Five Best

This is one of my favorite features of The Wall Street Journal.  Yesterday they asked Kanye West to name his five favorite restaurants.  Usually (and more usefully) some other celebrity is asked to name five favorite books, CDs, or movies.

Five is enough to frame the namer’s tastes.  And your chance of learning about a new peak experience is relatively high.  Even if you get no useful information, you’ve had a chance to judge a celebrity.

I believe this method of "criticism" will become increasingly popular.  The biggest potential downside is encouraging excess winner-take-all behavior on the part of producers.

Addendum: Here are favorites from HobNobBlog.


Tyler, in the DC area, what are your 5 favorite restaurants currently 1) overall (any price, high or low), 2) Korean, 3) chicken, 4) Chinese (any cuisine) 5) Indian, 6) Thai, 7) Ethiopian, 8) bargain (under $15 per person, carts and trucks included), and 9) some other category....

"Five is enough to frame the namer's tastes." - This might be true of restaurants, but I find it a bit too narrow to be able to correctly frame anyone's taste in CDs or books. My own lists vary wildly within certain timeframes and seldom do I get back to listening to a specific album on a regular basis. This is even more apparent if we take into account that music lists are very much genre-oriented: I wouldn't know about celebrities but most people who are really into music tend to choose albums that share some connection.

Do you believe it is actually possible for someone who owns more than, say, one hundred albums, to be able to pick his five favourite releases?

I'm spoiled, all very expensive. So, Pierre Gagnaire and l'Ambroisie in Paris, two restaurants in Kyoto,
Japan whose names I would have to go look up (kaiseki and imperial cuisine joints, very expensive; the
world's most expensive restaurant is in Kyoto, with a branch in Osaka), and the Inn at Little Washington
in Virginia.

The complete Five Best archive is available here:

So, here are the names of the Kyoto restaurants: Rokusei Nishimise, in eastern Kyoto, which has been
serving kaiseki since 1899, and Mankamero in central Kyoto, which has been open since 1716, and is the
only restaurant in the world where one can get yusoku ryori, genuine Japanese imperial cuisine. At
each of these places, dinner will start at about 10,000 yen and can go as high as 30,000 yen, although
lunches can be had for less. Both are simply out of this world, and good quality for the price, even
at those high prices.

The most expensive is Kitcho in western Kyoto, with a branch in Osaka, which also serves kaiseki.
Dinners there start at 50,000 yen and go up. I have not eaten there, either branch.

With the yen down and the euro up, that may make it not the most expensive restaurant in the world.
The degustation menu at Arpege in Paris is currently 340 euros. I have not had it, but have had
less expensive food there. It is horribly overpriced and overrated. I forecast a loss of one of its
stars in the not-too distant future. A decade ago it was ultra-cool. Now it is merely ultra-expensive.

Regarding kaiseki, it is very hard to find in the US. The one restaurant I know of offering it in
New York is Kai, where the basic menu is $340.00, the most expensive restaurant in the city. I have
not eaten there. I fear it would not come close to what one finds in Kyoto, much less what one can
find in Tokyo. Kaiseki comes from Kyoto. In Washington, one can find a not bad imitation at Makoto
if one gets the Omakase tasting menu, which is not cheap, but below the prices I have mentioned so far.
Tyler says nice things about it in his ethnic dining guide, and about two years ago it actually surpassed
the Inn at Little Washington briefly as the best for food in the Washington area according to Zagat. In
Fairfax, the quite good and reasonably authentic Blue Ocean claims to serve kaiseki, which I have not yet
had, but one must order it a day ahead of time. Amazingly, I have not seen kaiseki anywhere in either LA
or SF, both of which have distinctive Japanese neighborhoods with restaurants, although I suspect that it
is there if one were to look hard enough.

Sushi comes from Tokyo, and the world's best sushi,
very reasonable actually, can be found in hole-in-the-wall joints early in the morning right after the
fish come into the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, the world's largest fish market, which these places
are right next to. Fall on the floor good with your tongue hanging out, and not expensive. Authentic
as hell, Tyler's kind of places. I would suggest that if you want this world's best at a bargain, you
get over there and do it soon, because the nationalistic mayor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, is pushing
to shut down Tsukiji and move the fish market out into the harbor. That will end those joints being so
darned good.

BTW, in its origin, sushi was super cheapo proletarian food, given to construction workers in Edo in the
shadow of the shogun's palace, now the imperial palace, and not cooked so as not to waste time. It was
viewed as a low grade thing. How things change.

A more subtle issue that is unanswered in this question is what does one mean by "favorite"? Is it where
one would want to eat most frequently taking into account budget, or where one would like to eat the most
period, not accounting for budget? Obviously, the economic answer involves accounting for budget, that is,
doing a value for price maximization. That gives quite different answers, at least for me, than the sheer
taste max, although I confess that even for the latter, a ridiculously high price can spoil the appetite,
as at the annoying Arpege, not that it is any candidate for the best meal I have ever had. Far from it.
Anyway, the answers I gave were the best period, not the best per price (although those hole-in-the-wall
sushi joints near Tsukiji are way up there on the latter).

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