I don’t remember the name of every dearly departed restaurant my husband and I used to love going to, but I remember the food, the ambience, and the basic serenity that descends upon one while being waited on and nourished with excellent food. Here is a short list of the departed:
Bangkok 4 and 3
That French restaurant in Tustin
The Iron Squirrel
The Four Seas
It hurts when a favorite restaurant closes.
I have vivid memories of restaurants visited away from home, in Albuquerque, San Francisco, Brighton, Calais, Paris, St. John Cap-Ferrat, Venice, and Rome.
If restaurants are so important, why don’t we see more of them in fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy? When I Googled “Restaurants in Science Fiction,” the results were mostly for Disney, plus an ad for Ruth Chris’ Steak House. I had the same result when I searched for fantasy. Why?
One reason may be related to plot. Restaurants are places to pause, to relax, to have a nice meal…to restore oneself. SF tends to be literature involving action, often in places too remote in time or space to have such amenities. Even is they were available, our characters don’t have time to sit around and restore themselves. And if they do go to a restaurant, someone recognizes Lady Catelyn, and a huge fight breaks out. We never get to see the dessert tray!
Another reason restaurants are thin on the ground, especially in science fiction, is that they may not exist, in the same form, in the future. They might all be automated, with no human wait staff. The food may, indeed, all be printed from machines, sort of like the pellet diet I feed our cockatiels. Or we may end up in the world of The Windup Girl, where Monsanto has taken over the food supply.
An unappetizing thought. And no, I don’t really think it’s going to be that way.
And the more I think about it, the more I can come up with memories of restaurants in SF:
1) A teahouse figures prominently in The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald.
2) They stop at inns for nice meals in The Hobbit quite a lot.
3) Poppy Z. Brite has a delightful mainstream series–Prime, Liquors, and Soul Kitchen, which are entirely about two chefs and their restaurant, but it is entirely non-SF.
4) And what about The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams?
I guess maybe what I’m looking for here is something a bit different than the above, like a picky eater with a craving she can’t quite define.
Okay, I can define it: It’s the individually owned, sit-down venue with excellent food at slightly expensive but-not-ridiculous prices. The bistro. And it is this exact sort of place I think is in dinosaur mode. It’s much easier not to have wait staff or a lot of square footage devoted to seating. Much better to have most of your sales be take-out. This appears to be a trend. As for food quality, it depends on what is available, affordable, and demanded in various areas of the world. The number of hopeful chefs on TV competitions leads me to believe no one is going to give up cooking any time soon.