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New York vs. SF = Technique vs. Ingredients


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I missed the reference in the SF Chronicle to the article, but thought the post on Gothamist and the comments afterward are interesting. Here's the post and the link to comments. __________________________________

SF vs. NY: Food Fight!

San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer poses a heated question to his readers: Is New York better than San Francisco? His thoughts on the matter are clear:

I've been asked the question of which is better many times, and I have a stock answer. Because of its size New York has more to offer, but if we viewed things on a per capita basis, San Francisco would blow the Big Apple to bits.

I do believe that collectively, we have far more adventuresome and sophisticated palates. Yet there's a big difference in the attitude here.

Our cuisine is ingredient-driven.Bay Area chefs shop and then cook. It's all about what's freshest.

New York is technique-driven. After all, when the products don't sing, the chefs still have to build the chorus.

Readers have been chiming in with their opinions, creating a lively debate. We, of course, already know the answer, although our bretheren at SFist may not want to admit that it's true . .

____________________________________________

One commenter says this of DC:

Suffice it to say that "molecular" cuisine is old news in Europe (especially Spain), and that it's been done here in New York for at least half a decade, probably longer -- and that moreover some of the best work in molecular cuisine in the US has actually been done in DC.

I'm not bringing this up as a "which is better" rather, in regard to restaurants: what's DC's signature(s)? What is a DC equivalent of the technique/ingredients label? Is there one yet?

http://www.gothamist.com/archives/2006/06/..._1.php#comments

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"Ingredients vs. Technique" is really an exercise in semantics and pigeonholing, isn't it? After all, SF isn't exactly devoid of technique, and NYC is hardly devoid of ingredients (hey, it you can't buy it in New York, it doesn't exist :unsure: ) and there aren't really barriers to either strength travelling. Claiming "ingredients" in the name of SF is a deserved nod to both Alice Waters' pioneering influence and the extreme productivity of California's central valley, but I think it has also become a pat answer - an illusion brought on by the relative lack of seasonality in California ingredients. If NYC is the "you can get anything" city, SF is the "if it grows nearby at all, it's available year-round" city. If summer were just a smidge milder, coastal California might only qualify for one season instead of three...I never had such a limited wardrobe as when I lived there.

I'd count the following among DC's dining strengths:

  • Internationality - an incredible variety of cuisines is represented here, second only to NYC (within the US), and largely thanks to the diplomatic community. On a per-capita basis, we're way out in front.
  • A transitive populus - every two years a new crop of windbags* from the other 48 states takes office in the big white building with the dome, and the old ones look for new hobbies when they're not playing lobbyist. A lot of aides and interns show up too. Some get the crazy urge to open restaurants. As a result, American regional cuisine comes to us...poorly sometimes, but it's a start. New York has a similar magnet effect; SF and Chicago somewhat less so.

...but most of all, I think DC's strength is its diners...

  • Crazy activist foodies - the kind who would rather secede than stop planning group gourmet binges, before returning to the sulfurous thermals at depth.

Look at where the great chefs of DC come from; very few of them are homegrown. In the top tier, there are O'Connell, Krinn, Monis - who else? What draws people like Armstrong, Ziebold, Richard and Trabocchi to a town that isn't exactly known for cultivating great ingredients nor qualified help? I think they're here for the audience; one that sustains true fine dining in hotels, great steaks in neighborhood strip malls, and even good Burmese restaurants in an area with neither a college-town atmosphere nor a major Burmese community. Pat yourselves on the back, diners of DC.

* our own windbags already get hometown cooking here, see

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I'd disagree from Dave only on the Internationality item: I'd put DC ahead of NY on this on an even-up basis.

PS - Ziebold had been in DC before. From the Wash Bus Journal

It's something of a homecoming for Ziebold, who started his professional career at Vidalia in Washington after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1994.
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Huh? Epistemology run amuck?

D. C. has three restaurants (Maestro, Laboratorio and Citronelle) equal to ANYTHING in San Francisco or New York. Yes, I've been to Danko, FL, Aqua, Fifth Floor, Boulevard, etc.

