Why Review Fancy Restaurants?

San Francisco Chronicle's restaurant critic, Michael Bauer, defended himself yesterday on his blog with regards to reviewing restaurants too expensive for most readers. A reader had written in criticizing his recent reviews of Meadowood and French Laundry, and Bauer responded that he focuses such attention on these temples of fine dining because chefs at fancier restaurants tend to be "more creative." Like haute couture influencing Forever 21, Bauer writes, their creations will will later be mimicked by more casual joints. Snob! cried the commenters.

I think Bauer's right that many trends start at the top. But—duh—just like fashion, just as many (more?) start at the bottom, a.k.a. the "street." Owing in large part to the recession, we are in the middle of an exciting era of cheap food. Ice cream shops, street carts, sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, beer rather than wine—these are the foods and drink people are spending their dollars on and getting excited about right now. Innovation is happening just as fast in these arenas as in $100 a plate, reservations-only spots. And fancy places now borrow liberally from the formerly-seen-as-lowbrow: Deviled eggs, boiled peanuts, doughnuts, and beef jerky have all had their day recently on the menus of expensive restaurants. In fact, more and more these days, it seems the only things that separate fancy from casual are portion size and price tag.

Image source: Flickr member arnold | inuyaki's under Creative Commons