Service of First Impressions Redux

November 1st, 2021

Categories: Chain, Fast Food, Pandemic, Restaurant

Over the years–this month marks the 13th anniversary of my blog–I’ve written a few times about first impressions. The other week I was fooled by a restaurant a few blocks from my apartment, Wagamama, that I’ve passed hundreds of times. It never appealed to me because it looked sterile–like a chain. With the exception of Maison Kayser, the bakery restaurant that was killed by the pandemic, Le Pain Quotidien, headquartered in Belgium, and Danish-based Ole & Steen, with three NYC branches, I’m usually not a fan of restaurant chains or of fast food.

You’d think a huge sparkling clean space would attract me during the Covid catastrophe. It gave me the impression that the dishes had previously been frozen and heated in a microwave.

Photo: painquotidien.com

My intuition was wrong.

I met two friends there for lunch the other day and enjoyed one of the best dishes of pad Thai that I can remember. The British chain has three branches in NYC and two in Boston. Here’s how they describe themselves, cut and pasted from their website–the punctuation and lack of uppercase letters is theirs: “we’ve been practising kaizen since 1992, when we opened our first doors in london’s bloomsbury. inspired by fast-paced, japanese ramen bars and a celebration of asian food, wagamama burst into life. we set out to create a unique way of eating. bringing the fresh, nourishing, flavors of asia to all.”

Are there chains you like? Is there something about the quality and standards of foreign food chains that makes their food tastier? What first impressions –good or bad–have fooled you lately?

Photo: oleandsteen.us

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15 Responses to “Service of First Impressions Redux”

  1. BC Said:

    Live in the boonies. No foreign chains here, but lots of grass, trees, flowers and seafood restaurants as I live near the ocean.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    In my travels and here in the city I have preferred small, unheralded neighborhood restaurants with great food. When I had a house upstate we sought out the same type of restaurants although there were plenty of chains. Your seafood restaurants sound amazing. Decades ago I spent some time by the ocean in the Hamptons in Long Island. One day we saw fishermen on the beach who told us that they weren’t permitted to sell to the local fish store and that the store had to buy from the Fulton fish market in NYC! I trust this nutty dynamic has changed by now.

  3. Hank Goldman Said:

    On the face of it, I would rather stay away from a chain restaurant… However, whether it be restaurants or clothing stores that are part of a big chain, at least one knows, to some extent, what one can expect! Not always of course, but you have some idea at least.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    You have identified why some Americans who travel abroad stay at American-owned hotels and eat exclusively in American restaurant chains. The memorable meals I’ve had in Europe include a simple bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, bread and a glass of red wine in a hole in the wall in Venice and the most scrumptious mozzarella in a different restaurant that we fell into in the same city.

  5. Nancie Steinberg Said:

    Nancie on Facebook: Congrats!

    I enjoyed Pret-a-Manger in London first as well as Wagamama.. so when they arrived here, I was familiar.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancie,

    I don’t mind Pret AM but find I’m still hungry after eating their sandwiches which is unusual to never happens to me.

  7. Nancie Steinberg Said:

    Nancie on Facebook: the ones that are in baguettes are filling!

  8. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: I don’t have a unique connection to the food at foreign or other restaurant chains for that matter. But I do have nice memories of restaurants we went to as a child with the entire family on Sunday afternoons. The restaurants, and more sadly my parents, are long gone but the memories remain. A few include Lum’s, Topsy’s, Constantine’s, Ben’s of Rego Park, Lundy’s, Abbracciamento’s, etc. We never cooked on Sundays, the only day dad didn’t work.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Linda,

    We didn’t go to restaurants as a rule. Until he died every Sunday we went to my grandfather’s for a formal lunch.

  10. lucrezia Said:

    Not being a foodie, and with fussy tastes, I stick to the places I like best, unless a friend suggests otherwise. I’m not one for second chances: Tasteless food, poor service, and I’m not seen again.

  11. Eileen Dover Said:

    I always try to support and eat local. Chains are known for their corporate menu, consistency and quality control. I do enjoy a steak dinner with a blooming onion at Texas Roadhouse, pacific veggie pizza delivery from Dominos or a Chili’s appetizer sampler at the airport. Also can never pass on Aunt Annie’s pretzels in the mall or train station! Everything gourmet doesn’t have Michelin stars! Congrats on 13 years! Always looking forward to reading your next blog. I’m a fan!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I’m with you–a restaurant with the best food combined with listless to poor service never sees me again either.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Eileen,

    Thanks! SOOOO nice of you. I’m thrilled you’re a fan!

    I never tried Domino’s pizza. Not familiar with Texas Roadhouse–blooming onion sounds intriguing. Also have never tasted Chili’s food. You must think I live on the moon. Will let you know if I give any of these a try.

  14. Martha T Takayama Said:

    I am not a fan of chains, but also prefer smaller, local individual restaurants. My experience is not very up to date since the pandemic. My husband is from Tokyo, lived years in Manhattan before Boston and likes to cook and dislikes chains. He did not like WagaMama at all! He considered “totally fake Japanese”. Said there is no reason in New York to choose it for Japanese food. His recommendation: Restaurant Nippon
    http://www.restaurantnippon.com
    155 E 52nd St, New York, NY 10022. He also recommends individual Japanese restaurants in Greenwich Village

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    Restaurant Nippon looks lovely. Thank you for the tip! Ryussei Sushi, a tiny restaurant at 226 East 39th Street, a few steps from Wagamama, is also excellent. Both Nippon and RS are pricey while Wagamama, with its faults, is more reasonably priced and that Pad Thai was light and tasty.

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