Washington does not have as MANY outstanding restaurants as either of those two cities but the three above will compare to any in America. It is an injustice to even note the multinational restaurants here-this detracts from the absolute excellence of a number of Washington restaurants at the highest level. On the second tier (i.e. 2941, Palena, Vidalia, Kinkead's, Black's, Obelisk) again there are not as many of these here as in the other two cities. Both D. C. and San Francisco may also be second to the superior ethnic diversity of Chicago which I think is equal to NY.

I'll go so far as to favorably compare both Laboratorio and Maestro to anything in Italy let alone New York. I honestly, sincerely believe these are the two best Italian restaurants in America, on par with any in Italy. For all those who want to talk about D. C.'s strength in Ethiopean restaurants I would suggest also mentioning our strength in Italian restaurants!

Many of the comments about SF and, especially, NY are directed to perpetuating the myth that they are the only two great American restaurants towns which is incredible bunk. Try finding a decent kebob or Peruvian chicken in the Bay area.

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Joe, I found your response fascinating, in part because it appears to tackle head-on the original Gothamist/SFist "which is the better city" question instead of the "what are DC's strengths" question that Melissa asks. I haven't eaten at even a small fraction of where you've been (and I envy you for it!) but I do agree with you that DC can claim to have an unfair wealth of first-rate chefs...really first-rate.

But suppose we ask the "which is the better city" question - is it enough to look only at the output of its very finest and most rarified restaurants? For that matter, why should the answer begin with the food...shouldn't it be judged from the perspective of the foodie? After all, being a foodie is a participatory experience, and the majority of us do not have the means to dine at Citronelle on a regular basis. How's the dining at the middle and lower levels of ambition, cost and pretense? Here I think it would be a disservice to DC not to mention its variety of quality ethnic restaurants (often moderately priced) where the exoticness of the cuisine adds to the dining experience.

JPW, I wish it were so, but my explorations suggest otherwise. DC will never have the kind of population density that allows a place like NYC to support such a variety of restaurants. Here, we barely have authentic Mexican and German cuisine. We have, if I'm not mistaken, two DoC pizza shops. NYC has dozens, in addition to the native pizza style. I've never seen a pure Nepalese restaurant here (there was that Nepalese/Indian hybrid in Rockville) yet NYC has several. A proper ramen shop? A British curry shop? DC's variety is good...but it's not NYC good.

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After all, being a foodie is a participatory experience, and the majority of us do not have the means to dine at Citronelle on a regular basis. How's the dining at the middle and lower levels of ambition, cost and pretense?

Unfortunately (and I say this as a lifelong DC resident), we're lacking in the mid-priced, chef-driven restaurants that make, say SF or Philly (to name two places I've recently thought about this in), such great food cities. There's only a handful of worthy restaurants here that fit that category, which are the places that get discussed the most on this board (Corduroy, Palena Cafe, Firefly, etc.). I always blame it on the lobbyist/expense account presence (which skews things toward the upper end).

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Unfortunately (and I say this as a lifelong DC resident), we're lacking in the mid-priced, chef-driven restaurants that make, say SF or Philly (to name two places I've recently thought about this in), such great food cities. There's only a handful of worthy restaurants here that fit that category, which are the places that get discussed the most on this board (Corduroy, Palena Cafe, Firefly, etc.). I always blame it on the lobbyist/expense account presence (which skews things toward the upper end).
I agree with your assessment, but I'd blame it more squarely on population density in the District. Locals (and by locals in this instance I mean those living within city limits) number around 550,000, the majority of which probably don't regularly support mid-priced, chef-driven restaurants like the ones you mention. The remaning folks who do support such establishments aren't around in sufficent number to support a huge amount of these places, as in NYC (where I am originally from) or SF. I realize that a large segment of the population exists in the suburbs to support these establishments, but I would bet that the majority of folks coming in to DC on the weekend are looking for a "big night out in the city", and typically overlook mid-priced, chef-driven places for either more expense account (or as Tom S. would say, "Big Deal") restaurants, flasier chains (Zengo!) or maybe upscale chains, like ruth's chris, etc.

