Sunday, April 15, 2007

Scenes from Domestic Life

It's a scene played out with painful regularity in my family: it's a Saturday or Sunday morning, everyone is ready to get out of the house, and we decide, "let's eat lunch out." So, we pile into the car and get out on the road and I ask, "Okay, so where are we going?" And no one has any ideas. So I'll name a restaurant and The Wife will say, "We've eaten there a million times."

"So you pick one," I say.

"How about the Sunflower Cafe?"

"We just ate there yesterday."

"But it's really good."

"Yes, but we at there yesterday."

"Well, then you pick the place."

"How about Burger King?" The Six Year Old says.

"No!" The Wife and I say in unison.

"I never get to pick the place!"

"You might if you picked something other than Burger King," The Wife Says.


"No, I mean somewhere where we can all sit down and have a nice meal. Not fast food."

"But I want Chick-Fil-A!!!"

"How about Andolini's?" I say. "We all like that."

"I don't feel like pizza," The Wife says.

"You never feel like pizza. If you're going to be so damned picky, then you choose the place!"

"Augh! There's nowhere good to eat in this town!"

And it goes on for about 5 minutes until we're all steamed and snipping at each other and turning what should be a perfectly nice afternoon outing into a scene from an Ibsen play.

But, the problem is not that there are no good places to eat in town. There are plenty of good places to eat, some of them so good we eat there almost once a week. But, we're becoming more and more set in our ways, with the circle of restaurants open for consideration limited to about 5 or 6 favorites. We want something a little nicer than fast food, but we aren't looking to plunk down $200 for a family of four to eat, and it needs to be somewhere you can take a 1-year-old without angering the entire restaurant. So that narrows the field a little. And, it has to be someplace good--someplace that is interesting and original and serves food that is different from or better than the things I can cook at home. And that does narrow it down a bit (sorry, O'Charley's and Outback Steakhouse--you don't make the cut.)

But still that leaves dozens and dozens of restaurants that should be suitable. We should literally be able to eat at a different restaurant each weekend for an entire year and never have to venture beyond the city limits of Charleston.

So why is it so hard?

The real problem is risk management. None of us wants to be the one who picks the place where we have a crummy meal.

Lunch and dinner are special, each coming just once a day. When you go out and plunk down decent money for a meal, you want it to be something special, too. For me, it's not the risk of having an outright bad meal--undercooked chicken or foul, greasy sauces or inedible side dishes. Those are easy enough to handle--you send back the meal or demand your money back.

No, the real risk is that we might have a mediocre meal, where the food is okay but not great, the dining room a little too crowded and the chairs a little too uncomfortable, the service a little slow, and at the end you think, "I really could have had something this good at home." It's the sinking feeling of leaving a restaurant disappointed and knowledge of a lost opportunity. If we had just picked a different spot, we'd be leaving saying, "Wow, that was really good." And we'd be full and contented the rest of the afternoon.

And memory is long. "This better not be another Noisy Oyster," The Wife will frequently say when I suggest we try a new restaurant, referring to a disappointing evening at the old seafood restaurant at Buzzard's Roost Marina on Mayback Highway. The Wife does not easily forget culinary slights, and she was gratified to learn the The Noisy Oyster was recently demolished to make way for new development. And, in fairness to me, it wasn't that we had a bad meal there--just a less than thrilling one.

And that's where the risk aversion comes in. We've become conservative, too unwilling to step out a little and try someplace new. Yes, we might discover the next G&M Fast French or Bessenger's Barbecue or El Mercadito and add it to our pantheon of "good solid places to eat". Or, it might be the next disappointment that joins a long list of restaurants where the food was just so-so and we left feeling cheated.

But, no more! I'm throwing down the gauntlet. Life is too short to eat the same meal again and again, even if it is a really good meal. In our fear to take a few risks, we're guaranteeing that we'll never find new thrills, condemning ourselves to a cyclical life of predictable sameness. There are some 38 weekends left in the year, which means 30 to 40 opportunities for new culinary adventures that lay before us. It's time to step out there and discover the Next Great New Thing!

And we'll probably be sitting down at the Sunflower Cafe sometime around noon.


joan said...

How about Sesame? I bet the kids would like it too with the wee slider burgers. Five Loaves Cafe - that is my other stand by.

Robert said...

Thanks, Joan! I've been to Sesame myself, but never with the kids, and not to Five Loaves at all. I'll lobby for these next weekend.

Lowcountry Foodie said...

So do tell - where did you end up eating that day?

I don't live in your part of town, but if you ever head over to Mount P - I've got tons of suggestions for you! Boulevard Diner, NYPD Pizza, Mustard Seed, Sette, Longpoint Grill, Guseppi's, just to name a few.....

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