Last night I went out to dinner at the Metropolitan Grill. Several people I know have named the Metropolitan as the best restaurant in Seattle, and several others have named very similar restaurants as their personal favorites. And I must say that the Metropolitan does do a very good job at what it serves: and what it serves is big slabs of meat. And big potatoes. And, if you pay more, some generic vegetables on ths side. Don’t get me wrong – their steaks really are excellent (and for $50+ they better be!) – but I do think it’s a real shame that people around here don’t demand more from a dining experience than a very big slab of meat – even if these slabs are very good.
I don’t know if preferences towards these types of restaurants is unique to the Seattle area or if it is consistent across the US – although I suspect the latter is more likely. Until the last 2 years or so I’ve spent all my life in Australia where eating out is very different. As is the case in Seattle, the average quality of ingredients is very high in Australia, but innovation and originality are considered critical to the dining experience – so whether you eat out at a local suburban café or in the best joint in town, you know you’ll see choices on the menu that you haven’t seen anywhere else. Some will be terrific – and some will turn out to be somewhat ill-conceived – but either way it makes eating out a far more enjoyable experience.
Of course the Metropolitan Grill is just catering to what the people want. And people here seem to want this at all ends of the market – if you go to almost any non-ethnic restaurant here you’ll see menus that are almost identical, even though the price and quality varies. I assume the reason people not only put up with, but apparently demand this, is the same reason people flock to Starbucks and McDonalds around the country – it’s because predictability is regarded by many as of the utmost importance – more so than variety, and often even more so than quality.
It needn’t be this way. It is possible to get innovative, as well as fantastic, food in the Seattle area. For those playing at home, I recently went out to Mixtura in downtown Kirkland – it was one of the best and most interesting meals I’ve had in a long time – they advertise it as “New Andean Cuisine”, and it was unlike anything I’ve had before (in a good way!). And there are many other places offering good, interesting food too – but it’s way harder to find than it should be. Now I’m not really a local and I know I can’t fully understand (let alone dictate) local tastes. But I have experienced life on the other side, and I encourage you to try it – you may even find you like it.