I don't say any of this to offend, or to raise the completely played-out "DC vs. Suburbs" debate. I wonder what others think on this topic, and it would be interesting to see/hear what folks in these chef driven restaurants think, or where their customers typically come from. To me, places like Corduroy, Palena Cafe, Firefly, etc. are treasures, and having more of them around would benefit everyone, inside DC and out.

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I've never seen a pure Nepalese restaurant here (there was that Nepalese/Indian hybrid in Rockville) yet NYC has several.

I'm certainly not going to argue that Washington is strong in Nepalese cuisine, but there was a Nepalese restaurant called Katmandu for most of the 1980s and I think into the early 1990s. It was first located at Connecticut and Florida where Russia House is now, and then Connecticut between Wyoming and Kalorama, where the Pines of Florence is now. I ate at their first location once, and it was pretty good.

So NYC has several Nepalese restaurants. How are they fixed for Vietnamese, Afghan, Ethiopian, Salvadoran, and Peruvian, compared to Washington (and the close-in suburbs of Washington count if the outer boroughs of NYC count)?

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Just got back from a few days in NYC. In NYC, we've eaten at Per Se twice, Alain Ducasse, and most recenly Jean-Georges. In DC, we've eaten at Komi, Cityzen, Restaurant Eve Tasting Room, Minibar, Inn at Little Washington, Maestro, Citronelle- and everywhere else.

In choosing a restaurant in NYC, we looked for 3-star Michelin rated restaurants. There were 4, of which Jean-Georges was one. We saw that it had also been rated as "one of the best restaurants in the country." We were stoked! Much to my dissappointment, I've had better meals at probably 10 other restaurants in DC alone! The meal was good, but I was expecting much better. And come to think of it, my meals I've had at Per Se were great, but not any better than some fantastic meals I've had at Komi, CityZen, Eve, Minibar, Maestro, and the Inn.

At JG, I got the tasting menu. Much of it was very good, but not all that creative. For a pairing with a caviar egg course, I received sake. I hate sake. The menu said "wine pairings". I certainly wasn't expecting sake to be paired with anything being served. Another course (main) was squab. It was flattened- and impossible to eat. After unsuccessfully trying to get more than 3 bites off of the bird, I picked the damn thing up with my fingers and started gnawing on it. Yep, I did that! It was also flavored with cumin, coriander, and paprika- which was omitted on the listed tasting menu- flavors I don't like at all.

Service was decent in that they kept our waters filled, but the bread dude interrupted us twice after we finished our bread asking us if we wanted more (once obviously, after declining). The waitress knocked over a full glass of my wine (doesn't bother me- honest mistake), put a napkin over the spill on the table, but didn't wipe the wall which I HAD to squeeze by to leave our table (we were in a booth/bench with our backs against the wall- a 3-walled nook). Had I not noticed the wine on the wall, it would have gotten on my suit.

While the first few courses came out perfectly timed, the last 3 courses had huge gaps- about 30 minutes between each one. We had a 5:30 reservation and it was already past 9:00 when they finally brought us our desserts. We were getting so tired of waiting (and bored at this point), that I asked for the check with dessert and they hurriedly rushed out all of those complimentary candies, gelatins, etc.- of which had nuts in them- and I had told them verbally and via Open Table that I was allergic to nuts. My wife asked which chocolate truffles had nuts- the waiter gave it some thought, told us one answer, then changed his mind. I didn't eat any of those!

Anyway- the point I'm really trying to make here is that this restaurant was very over-rated in my view... and I think it's because it's in NYC. I find it odd that people think merchandise (cars, clothes, food, wine, etc.) is better simply because it's from a certain general region- and I think there must be a psychological term to explain the phenomena (reminds me of when CA wines got notoriety for testing on par/better than French wines back when everyone thought French wines were better). Years ago when I ate at Alain Ducasse, I will say it was one of the top 3 best meals I've ever had to this day (white truffle tasting menu), but other than that, Per Se (one of the 4 Michelin 3-star restaurants in NYC) and Jean-Georges are no better than several restaurants in DC.

