Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Meal, Seriously, Eat It

One of my favorite food writers just published a review of one of the ultimate, iconic, classic restaurants in New Orleans: Galatoire's. I think he summed up why and how shared meals are an essential human ritual, worth savoring and preserving.

The holidays remind me of the joy of dining in restaurants. When we dine out we overturn bad habits of TV dinners hastily eaten, or cafeteria leftovers consumed alone for the calories. Dining out makes encourages us to really enjoy each others' company, to connect over shared food and service, in a relatively predictable environment. Alcohol lubricates all this, too. I think that restaurants provide a deeply significant social service by providing the venue in which we connect.

Galatoire's has a number of problems. After over a century of continuous service, the menu and ambiance feel dusty and tired. Foodies (from other cities) will scoff at the high-fat, traditional dishes like Filet Bearnaise or Pommes Souffle, cooking styles that are more at home in the 1950s kitchen. They are  unapologetic, old-fashioned, and unwilling to accommodate vegetarians or take reservations. They can be a real pain, in contrast to some of the newer, brighter lights in our local culinary sky.

But that's is missing the point. If you dine at Galatoire's like it is another restaurant, with a waiter and three courses in about an hour, you will have a terrible time.

What's the most significant part of this picture?
Not the bird or linen: it's the community
Galatoire's challenges us to really, really, enjoy a meal.  A meal there should last four hours, should be a big party, should involve lots of alcohol and no menus. A meal there is free-form - adult, professional waiters guide guests through various courses of fresh seafood, oysters, vegetables, meats, based on daily availability. Diners, meanwhile, allow themselves to be guided, enjoy each others' company and build momentum. A meal at Galatoire's is a celebration because they encourage guests to lower their defenses, abandon anxiety, and place themselves in the hands of a truly capable institution.

Galatoire's is famous for their holiday meals, seats for which are auctioned off every year for charity. Midnight Christmas and New Years meals might as well be block-parties, with little clear distinction between tables and families.

As we enjoy meals in our homes and favorite restaurants, I hope that we can remember the lessons of Galatoire's - leave your routine behind, enjoy your friends, and do not stress about the food (it will come in glory).

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