Eating Seens

How much of a scene does one need when dining out? And how much is it worth to you?

I am very much interested at the restaurant scenes where everything looks beautiful, from the décor to all the decked out people who attend, but the food and the wine don’t quite measure up.

Take Morandi, for example, a new Keith McNally staple in the West Village. The place has been masterfully redigitized to look like old world Italy. Night after night it’s filled with Balthazar and Pastis overflow where everyone is trying to outlook the other. Now there is nothing wrong with this, as beautiful people need somewhere to assemble too, but I can’t help but ask the question, “Is anyone tasting the food?”

The truth is I love the staff and will spend many a break over by the bar talking to Joe and enjoying wine or a cocktail. I invariably get hungry and try to order something different (or safe), and I often receive a bowl or plate of mediocrity. It just doesn’t measure up, and I get angry at myself for trying. One of their best dishes is the tiramisu, and that’s a dessert. Despite some other poor reviews the place remains bulletproof, and the reason is simple. The food becomes palatable amidst all of that moving beauty. It’s like eating in a motion picture art gallery, and that’s why people go there. There is better Italian fare in at least twenty other places in the city, but few can produce that type of atmosphere.

This is expected at places like Sushi Samba, where I believe there is a direct bridge and several tunnels to a place that has no business serving sushi, not with the plethora of authenticity that surrounds that neighborhood (Aki, Tomoe, Blue Ribbon, Yama etc.). But those patrons go to look at mirrors as well. Are they going for sushi or social status?

Another restaurant on seventh avenue that gets closer to serving food and sexiness on the same level is Centro Vinoteca. The former Batali protégé serves tasty nibbles, from perfectly fried pumpkin or eggplant cakes to savory stuffed mushrooms to earthy pate. Some of the entrees fall short of execution, or perhaps deep flavor, but once again this is massaged by all the eye candy at the bar edging you to order another lovely glass of Kerner gruner veltliner. The other night there was a lot of truffle madness for specials, but at $75. a pop I don’t care what type of models they’ve got strolling through there. The only issue here is that foodies have sniffed it out, and it is nearly as difficult to nab a seat at the bar as it is at Morandi’s.

A recently opened townhouse venture named Bobo’s has opened, and when you walk in you’re thrust into a romantic wonderland. Everything sparkles and glistens, and the people are decked out lovely. I’ve tried to have a drink at the bar three times without success, but I suspect, and this is merely a hunch, that the food will not match the décor.I will check to see if this holds true in the future.

A restaurant’s job is partly to evoke a mood by the change in atmosphere supported by the food, wine, and service. This is no small task, and that is why competition is so cut-throat. So the next time you’re elbow to elbow with an unusual amount of gorgeousness, beware of what you order, drink a little more than usual, and don’t believe the hype.