With all my travels, I have the luxury of trying many restaurants in far flung places. I ask locals, read Yelp and Travel Advisor reviews, watch Anthony Bordaine and DDD for recommendations and, before business trips, develop a list of a few places to try.
Particularly useful for this is the on-line map of places with playable videos from DDD. If I’m booked into, say, El Segundo California as I was for this week, I check the map, watch a video or two and jot down places to try that will be near where I’m working and staying.
But by and large and after many attempts at this, I’ve found I often don’t care for the places. They don’t measure up to what was portrayed on TV.
Is it because Guy’s tastes are different than mine? Do we favor different atmospheres, different people? Or is it something else?
After many attempts, I am convinced the difference is two-fold. It is the time between his visits and mine, and the effect of being on TV.
North End Caffe in Hermosa Beach is, perhaps, a classic example.
Televised for, among other things, the quality of their home made pasta, the restaurant undoubtedly got a lot of new business. I’ve read that the TV show warns potential venues that the publicity may profoundly increase the business and to therefore be prepared for it. Reportedly, some places are so overwhelmed that they lose it completely and close their doors to escape the mob.
Others, perhaps North End Caffe is an example, adapt but in such a way that what brought them to DDD’s attention is lost.
Dining there on a week night this past week, we ordered the signature dish. I wanted the home made pasta no matter what. My wife and I split the order so we could both try it.
I was initially pleased with the texture.
“See how different this pasta feels in you mouth?” I asked my expert cook wife. “This pasta has never been dried.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “but it’s not fresh. And the sauce is salty, extremely salty, like that’s its only flavor!”
The waiter reappeared and, when my wife asked if the pasta was still made on the premises he confided they fly it in now, frozen, from Italy.
“We couldn’t make it fast enough.”
And the overwhelming salt?
He shrugged and walked away.
They appeared to be doing a reasonable business in this beach community and the menu featured the DDD review, listing the signature dish as the one seen on the show.
But I guess it’s true that the increased business ruined the place as far as I was concerned because while I could have overlooked the remote delivery of pasta, the total destruction of the sauce with salt, salt and more salt, was way more than I could tolerate.
Of course, there are also some hits from DDD in my personal list. Chef Pointe Cafe north of Ft Worth Texas is notable, very notable in this regard. While they have undergone a huge expansion and upgrading of decor, the food is still “spot on” – and Chef remains just as oddly unapproachable. I’ve been there many times over several years and love the entire menu and occasional quirk of atmosphere like the sometimes rather unskilled servers drawn from neighborhood teens. It’s an interesting place on several levels.
But, on a single visit, North End Caffe in Hermosa Beach California went directly from my “Try” list, past the “Favorite” and “Tolerable” categories and directly into “Avoid” status. I won’t be back.
Win some, lose some.