Extravagance vs. Expertise – Which One Is More Important at the Dinner Table?

Living in New Jersey for a few months during virtual learning gave me the opportunity to visit New York City often. Last weekend, I dined at a Michelin Japanese restaurant. After a couple of hours of wandering on Madison Avenue, I was excited to finally sit down and enjoy a Michelin endorsed sushi meal. 

But hold on – Isn’t Michelin a tire company? 

Yes, but it is also a company that authoritatively judges the professionals in the culinary industry. A few searches on the internet taught me that the Michelin brothers published the first issue of the Michelin guide, also known as the “red book,” in 1900 France when there was little motivation to invest in cars. By listing gasoline-selling pharmacies, auto repair shops, and most importantly the restaurants in France, the Michelin brothers successfully convinced the French that cars had use other than for racing. As a result, more tires were used up and the Michelin brothers saw an increase in their tire sales. As the guide became more and more famous, the brothers entertained their targeted French elite by categorizing restaurants from 1 star to 3 stars: 1 meaning “a very good restaurant,” 2 representing “excellent cooking that is worth a detour,” and 3 signifying “one of the best that is worth the trip.” To this day, acquiring 3 Michelin stars has been the culinary goal for restaurants around the world.

Now let’s go back to my experience at the Japanese restaurant, Sushi Yasuda. The decoration was absolutely stunning with a fusion between traditional and modern Japanese style. The mint green lighting at the entrance poses an interesting contrast to the calligraphy logo. We sat down on the balcony and ordered appetizers and entrées. My choice of appetizer was the hijiki seaweed, and my entree was the omakase sushi. To my surprise, and to my companion’s surprise, I thought the flavors were underwhelming. However, my friend claimed it was the best sushi he had ever had. Don’t get me wrong, the ingredients were fresh and the presentation was excellent, but I expected more from a Michelin restaurant. 

Surprised by my sacrilegious comment, my friend raised an important question -- Are the best flavors found in an extravagant restaurant or the mom and pop kitchen that recreates generation-long recipes? Personally, I stand by the flavors of old recipes, but I also enjoy the dining experience at a high-end restaurant. What is your take?