Has this happened to you? Your first meal at a restaurant is enjoyable, maybe even in 5-star territory. You rave about the place to friends and family. You can't wait to go back. And when you do, it, well, kind of sucks. This happens to me more often than not. WTF?
First of all, I dread eating somewhere new to me. It's a risk. You have to accept the possibility of failure, something I'm not always willing to do. Sure, I'll do it when I'm on vacation, but it's not like I have much of a choice. In more familiar haunts, though, the good dishes I know call out to me. It's when I get bored that I take the risk.
So, I walk in to a new place. I'm in borderline panic mode. What do I do? Do I seat myself? Who do I talk to? There's too much noise, I can't concentrate? Oh, yes, table for two. I sit down, grab the menu. What the hell does this mean? Why can't they call things by normal names? A burger for $12?!? Ga! What? Yes, I'll have the special. No, just a glass of water, wait, what's on tap?
Then the food comes, it looks wonderful and smells even better. And, damn, it's tasty. Before I know it, my plate is empty. If I'm not eating with my wife, I may even lick the plate.
Maybe that's it. I start with such low expectations that the meal can't help but seem good. When I return, though, I'm more familiar, better able to judge. I notice the lapses in service. This time I'm expecting good food and disappointed when it's not the best I've had.
I still take the risk, though. How else will I find the gems?