discuss. I'd go get her if I knew where she hid.

When she returns, she says "oh, sorry, this is for you" and hands me a receipt, the kind you buy in CVS with the carbon paper that people use for garage sales, and it says simply "4 dinners - $375"

I say to my wife "I'm not going to make a scene, but WHAT THE FUCKING SHIT IS THIS?!?!?! - were the kids $60 each? That leaves about $250 for us, which seems maybe right, but $60 each for tray table Sysco food?? And if it is that rediculous, WHY THE F WEREN'T WE TOLD???"

And, since I don't know the rules and I just want out and will pay ANYTHING to leave at this point, I quietly hand my credit card over.

And....we wait...another 15 minutes or more. We've been there now over 2 hours, of which about 13 minutes was spent with food.

Finally, a new person shows up at our table, a kid who looks about 17. He's got our bill and apologizes for the mistake, the kids weren't full meals, and the total was supposed to be $180 (or something like that). He's got my credit receipt and I finish up the tab.

Then we sit again, as we're faced with another choice....remember the single glass of house white wine my wife ordered 2 hours ago? We still hadn't gotten the bill for that glass. Do we walk out on that bill, or sit here? So we sit, with no interest in either breaking the law or saying anything....I kind of hoped someone might begin to wonder "why are they sitting there" as we've been asking that same question for 1 hour 45 minutes now. We kept daring each other - "no, you get up and I'll follow" "just keep your head looking forward and walk..."

The wine lady catches us as we're putting coats on and squares up - this one I remember - $9.75 for the glass, tip automatically included. I was feeling seismic, about to blow.

Wonderful, let's GTFO of here. Holy f-ing shit.

So we walk out the front door to the valet and hand him the ticket. He hands me the keys - the car was under the portico, exactly where we left it, completely dry despite the pouring rain outside the portico. Well, so now what? Do I tip him? He didn't do anything but put my f-ing key on a hook - but....my car was dry and ready for me lickety-split. I tipped him a couple of bucks and sped away.

So, I get that I should have asked what was going on. But, I shouldn't HAVE to ask, right? And whatever is going on, is up to the restaurant to get it right anyway, right?

I don't dine at all the high-end places you do. My expectations are low and more often than not, exceeded. That makes me a pretty happy guy, and I like that, most surprises are good surprises when you don't expect too much. But I woke the next morning and my blood pressure was still skyhigh, and to this day I'm still not sure what the adventure actually cost me.

So I made the mistake of choosing what appeared to be the nicest place - best food, highest caliber, good reviews from multiple sites, long history, etc. But maybe this is why people don't appreciate fine dining - TGI Fridays would never screw up even close to this badly.

Thanks for the rant. I feel better mentally but need to take some sort of medicine now.

Jay

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Hi Waitman - I cathartically responded to Don's PM'd request for same. Therapist Don has my story, my persmission to reprint it if he deems appropriate and the tear stains on his couch. I felt really...violated. (sob) Maybe it was my fault (victim-speak)

Whew! Thanks for taking one for the team!

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I'll throw this one into the mix. I think there is something to be said for waitstaff who have chosen the hospitality industry as their profession. Actually, I think there is an enormous amount to be said. With the exception of some old establishments and restaurants in foreign countries, it's getting more and more difficult to find people who genuinely take pride in their work. Without exemplary service, even the most exquisite food will not make the evening what it should be.

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My last attempt, about a month ago, to seek the high ground was a complete disaster. The whole experience left me confused and extremely angry - at points wondering if I'd broken the law and at other points deciding we'd have to chance breaking the law. Food alone was $250 for two (I think, I'm still not sure what I was actually billed) and the food was actually quite excellent - but I left with a vow to not be so careless next time and not walk into such a disaster again. It was a shockingly bad overall experience at any price point.

Didn't you sign a credit card slip with a dollar amount? I assume from reading your story, you signed a charge slip for $180, plus tip. Not sure how you arrived at $250.

It's quite common for restaurants not to price their specials. Sometimes the waiter tells you voluntarily the prices of the specials, other times you have to ask. I've ordered specials without asking and then was shocked when the check came - in those cases I blame myself for not asking.

So, I get that I should have asked what was going on. But, I shouldn't HAVE to ask, right? And whatever is going on, is up to the restaurant to get it right anyway, right?

It's rather unusual for a restaurant to have no pricing at all. If it's prix fixe, I think they should print the price on the menu. I think I've read on Wapo or Washingtonian chat, that at least one of the critic thinks all prices should be listed. However, even if the restaurant is technically at fault, you're still the one that ended up paying the price. In short, I'm sorry you had such a miserable experience and if I ever make it to Skytop, I'll make sure to ask for the pricing up front. :D Thanks for sharing.

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I noticed on the Skytop Lodge website that the room rates include 3 meals/day. It sounds to me as if you might have been mistaken for guests of the lodge, hence the menus with no prices. However, they really should keep track of their diners and KNOW who is staying at the lodge and who is there just for dinner. It sounds like disastrous service all around. :angry:

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I'll throw this one into the mix. I think there is something to be said for waitstaff who have chosen the hospitality industry as their profession. Actually, I think there is an enormous amount to be said. With the exception of some old establishments and restaurants in foreign countries, it's getting more and more difficult to find people who genuinely take pride in their work. Without exemplary service, even the most exquisite food will not make the evening what it should be.

A agree 100% and I try to tip "like a man" everytime.

In my case, I simply think this was the woman's first night waiting. And that's fine, I don't blame her as much as the management for not giving her help/instruction. She was nice, just shy and not around.

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I noticed on the Skytop Lodge website that the room rates include 3 meals/day. It sounds to me as if you might have been mistaken for guests of the lodge, hence the menus with no prices. However, they really should keep track of their diners and KNOW who is staying at the lodge and who is there just for dinner. It sounds like disastrous service all around. :angry:

Yes, that's precisely what happened - but I didn't know it at the time and had little opportunity to get an explanation. And since they assumed I was staying there, there was no reason to offer an explanation. When they did figure out that I wasn't staying there, it seemed as though they'd never experienced such a scenario. It wasn't like I snuck in either - I made a reservation and then called as I arrived. Essentially a few misunderstandings on both sides and over time the planets misaligned.

In short, it was like dining on a cruise ship having just strolled off the dock and thinking it was a normal restaurant.

It wasn't the end of the world. And I would recommend the yumminess coming from the kitchen.

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