New York versus San Francisco on Restaurants & Dining Out
"Is New York Better than San Francisco?"
was the question Chronicle food editor Michael Bauer asked on his blog last week, resulting in more comment activity than I am lucky to get in a month. At the time he wrote his post I had literally only just arrived in New York for my first ever bite of the Big Apple. And as I ate my away around Manhattan over the six days following, I kept the question in the back of my mind: What exactly is it that sets New York apart from the Bay Area and is one better than the other? Here are my first impressions...
Well, for starters, in New York their Eggs Benedict seem to come with three eggs instead of the California standard two. I don't know about you, but that is one large amount of food to get through, even for a hungry girl like me. Is this really the standard portion size throughout New York??
Secondly, it appeared that dining out was overall slightly more expensive than San Francisco, especially in the mid-range restaurants. There were some surprises, however: Babbo, a great place to go for a celebration, was less expensive than we had expected and the food at Gramercy's Tavern room went so far as seeming cheap, with most entrees a good deal under the $20 mark.
Thirdly I noticed much more lamb on New York menus. Personally I love lamb and tend to miss seeing it so often in the Bay Area, particularly on Californian menus. Every lamb dish I tried in New York was excellent.
But for me, the main difference between these two great dining cities was not the food, but the quality of the service. I have never had too many gripes about the quailty of our waitstaff in San Francisco and for the most part I think they do a good job. I wasn't prepared, therefore for such a marked difference in New York. The service in New York really shone. Almost everywhere we went, the staff seemed to go a little bit out of their way to make our experience extra special.
At WD50 we were quickly made to feel comfortable with the slightly unusual and challenging menu and were helped out by the waiter's excellent wine pairing recommendations, whilst at Gascogne where Fred made small-talk in French with the waitstaff we were treated to complimentary Armagnacs after our charming meal. At Balthazar, perhaps one of the most lively, buzzing and busy restaurants I have ever eaten in, they had the service down to a T. Every member of the team had the timing spot on and it was a joy to watch them work the large bustling room with such apparent ease, whilst our waiter managed to balance just the right amount of professionalism and familiarity. A few days later we ducked back into Balthazar to escape a splurge of afternoon rain and have a drink at the bar. The bartender (a humourous Santa Rosa guy), made my afternoon when he refused to allow me to pay for my drink on account of me mentioning I was choosing the Framboise Julep precisely because it had been unavailable when I'd visited for dinner. The service at Tabla's Breads of India, also stood out, in particular because we saw the staff deal smartly with a tricky customer situation. They were an excellent and friendly bunch of people. Babbo didn't know we were celebrating a special occasion when we visited, but they treated us as if we were anyway. Totally seamless, well-timed service and really great recommendations from the Sommelier helped make the experience so enjoyable. Finally, even at the casual Gramercy Tavern, the service was worthy of star status. In all, at most places we dined in New York we felt extremely welcomed, in a way that doesn't so often happen in the Bay Area.
Although I keep hearing that tired old argument about top ingredients (Bay Area) versus innovative cooking (New York), aside from the wonderful WD50 experience, I didn't really notice a huge creative gap between the two cities from my admittedly very limited experience. Conversly, I wasn't struck by any simple but excellent salads or blindingly fresh ingredients as is commonplace San Francisco. But does this make the food in one place better than the other? Nah, I don't think so, they just two different beasts, that's all and from this day on I am going to love them both.
Links, Resources and Further Reading
Michael Bauer | Is New York Better than San Francisco?
Which is Better for Food? | Slashfood
helloamylou | San Francisco vs. New York? Bwahhhhhaahhahahhh
Gridskipper | Restaurant Wars
Hedonia | That's What I'm Talking About
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