Saturday, April 13, 2013

Department of Culinary Affairs

Today, I have several worries to discuss. My sanity, for one. Also, my hearing. Plus, the strange state of restaurant names.

Last things first. There are a couple of restaurants in the Miami area whose names have caught my attention recently and, frankly, horrified me. The first, in South Beach's trendy SoFi neighborhood, is called La Gloutonnerie. Yep, that's right, the restaurant is named Gluttony. Isn't that a sin? Not, apparently, to the restauranteurs who opened the place in 2012. "Go ahead. Indulge," the website invites. "Sin is in." This is, after all, South Beach, fabled for its hedonistic tendencies, but still, isn't there something unseemly about gluttony? Wouldn't the same food served under a different name taste the same?

Friends of ours had tried La Gloutonnerie and raved about it. They are bonafide food experts and wonderful cooks themselves, so I overcame my reaction to the name and suggested to E. that we try it. The setting was lovely and the portions were, fittingly, large. Unfortunately, on the evening we ate there the food didn't measure up to my expectations. Perhaps the chef had an off night, or literally had taken the night off. Given the high prices, I should probably be glad that my meal didn't make me long for a return visit.

Continuing with the theme of worrisome names, just last month a new restaurant opened in Coral Gables. It's called Swine. Really. To be exact, the full name of the establishment is Swine Southern Table & Bar, which doesn't, in my view, do much to mitigate the shock value of the word swine. I realize that in addition to meaning a contemptible person, swine is also defined as "any of various stout-bodied short-legged omnivorous artiodactyl mammals (family Suidae) with a thick bristly skin and a long flexible snout." The restaurant does feature pork, but its name certainly seems intended to titillate or even offend.

So, here's where the insanity comes in. After having already been disappointed by one restaurant with an unsavory name, and despite the fact that I mostly eat vegetarian, I convinced E. that we should try Swine, on the theory that with a name that bad, the food had to be good. We decided to go for lunch and invited another couple to join us. 

After the waiter swore that the pork was from pigs that had been humanely raised (but can you really believe a waiter in a place called Swine?), E. and I decided to split the pulled pork sandwich. As it turned out, the food was good, especially the pork, which was lean, smoked, and flavorful, with a nice mustard barbecue sauce that had just a little kick to it. The crispy fried shoestring onions were delicate and delicious, and the red cabbage slaw and steak fries were fine.

But the service was not. My Arnold Palmer (half iced tea, half lemonade) was all lemonade, my friend's Diet Coke never arrived, and the waiter didn't split our sandwich as we'd requested. While I ate, I really began to wonder whether the poor pig I was consuming had been humanely raised. 

But the main issue we all had with Swine was the noise level. Through the roof, or at least through the ceiling. The corrugated tin ceiling, that is, which certainly accounted in part for the deafening decibels. The design of Swine was great—lots of natural wood, that rustic tin ceiling, cool exposed light bulbs. Casual chic. It would have been charming if only I could have heard myself think through the blasting music and the din of other patrons shouting to be heard over it.

Not that I'm seriously worried about my hearing. Loud though the restaurant was, it didn't reach the level of ear damage. But it did prevent me from having a conversation with my friends. E. may have enjoyed the respite from my chatter, but it was hard for me to be sitting with two good friends and unable to communicate. 

Why is it that the trendiest eateries are so often noisy? What's the cachet of having to shout to be heard? And why am I so frequently among the oldest diners in such establishments? Could it be that it's not my sanity or my hearing I should be worried about, but whether I've become stodgy and set in my ways? 

I reject that conclusion. Even at age 21, I didn't like raucous restaurants, crowded bars, or noisy cocktail parties. I simply prefer a quiet, calm experience with a dash of style, good food, and interesting companions who find me endlessly fascinating. Is that too much to ask?  


  1. Sometimes in such noisy places I want to yell, "if everyone would talk quietly we could hear each other!" Nice piece. But what's the worry?

  2. I so agree with you that too many trendy places are far too noisy. As for a name like "La Gloutonnerie", I am not sure if here in France it would attract a clientele at all: most people tend to consider themselves as gourmets, the idea of eating like a glutton is not appealing in the least and certainly in contradiction with the notion that food should be eaten slowly and with appreciation!
    As for the swine bit, why do I think of you as a vegetarian? Pork, to top it all? WOW!!! ;)

  3. As I said in the piece, I'm mostly vegetarian. But I will on occasion eat meat if it has been humanely raised--i.e. the animal has been treated well, allowed to live a normal life. For pigs that would mean no horrible factory farm conditions. But I digress--this entry was obviously not meant as a screed against factory farming. Maybe another time...

  4. La Gloutonnerie, Swine, Cannibal?