ZZ's Clam Bar some random Thursday evening round six. The only available time slot OpenTable would have you believe there to be for weeks.
The walk-in unfriendly spot in reality, empty with reservations. Four tables all set for two. A bar so thin, slithering against the wall, your drink could slide off. The room so small your waiter couldn't possibly be more than 10 feet from you even if he wanted to be. His novelty grown handle bar mustache tickling your thoughts as you scan a menu that, any which way you cut it, is set on destroying your chance at a respectful future life.
Two coin sized slices of uni toast? Thirty dollars.
A paper thin sheet of seared snapper? Forty seven dollars.
A rorschach plate of beef carpaccio with few and far between freckles of caviar? One hundred five dollars.
What are you doing here? What is it about such pomp and circus spots that traps you into not just believing the hype, but chasing it? As you measure out your night in dirtied forks and glasses of wine, the question can't help but creep up as against all better judgement, you shift your eyes across the bill - what are you paying for?
Well, contrary to what you may tell your foodie self - you're not paying for food. You're paying to feel privileged.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all really, so long as you understand that's the real transaction at hand.
You're paying for the ability to tell your friends you went there. To be able to have an opinion on somewhere of current social note. To throw out a recommendation of what's best to get. And for the more insufferable among you, the chance to snap an Instagram photo that will live on as a testament of your impressiveness for years to come.
No matter where you go - ZZ's Clam Bar. Per Se. Buddakan. Eleven Madison Park. From Jesus-take-the-wheel tasting menus to the smallest of small plates money can buy, either you'll leave feeling the whole thing tried too hard, or the whole thing tried too hard to not try hard at all.
And honestly, as valid or invalid as either conclusion may be, that's not your real issue. No matter what tiny alteration, edit, change, or critique you may leave with - from 'the music was too loud' to 'that waiter was so slow' to 'it could have done without so much sauce' - all of your grumbles stem from the fact that you know you should never have paid that much for anything. And though lodging a lighthearted complaint here or there may make you feel better in the moment, nobody's actually paying you a penny for your thoughts.
And sure, for many, reservations of this ilk lie often reserved for special occasions. Venues chosen simply to impress. And sure, such a gesture for many may work time and time again. But don't forget, the anxiety of great expectations will likely have you shaking in your Sunday shoes the entire time.
But hey - if you're more than happy to drop half a g on some plates of kaleidoscopically slapped raw fish, power to you my friend. For it must also be noted that silly as it may be, ZZ's Clam Bar's Trout Roe Toast is unfortunately, one hundred percent worth its price, and then some.