What's in a Name?
Clever monikers are great, but ultimately it's the level of passion and dedication that makes a restaurant rise or fall.
I’ve been collecting restaurant names (I once wrote a poem about them), and I think we may have finally run out.
The biggest trend is animals: Dapper Duck; Stubborn Mule; The Mad Crab; The Black Rooster; Fishbones, Bonefish, Cowfish, MoonFish, King Fish, Flying Fish; and the four little pigs—Ravenous, Polite, Dancing and Floyd.
Then there are the ampersand restaurants: Cork & Fork, Cask & Larder, Tin & Taco, Farm & Haus, Provisions & Buzz, Bull & Bear, Greens & Grille, and my favorite variation, Eat N Wash, a seafood, soul food and car wash place on Rio Grande Avenue. We have both Fish on Fire and Steak on Fire, hopefully not by accident in either case. My favorite restaurant name right now: Bugambilias, the Mexican name for bougainvillea.
But what does it all mean? How much, ultimately, does the name of a restaurant influence you into going? Some, like Seito, referencing owner Jason Chin’s father, are personal documents. Others conjure a stylistic atmosphere or hearken back to another country, such as Urbain 40 and the Peruvian eatery Gaviota (a South American seagull). And there’s always the sense of pride and identity personified: Norman’s; Emeril’s; Benjamin Coquillou’s eponymous Benjamin French Bakery. But just like a book jacket or feature film, the name can be a knockout while the content is sorely lacking. The curiosity called Fishola (once mercilessly reviewed by me, and rightfully so) closed within months. Was it the name? No, but it didn’t help.
So it all comes down to taste and perception, both of the chef and the patrons. Is a restaurant not authentic because a white guy from the South is cooking Asian dishes, or a kid from Oklahoma champions Mexican cuisine? For that matter, does a chef have to be Japanese or, as some purists demand, a man, to make sushi? The Internet is ablaze with outraged arbiters of cultural appropriation, some with valid arguments but mostly trolling for the sake of it, calling out chefs who, in their minds, aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. Don’t read the comments, kids.
Passion and dedication makes a great restaurant, and even if there isn’t a celebrity chef behind the grill, you can tell immediately when the folks in the kitchen are just phoning it in, and when they are obsessed with making good food. Those chefs who tell me, “There’s nothing else I’ve ever done; there’s nothing else I want to do; there’s nothing else I can do,” are the chefs I will follow and champion, regardless of the sign over the door or the origin of the dish.
Call it Food & More Food or The Duck’s Behind—serve a knockout meal and I’m there. And when you find that place, dear reader, tell me about it. And keep going back.