Thursday, June 28, 2007

In defense of opulence

Yesterday was dinner at Spago with Pam, and amazingly, the restaurant was as good as it is famous. The prices were a bit out there, even with what I've been growing accustomed to. But everything was fantastic. One of the appetizers was this lamb ragout with spinach gnocchi, and it was the single best dish I've had all year, I think. Just as I was expressing this to Pam, Wolfgang Puck himself came up to the table on his "how is everything going tonight?" rounds. This was also about one minute after we complained that we didn't run into any celebrities there. Very appropriately timed in both respects, and totally amusing.

Because we bought a bottle of wine with dinner, they waved corkage on the bottle of dessert wine we brought: 2004 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc. It took us one year of searching to find this wine (and the time to drink it), and after all that, I can say without hesitation that it was totally worth the wait. This could become a very expensive habit.

Although now that I say that, I feel compelled to note one thing. Sometimes I think the people I talk to about food and wine -- who don't share my interest in it already -- write me off as being totally pretentious and snobbish when it comes to all of this stuff. That just isn't true. I love dive bars. I love the incredible $5 gyros at Papa Cristo's at Pico and Normandie. I will eat at In 'n Out any day of the week. It's just a matter of not discriminating. I enjoy the cheap stuff and I enjoy the expensive stuff and sometimes I'm willing to spend or not to spend the money for either. I derive a different form of satisfaction from each.

It's not like I think that a $150 meal at Spago is really 30 times better than my $5 French dip at Philippe, where they invented the thing (though to be fair, there's probably a lot more volume I'm getting with the former). And I certainly don't get that feeling of having a "special find" or a "great deal" when I'm at the fancy place.

But for me, going to a nice restaurant or drinking a great-but-overpriced wine is like traveling: it's experiential. It's buying a form of satisfaction that is more than the fleeting taste of the food alone. It's about stories and memories. It's taking 3 hours to eat a meal with a good friend that you maybe don't get to spend time with so often. It's ignoring everything else that you have to do and not even looking at the prices on the menu. It's really appreciating the details of good service and nice atmosphere. It's a little way of telling yourself that you're probably doing something right with your life because you can have this meal in the first place. It's Wolfgang Puck asking you how you're enjoying your meal, and your being totally honest when you tell him that it's fantastic.

It's the fact that, a year from now, Pam and I are probably going to be sitting in some other really nice restaurant, and one of us will say, "Man, do you remember that amazing lamb appetizer we had at Spago?" And the other one WILL remember, and will agree that it was freaking awesome. And that itself will be awesome too.


Anonymous said...

gosh, it must be so nice to be filthy rich.

Ken Basin said...

If it wasn't, I would have NO reason to go to law school.