I am finicky about my meals. I don’t want to pay too much, but I also want good food. I don’t find that this is unreasonable, but in the US, it is often why, instead of spending say, $30 a person for a meal that is okay, I’d rather just spend $8 for an Indian curry of coconut Thai soup that’s delicious and not the least bit pretentious.
Most meals, especially in San Francisco simply do not merit the cost that they charge. The chefs are usually self-taught (and it often shows), the servers make sure to roll up their sleeves to show their tattoos yet have no training in hospitality, and the interiors, while often sleek, are not friendly. That and what you’re paying for is oft ridiculous such as $50 for a whole chicken at a place like Zuni Cafe. Yes, it does serve two, but… it’s a fucking roasted chicken. Unless it can prevent cancer, that is ludicrous. And it is true that the West Coast of the US gets away with charging outrageous prices for things (such $15 for a salad or plate of pasta) that cost nearly nothing in raw ingredients. There are the exceptions though and once I have $200 to toss down per head on a meal at The French Laundry I will definitely do it.
Then there is the European approach. As yes, I pull out what most consider to be the “snob stick” once I toss “Europe” in to the discussion, but it’s true, European restaurants understand service. While there are still the untrained staff, the restaurants seek out those who have gone on to educate themselves with proper training. In Spain, they pay extra for these servers and include the cost of their salaries in the bill as opposed to putting that upon the customer once they’ve finished the meal. The cost is the cost.
The chefs in the restaurants come in two classes. There are those who are untrained and those who are trained. The price in either establishment reflects this. It’s also the case that the the meals from those who are untrained come across as well as any “California cuisine” establishment in San Francisco such as Chez Panisse in Berkeley which rightfully lost its unwarranted Michelin star.
The trained chefs take everything to the next level, such as Vicenç at la Plaça. I have a special affinity for this restaurant which is why I keep going back year after year as it is really one of those once a year things having a fixed price menu at 46€, before drinks. I suppose that goes a long way to explain as to why I had my wedding there. When you combine transcendent food that you remember for days after you ate it, with perfect service, set in the interior of a 600 year-old farmhouse in the country, it’s one of those things that I’ll keep coming back to whenever I can afford it because they strive to make the experience worth the money. There are extremely few places in California of which I can say the same.