I love GW Fin’s. It is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans, which to my mind means it is one of the best restaurants in the world. Tenney Flynn is a genius chef, and a great guy. When I celebrate a special occasion, more often than not, it’s at GW Fin’s. I asked my wife to marry me at GW Fin’s, and the poor thing said “yes,” so I have a soft spot, obviously.
I am also fond of the Upperline. It’s one of the first fine-dining restaurants at which I ate as an adult, and I’ve been back many times in the years since. There is no more gracious host than JoAnn Clevenger; it’s simply not possible.
That said, the recent news that Trip Advisor rated GW Fin’s and the Upperline the 18th and 19th best restaurants in the country struck me as a bit odd.
I WANT TO MAKE CLEAR THAT BOTH GW FIN’S AND THE UPPERLINE ARE GREAT RESTAURANTS, AT WHICH I HOPE TO DINE IN THE FUTURE.
But … that list had four restaurants in Charleston in the top 25. Four.
Charleston is a great town, and there’s a fantastic restaurant scene there, but four of the best 25 restaurants in the country are in Charleston? No.
I am pleased that GW Fin’s and the Upperline have gotten well-deserved recognition, though I suppose it will be even more difficult to get a reservation at either in the near future. Both restaurants are fantastic, as are, I’m sure, all of the restaurants from Charleston named by Trip Advisor.
But why are we, or Charleston for that matter, supposed to be in competition with places like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or, dare I say it, Houston for the “best restaurant” sweepstakes? New Orleans is New Orleans. New Orleans is not New York; and New York is not New Orleans.
We cannot compete with cities like New York for “best restaurant,” because to be blunt, we don’t have the numbers. You can have the best meal of your life in New Orleans, whether it’s at a white tablecloth restaurant or a hole in the wall; that’s true even if you’ve experienced Michelin-starred restaurants all over the world. Our food culture is second to none, but …
We aren’t the sort of place that can support restaurants like Alinea, the French Laundry, Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park, and a host of other places where you’ll pay upwards of $500 for a meal paired with wines that will blow you away. We don’t need to be that sort of place; we’re better than that sort of place, on balance, because while we don’t have the apex restaurants you’ll find in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, our “casual” joints are, pound for pound, as good as or better than the best those other places have to offer.
And what I love about GW Fin’s and the Upperline is that both of those places represent our food culture in an elevated, ambitious way. So while I had one of the meals of my life at Alinea, and have enjoyed dining in New York, Chicago, Paris, San Francisco, London, Boston, Rome and elsewhere, at the end of the day I’d rather eat at GW Fin’s, the Upperline, or dozens of other New Orleans restaurants.