Table Conversation: The Great Dining Experience

By franco on 26 May, 2007

Images from the Dining Experience

Franco says:

Question: What makes an amazing dining experience?

Sharky says:

Oh Franco, this is such a HARD question!!!

An amazing dining experience must cover the basics — good food, relaxing ambiance, and excellent customer service.

What makes a dining experience outstanding is the discovery or revelation of something new or, even more awesome, a new take on something familiar. Examples for the former are the first time I tried foie gras or the first time I tried diwal or the first time I tried sinigang using batuan as a souring agent. For the latter, examples are the goya chips in Hatsuhana Tei and the “westernized” sushis of Omakase.

Kate says:

I travel a bit for my job. One of the perks during a tiring business trip is being taken out and treated by your partners to fancy dinners. One trip that I distinctly remember, food-wise, was to London a few years ago. I had never eaten so well, in so short a time, in an expensive country where being a peso-earner was such a losing proposition. We were taken to The Savoy Grill, a Michelin-starred restaurant headed by Marcus Wareing, one of the UK’s premier chefs. We had lunch at Jasper Conran’s resturant in a quaint shopping street in London. Another night, we feasted on innards of cows and pigs in St. John–a happening little place located near the meat market where they served kidney, bone marrow, tongue, skate cheeks, exotic fare in London. What thrilled me more than the food particularly in the two previous restaurants (I was very unimaginative in ordering steak and salmon) was the opportunity to bask in the fiefdom of celebrity chefs, something I would never have been able to afford on my own, and to try the new (which, for me, is the essence of travel).

Franco says:

You are absolutely right, Sharky.

Now that I’m trying to answer my own question, I’m finding it hard to answer.

I agree with you about covering the basics, the food, the place and the service but how about the company?

When I would travel alone, I remember hating to eat at restaurant by myself. No matter how beautiful the restaurant, personalize the service or sublime the food, I just could not stand the idea of not have someone to experience the moment with. Thank God for books and magazines. It became an exercise in providing myself sustenance and getting on with the day.

Being with the right people, feasting on a meal of steaming white rice and sticks of pork barbecue from a stall in Tiendesitas can be more delicious than a degustation menu from a four-star hotel restaurant.

Isn’t odd that one could be dining in the finest of French restaurants and yet, want to have a burger or chicken inasal?

Sharky says:

I guess I’m not a multi-tasker. I actually like eating alone and would even schedule a food day just for myself. : ) I just like food and people so much that I find it hard to concentrate when I’m accompanied by both. Does that make sense? Save for ice cream, yogurt, or soup, I can’t read nor watch tv while eating. These distract me from the food. : )

But I do understand where you’re coming from. I remember Lori of Dessert Comes First telling me that perhaps the reason why I think some of my lola’s dishes remain to be the best is not really the taste of these dishes, but the memories that come along with it.

What do you think?

Kate says:

My most amazing dining experience is a cliche. It was our wedding dinner held in a charming resstaurant nestled in the hills of Tagaytay. They say that you’ll barely remember your wedding dinner. They weren’t completely right. I remember the tartness of the salady, the little bits of Indian mango skin that added extra bite to the sorbet, the thick, delicious, juicy-ness of the steak, the chocolate-y creaminess of the souffle. (What I don’t remember is how the wedding cake tasted like.) But what made it amazing wasn’t really the food but the love that surrounded us that night. It was amazing to see family and friends coming together to celebrate a once-in-a-lifetime moment and to be part of a special night that we had waited for so long and long prepared for.

Franco says:

My family has always been big on food. My wife once said that my mother, who was born of a generation that did not openly express emotion, expressed her love for her family by preparing flavourful meals everyday.

I believe those early memories of sitting down to dinner with family and friends, eating food prepared with love and care leave lasting impressions of what we perceive as great food or even an amazing dining experience.

Thus, the idea of what comfort food should be and what it should taste like.

I don’t ignore the fact that experience of food can be an end in itself. Food is an expression to a point where one can experience it like a form of art. But unlike other art forms, food can be understood on more sensory levels, specifically taste. Like what Kate said, sometimes basking in the culinary genius of some chefs is enough to leave a lasting memory, long after you have forgotten what exactly you ate.

For me, the dining experience is always social. From the preparation of the meal to sitting down to savoring it to sharing the experience with others, food can be and should be a conduit for people to connect.

To end, let me quote Gourmet Magazine’s editor extraordinaire (I’m a huge fan), Ruth Reichl from a interview she gave in May, 2001.

“To me what’s important about food is that we sit down at a table and we stop our busy lives and pay attention to each other,…It’s important.”

To Kate, Thanks once again for sharing your dining thoughts.


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