You know the old saying “you are what you eat”? Well, I was thinking in today’s world of celebrity chefs, culinary destination travel, and movie premier-like restaurant openings, it would seem you are also where you eat. And while many people believe the trendiest, hippest or most expensive restaurants speak loudest, I like to think some of the smaller, lesser known, and more unique places say a heck of a lot more.
Ruth Reichl, a Spirited Woman if there ever was one, talks about this in her book Garlic and Sapphires which chronicles Reichl’s ups and downs as The New York Times’ restaurant critic, arguably one of the toughest jobs in the industry. Reichl brings you into her world, column by column, detailing how she found the restaurants she reviewed, the politics she faced putting together the reviews, the disguises she used to attain anonymity, and how her job affected her family and her own psyche. It’s a fantastic journey. And one of the things Reichl touches on is the importance of a restaurant’s “soul” – the connection between its chefs, the food, the wait staff, the décor – everything that makes it a complete package - something less tangible than cuisine, but no less critical to creating a great dining experience.
Reichl gives a great example in Honmura An – the New York City soba noodle eatery that was recently re-located to Japan. A small, unassuming place, Reichl said “the cool, peaceful aura of Honmura An is so profound that most people reach the top of the stairs and lower their voices, as if entering a temple.” She goes on to talk about how the minimalist, yet beautiful atmosphere really underscored and supported the deceptively simple yet sophisticated buckwheat noodles served there.