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Just got back from a few days in NYC. In NYC, we've eaten at Per Se twice, Alain Ducasse, and most recenly Jean-Georges. In DC, we've eaten at Komi, Cityzen, Restaurant Eve Tasting Room, Minibar, Inn at Little Washington, Maestro, Citronelle- and everywhere else.

In choosing a restaurant in NYC, we looked for 3-star Michelin rated restaurants. There were 4, of which Jean-Georges was one. We saw that it had also been rated as "one of the best restaurants in the country." We were stoked! Much to my dissappointment, I've had better meals at probably 10 other restaurants in DC alone! The meal was good, but I was expecting much better. And come to think of it, my meals I've had at Per Se were great, but not any better than some fantastic meals I've had at Komi, CityZen, Eve, Minibar, Maestro, and the Inn.

At JG, I got the tasting menu. Much of it was very good, but not all that creative. For a pairing with a caviar egg course, I received sake. I hate sake. The menu said "wine pairings". I certainly wasn't expecting sake to be paired with anything being served. Another course (main) was squab. It was flattened- and impossible to eat. After unsuccessfully trying to get more than 3 bites off of the bird, I picked the damn thing up with my fingers and started gnawing on it. Yep, I did that! It was also flavored with cumin, coriander, and paprika- which was omitted on the listed tasting menu- flavors I don't like at all.

Service was decent in that they kept our waters filled, but the bread dude interrupted us twice after we finished our bread asking us if we wanted more (once obviously, after declining). The waitress knocked over a full glass of my wine (doesn't bother me- honest mistake), put a napkin over the spill on the table, but didn't wipe the wall which I HAD to squeeze by to leave our table (we were in a booth/bench with our backs against the wall- a 3-walled nook). Had I not noticed the wine on the wall, it would have gotten on my suit.

While the first few courses came out perfectly timed, the last 3 courses had huge gaps- about 30 minutes between each one. We had a 5:30 reservation and it was already past 9:00 when they finally brought us our desserts. We were getting so tired of waiting (and bored at this point), that I asked for the check with dessert and they hurriedly rushed out all of those complimentary candies, gelatins, etc.- of which had nuts in them- and I had told them verbally and via Open Table that I was allergic to nuts. My wife asked which chocolate truffles had nuts- the waiter gave it some thought, told us one answer, then changed his mind. I didn't eat any of those!

Anyway- the point I'm really trying to make here is that this restaurant was very over-rated in my view... and I think it's because it's in NYC. I find it odd that people think merchandise (cars, clothes, food, wine, etc.) is better simply because it's from a certain general region- and I think there must be a psychological term to explain the phenomena (reminds me of when CA wines got notoriety for testing on par/better than French wines back when everyone thought French wines were better). Years ago when I ate at Alain Ducasse, I will say it was one of the top 3 best meals I've ever had to this day (white truffle tasting menu), but other than that, Per Se (one of the 4 Michelin 3-star restaurants in NYC) and Jean-Georges are no better than several restaurants in DC.

I think there's something of an "emperor's new clothes" mentality when in NYC. While there is some quantitative superiority just based on the sheer population and quantity of places, I often have better experiences for just about anything other places than NY on any everyday basis. I basically feel like I'm treated like crap there, and often get crap for a lot of money, when I go there. Now, if you choose only the best places (i.e. book places well advance of you're trip), you're bound to have only the best experiences. But when you venture into the average, everyday, run-of-the-mill picks, you might be as disappointed as I generally am. We certainly have our share of disappointments here, but we don't claim to be the best at everything like you know who...

Happy holidays all!

P.S. One 2011 culinary trend that I hope will continue... breakfast places! Between Kitchen on K, Salt & Pepper (Palisades), Horace & Dickie's breakfast expansion (into a larger, sit down space), and yes, IHOP in Columbia Heights... I wish for some great new breakfast options in 2011. It's a meal that I like a great deal, and maybe if I work from home more in 2011 (another wish for 2011), I can take full advantage during the week! In: Breakfast Out: Brunch.. YEAH! :)

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