Tuesday, January 25, 2022 Jan 25, 2022
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Restaurant Religion

As gourmania grows, going out to eat becomes a holy pilgrimage with its own sacred rites
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In the beginning it was a way out of the kitchen. A chance to see people. A night on the town. The range of food was wide but familiar. Decor was comfortable, sometimes elegant. And your favorite restaurant might well have been your favorite restaurant for 10 years. Going out to eat was, in the big picture, no big deal.

Well, hold the mayo. Going out to eat in this city has become the big deal. More than a pastime, more than a fad, it is our new religion. The only religion, perhaps, that some of us have. When mind and heart and soul find common joy in perfect tournedos, or peace in peerless vichyssoise (and when writers can get away with suggesting such phenomena), something’s up, and we’re not talking small potatoes.

Dallas takes going out to eat very seriously. We plan ahead. We consider where we’re going. We reconsider where we’re going. We bicker, we fight. The hottest topic of conversation in town is the latest trendy restaurant- among strangers it has overtaken the weather; among friends, sex and politics. Once the new “in” place is identified, we push and claw to be there. We wait in line in the summer heat, the way they used to for a Clark Gable or Elizabeth Taylor movie. These days, few go to the movies, fewer to the theater. And how many go to church? We go to restaurants instead.

With all the fervor of religious devotees, we strike out in pursuit of food. And more than food. The look. The people. The scene. It’s okay if the linguine is a bit off as long as the restaurant in which we’re eating it is “on.” If it holds the status we seek. In fact, the appeal of going out to eat may now be the endeavor itself, something completely separate from anything our taste buds can commend. Oh, the food counts. Never have standards been higher, never have we expected more. All the world’s a gourmet, and a jaded critic, too. But it is the ritual of the enterprise that seems to have us hooked-rumors of new restaurants, talk of strange dishes, the vernacular of New Southwestern cuisine, the laws of eating Japanese, the rites of passage implicit in the transition from black caviar to gold. Eagerly we commit to memory the oral history of Tex-Mex and recite the catechism of deciding where to eat. (“Why not S&D Oyster Co.?” We’II never get a table.) And we believe that the right restaurant, on the right night, with the right people, can save any evening from damnable mediocrity. If we’re wrong, well, that’s our croissant to bear.

And like the most devout, we scorn the non-believers-those who don’t care whether we go for Chinese or Indian, those who don’t know the difference between al fresco and alfredo-the fallen, who would just as soon have a Lean Cuisine. May James Beard bless them.

Every church has its schisms and the High Church of Gastronomy is no exception. If you thought the old-fashioned quarrels about angels on the heads of pins were silly, listen in when the faithful start arguing over whether you should marinate fajitas in Worcestershire or soy sauce, whether it is licit to squeeze lemon juice or lime over them at the moment of serving, whether the flour tortillas should be plump like pillows or thin and lacy like doilies, whether the guacamole should be allowed a little garlic and whether the pico de gallo has enough cilantro or too much chile serrano. Were you relieved when ecumenical good feeling made the Methodists and the Presbyterians lie down together like lambs? Then don’t get involved in disputes between the devotees of the restaurant Taiwan versus the regular patrons of August Moon, the boosters of Chez Philippe versus the rooters for Chez Gerard, those who swear by La Tosca and those who go only to Ristorante Savino when the spirit of Italy beckons them home.

Will future archaeologists chart 20th-century man’s evolution with shards of shattered neon and fossilized imprints of croissant crumbs? Will we be characterized as the people who ate separately-together? And what conclusions might they draw? Dallas is a city on the go. Perhaps it’s understandable that eating at home confines us beyond our tolerance. We are also intensely social, and social climbing. That depends on as much public interaction, and affectation, as we can squeeze into a day. Maybe our conven-ience-everything lives demand being fed, as opposed to feeding ourselves. Maybe television’s barrage of stimuli has conditioned us not to trust anything that holds still (the res-tauranting game provides all things new). Well, let the archaeologists speculate. They’ll never have tasted the duck at Routh Street Cafe. And that’s probably best. Some things are sacred. -W.L. Taitteand Tim Allis

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