Early to Bed?

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Not long ago I had a lovely weekday dinner at one of St. Louis' best restaurants. Maybe the best. But this isn't really about the meal.

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Our reservation was for 8 o'clock. We arrived more or less on the dot and were seated promptly. The restaurant wasn't full, but it was busy. Restaurants of similar size and stature would be thrilled to have this many tables occupied on a weekday evening in late summer.

Two of us had a three-course meal: appetizer, entrée, dessert. I'd describe our pace as relaxed. We weren't mooning over every last bite of every course, but we certainly weren't in a hurry. We were home by about 10.

As it turned out, we were the next-to-last seating in the restaurant that night. And we were the absolute last to finish eating. We would have been the last to leave, too, had a two-top that had arrived before us not lingered over coffee.

Waiters. Line cooks. The executive chef. They'd all split. I didn't blame them. And I should make clear that this is in no way a complaint about the restaurant. Our server didn't rush us one bit.

In truth, this post isn't a complaint at all. But my experience at this restaurant puzzled me. I couldn't believe that, with an 8 o'clock reservation, we would be the next-to-last seating. And one reason I haven't named the restaurant is because I suspect something similar would have occurred had we eaten at any other equally acclaimed and popular place that night.

Maybe St. Louis diners prefer to eat early -- for all I know the restaurant was full at 5:30. Or maybe there isn't enough money (for lack of a better term) in the city or coming into the city to support more than one turn on a weekday evening at a higher-end restaurant. Or maybe I'm completely off base, and it was just a coincidence. One of those nights.

I guess what I'm wondering is: What is the restaurant culture in St. Louis? To what extent are restaurants a destination in and of themselves? Are they a prelude to the rest of the night? A rare treat? Can the St. Louis restaurant scene encompass all these different approaches and still grow?

Maybe these are obvious or even stupid questions, but as someone who has a specific purpose (and an expense account) when he dines out, I have trouble answering them.

I'm in a reflective mood today, so I apologize if this seems a bit scattered. File it under random musings.

-Ian Froeb

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