The way we rate restaurants is unique. We really don't assign a particular number to each place. Instead, we feel it is more accurate, and interesting, to associate restaurants with particular movies. Allow us to explain:
In most cases, the food of a particular restaurant will form the critical foundation for our experience. For example, if we were to be served dog food in the White House, with floating, angellic-like figures spoon feeding us our meal; it would still largely suck. Nonetheless, we'd recognize the awesomeness of our surroundings and award (some) points for that. Conversely, hand rolled, expertly crafted and delicious pasta, served by Orks in the Mordor lobby would actually still receive culinary praise (but we'd also acknowledge the uninviting atmosphere). These are obviously two extreme cases, but our goal is to review restaurants with a focus on food with a peripheral, yet attentive, eye towards environment and service.
And, in light of the foregoing, we find that many, if not all, restaurants can be grouped into the following movie categories.
1st Grouping - Average
The Feel Good Flaw Festival - This kind of food isn't necessarily good for you, and its ingredients (and overall taste for that matter) are not that sophisticated or tremendous. But the formula works. Your local pizzeria's plain slice, McDonald's fries, funnel cakes. If you cared to scrutinize, you'd stay away from this stuff, but you just can't help but to eat first and ask questions later. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - Rocky IV. Yes, objectively speaking, 1,000 soviet, steroid powered point blank blows to Balboa's noggin should have resulted in his certain death/decapitation. But it didn't. Rocky wins. The USSR, and Communism, loses. And you love it every time.
The Average Restaurant - Still average. But unlike the aforementioned example, this food is just ordinary and offers little-to-no incentive to come back for more. Your irish pub that, somehow, churns out pretty decent food; an average and edible meal. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - Vanilla Sky. This movie is just plain ol' average…. watchable, but boring at same time… moving on.
2nd Grouping - Above Average
The Predictable Surprise - The restaurant that follows a simple formula. Variation is seldom, yet surprises you with taste. That Italian Restaurant with the good "gravy," the burgers that are better than normal, the dependable chinese restaurant. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - The Girl Next Door. Indeed, the movie was a complete rip off of Cruise's Risky Business. Nerdy kid gets mixed up with the morally compromised hot babe who, somehow, is into him. Not exactly a groundbreaking storyline. But, despite that, the movie still offers a few fresh surprises and characters that make it very watchable.
The Bi-Polar Express - This restaurant offers simultaneous promise and disappointment, often times in one sitting. Your appetizer rocks, but your entree is just not up to stuff, or vice versa. Potential is all around, but lack of consistency fails to make your experience truly memorable. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - Miami Vice - A movie loaded with a great cast, director and premise, yet, with the exception of a few notable scenes (the shootout at the end being one of them) it fails to really ever develop into a solid flick.
3rd Grouping - Good
The Well Working Formula - For the meals and restaurants that don't score points for originality, but still serve well above average fare. Higher end Mulberry Street restaurants and many (but not all) Manhattan Steakhouses come to mind. You know what you are going to get, but its predictability is its strength. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - Top Gun. When I was six, this movie caught me by surprise…but anyone could really see this plot coming from a mile away: Longshot, cocky pilot and goofy soon-to-be killed sidekick take on the world under the cool mentorship of Tom "Viper" Skerritt. Guns, planes, Kenny Loggins - it's all predictable, but never loses its loving feeling.
The Offbeat Success - For the restaurant that is unique in its vibe and dishes. A smart production from start to finish, yet lacking the upper echelon chops to make it a superior edible experience. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - Napoleon Dynamite. Never a threat to win an academy award, this original comedy leaves it's unique stamp in the movie world with great, diverse characters and a hilariously charming storyline.
The Cult Classic - For the outfit that puts out very good food at affordable prices. It has its local followers who, while knowing the food is not perfect, still prefer it to some of the more critically acclaimed locales - Corner Bistro in the West Village, or Taqueria in downtown Jersey City are good examples. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - The Big Lebowski. White Russians. Bowling. Bathrobes. The Dude. John Goodman. Seemingly simple things yielding a great and unique experience. This classic is sometimes more satisfying than some of the all time greats.
4th Grouping - Very Good
The Edgy Near-Masterpiece - For the place that produces food that is truly memorable, one of a kind, and borderline excellent. Often innovative, its dishes leave one severely impressed and satisfied but, at times, its need to be a nonconformist causes it to fall just short of flawless excellence. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - Heat. You could also put The Departed in this category and, like The Departed, Heat is slightly (and I say this with a grimace) flawed. Powerful performances, memorable scenes (Bank robbery scene - greatest of its kind) and rich dialogue…yet it is also a victim of its own brilliance, as parts of the movie can drag in order to accommodate its depth.
The Happy Ending - The joint that is almost too perfect. Its dishes are well crafted and presented but, upon reflection, lack the depth necessary to elevate it to a flawless experience. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - Shawshank Redemption. Such a beautiful film. Such moving performances. Such a beautiful ending. Friendships are forged, right triumphs over wrong, and redemption is realized. I absolutely love this movie but, admittedly, its corniness and lack of feasibility hold it back from true greatness.
The Classic Comedy - The rare restaurant that churns out excellence while being casual. Service is average, decor is questionable, and menu is often limited. Its products are often in the beef family and it usually has an American feel. The Salt Lick BBQ in Austin, TX and Sammy's Ye Olde Cider Mill in Mendham, NJ would probably fit into this category. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - Animal House - Admitting to not ever seeing this movie will land you in social detention. Not because it is necessarily the greatest movie - it's very good - but because of its iconic status. You need to experience it, but… it's not quite THE ultimate experience.
5th Grouping - Excellent
The Perfect Game - For the culinary experience that just cannot be touched. Often imitated, never duplicated. Typically a more traditional experience, yet its grub provides ultimate satisfaction. Peter Luger's comes to mind. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - The Godfather - As an Italian American, I am often torn about my support of this movie, but there is no doubting its delivery of cinematic excellence. Plain and simple, when it is on… I cannot turn it off. Side note - Kay Adams had nothing on Appalonia. I always excused Michael for this harmless digression.
The Edgy Mainstream Masterpiece - For the restaurant that serves up food with an original, inventive foundation…while yielding tastes that are simply too mind blowing to be just called experimental. Often modern in its craft, yet timeless in its impression, the Edgy Mainstream has entrees with ingredients and combinations you may not know existed. MOVIE EQUIVALENT - The Dark Knight. What a complex, deep and awesomely bad ass film. This is not Adam West's Batman... nor is it even Jack Nicholson's joker. This flick is not for the young or immature. Why so serious?
Are there types of movies I left out? Yes. Not every movie translates into a meal. As an additional caveat - there will always be an exception to my above beliefs... but i bet that many of your meals can fit into one of the aforementioned categories. And, if you feel like I forgot one... please comment!