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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Better Late Than Never: The 23:5 Meme

Among the many distinctive things about the food blogging community is the frequency and speed with which memes go hurtling through our ranks.   For those unfamiliar with the concept, allow me to explain:   a person comes up with an interesting and revealing topic, she puts up a post about that topic on her own blog, and she then "tags" one or more other food bloggers to address the same issue through posts on their blogs.   These individuals, in turn, are asked to tag one or more other bloggers, and so it goes.

About a month ago, the fantastic and always-entertaining Joy tagged me with a meme that is, to be sure, decidely random.   The instructions are to delve into your blog archive, to find your 23rd post, to identify the 5th sentence, and to ponder it for meaning, subtext, or hidden agendas.   Now, to paraphrase a great quote, some people may look at this meme and ask why, but I look at it and ask why not?   So, here we go.

My 23rd post was entitled "Changes on Tap at Tartare", and the fifth sentence was as follows:

"The new incarnation of the restaurant will be called George, and Morrone is promising to deliver 'edgy' dishes inspired by his recent trip to France and Spain."
What I was referencing here was the fact that George Morrone - the nearly legendary chef who had opened Aqua and earned it 4 stars before moving on to open Fifth Floor and earn it 4 stars as well - had just announced plans to revamp his latest restaurant Tartare, which had been open at that point for just about a year.   The investors were not satisfied with Tartare's performance, and it was that displeasure that had led to plans for a complete overhaul in the concept.   So, what meanings can be gleaned from the fifth sentence of my 23rd post?   Well, I can think of several.

First, the fact that a chef as accomplished as Morrone was put in the position of having to redo and relaunch Tartare says a lot about how challenging the restaurant business in the Bay Area can be.   As of the date of my post, Morrone was the only chef in the Bay Area to have taken two different restaurants to 4-star status, and the food, service and atmosphere at Tartare were actually quite good.   Yet, there was Morrone, obviously struggling to improve the restaurant's financial performance and searching for some modification - some magical tweak - that would suddenly generate that ever-elusive "buzz."   In short, it appears that the rule for 4-star chefs in the Bay Area is no different than the standard disclaimer found in your ordinary stock prospectus - i.e., past performance is no guarantee of future results.
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There's more...
Second, the announced reincarnation of Tartare - when viewed in light of subsequent events - is a good example of that old adage about the best laid plans.   I visited Tartare just a few days before it closed for the makeover, and all of the staff on site that evening - and Morrone himself - talked excitedly about the coming changes.   But when the restaurant shut down for what was billed as a "few days" and then remained closed several weeks later, I suspected that something was up.   Sure enough, it turns out that investors were having second thoughts about whether reopening made sense, and they were debating whether Morrone should stay involved.   And since then, the decision has apparently been made to sell off the property entirely.   So, even where a high profile public announcement about a new plan has been made, nobody can really be sure about how things will actually unfold.

Third, the incident at issue here is a significant one in the progression of Morrone's career.   When Tartare opened in 2004, it was supposed to represent Morrone's big comeback.   You see, back in 2001, Morrone resigned from the height of his success at Fifth Floor in order to open the ill-fated Redwood Park - a restaurant that never really caught on for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was 9/11.   When Morrone was later fired from that restaurant, he left town and moved to Australia.   Tartare was Morrone's first venture since coming back to the Bay Area, and the fact that it did not succeed is just the latest in a series of setbacks for this talented chef.

Finally, the fifth sentence of my 23rd post perfectly illustrates how difficult it is for those who write about our restaurant scene - and those who are interested in it - to keep abreast of the seemingly endless changes.   Within a matter of weeks, the investors behind Tartare went from planning a 1-year anniversary gala for the restaurant, to announcing its transition to a new concept, to closing down for remodeling, to questioning whether to reopen, and to deciding to sell it off completely.   It's enough to make your head spin, and it just goes to show that nothing in the restaurant business is ever guaranteed.

So, there you have it, my thoughts about the significance of a randomly-chosen sentence from a randomly-chosen post.   Although I would ordinarily be required now to identify five other bloggers to tag with this meme, I'm going to abstain from doing so because all of the bloggers that I know have presumably been tagged already or are not likely to participate!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Putting aside the crazy randomness of "meme" postings, thanks for reminding us what a shame it is that Tartare is with us no more. It was one of my favorite restaurants in the City, and I will miss it. Looking forward to your return, George! Thanks for your good work, NS!

November 07, 2005 1:47 PM  

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