In economics class, we’ve been discussing measured risk, and it hit me how much dining out really is a risk.
When I was a kid, we had a list we went through when we were going to eat out. Let me rephrase that: I had a list, and I recited it until everyone could reach a consensus. (Yes, I can still recite most of it; no, I won’t recite it for you.) Even with that list, it usually ended up with us going to one of four or five places pretty regularly, because we knew they could please everyone.
You probably have a handful of favorites as well, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So do I; Harbor City is a house favorite for dim sum, and I know many of the Tom Douglas menus inside and out. You know you will get what you feel is a decent value for your money and time, so you keep going back. I can go into Palace Kitchen on any random day and be almost completely certain people will have a good time, and that has a lot of value when I’m deciding on where to take a group.
Going to a new restaurant is a risk – it’s why we all look to reviews, Yelp, Urbanspoon, that one friend who seems to know about every restaurant in town. And it makes us more frustrated when a restaurant with rave reviews sucks, because we tried to place a value on it before experiencing it.
That being said, getting a second opinion can be rather helpful, especially when trying to please a group with a new place. It’s that they tend to be used as a crutch, with the reviews almost treated as gospel. That’s a bit unnerving when people who don’t say much besides “YEAH TACOS!” are the ones writing a chunk of the comments.
Pop up restaurants are an even higher risk. Like the omakase option at sushi restaurants, where the chef does whatever they want, one night only restaurants or pop-ups are a gamble that the chef, when left to their own imagination, will still make things you want to eat. Most of the events in Seattle involve either established chefs or chefs associated with established restaurants to reduce the risk of getting a bad meal somewhat (Chef Robin Leventhal at ONO Project; JAM with cooks from Cuoco and Brave Horse Tavern).
On top of it, they’re more expensive, because the chefs are buying smaller quantities or have to deal with event fees. So, most people avoid them, so say they’re for the rich, the die hard food enthusiasts.
Don’t be those people.
It’s rather awesome to see what a chef will do when allowed to run free with ideas. Going to pop ups has introduced me to new ways to use almond butter in desserts, people I would have never met otherwise, ingredients I might not have tried on my own. (I had baby octopus with nori puree the other day; that was a new experience.) And because it’s new, I’ll remember it more strongly, good or bad, which helps expand my food knowledge and skills.
If you’re concerned about costs, look for non-fancy options, or when restaurants host recurring small events that don’t match their standard menu. Sitka and Spruce does taco nights that are apparently killer. Find the pops ups where you can order a la carte. Some are even just desserts or street food. (Dorie Greenspan does a cookie pop-up; I’m rather jealous that I can’t hop over to NYC on a whim.)
When it comes to food, there is always risk. We might as well have more fun with it – and if it’s bad, that just means we’ll have some crazy stories to tell.