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Setec Astronomy

November 30, 2011

Yesterday I made a few enemies. Maybe more than a few. And I’m not even talking about the people at The Standard. No, I’m referring to the food cognoscenti who have considered La Mexicana Grocery & Restaurant their little secret for the past several months.

Perhaps you read my Eat This! feature on All Over Albany about their tacos.

It’s a small place with only six tables, plenty of Mexicans, and only a few of us interlopers. I’ve never had a problem getting one of the few tables. But as word gets out, the place might fill up. And that could spell trouble for those who have considered it our own private taqueria.

I totally understand this sentiment. Generally I tend to avoid crowds, and I hate waiting on line. So in the past I’ve been loath to popularize my favorite places. But a while back Raf convinced me otherwise.

The argument goes something like this.

A restaurant is a business. It’s a difficult business, and many restaurants go under. Nobody opens a restaurant to be your private dining room. Sometimes you find a place that you like so much, you decide to try and support it by returning time and time again. But this is insufficient. And despite your best efforts, one day you may return to find your favorite secret spot closed.

The best way to support a good restaurant is to let other people know about it. By helping them grow their customer base, you are helping to ensure that they’re around for years to come.

Now I know what you are going to say, because I’ve said it too.

There are some restaurants that get very popular and simply cannot handle the increased demand. Or even worse, as they grow their standards start to slip. This affects both restaurants large and small. I have my own concerns about the latter point with the rapid expansion of Five Guys.

But a restaurant cannot truly succeed if it isn’t busy. And yes, it may still fail. But at least it will have had a shot at being able to succeed as a business.

No restaurant aspires to be a best-kept secret among a small cadre of food lovers.

It’s actually amazing to me that there can be so many great places that are off most people’s radar, especially in this digital age where information wants to be free.

But the mere fact that Ala Shanghai didn’t even get a top three mention in the Times Union’s 2011 Reader’s Choice Poll is shocking. More people should go there. Heck, I should go there more. And I think about the lovely Moroccan restaurant in Albany with their sweet mint tea and equally aromatic cookies that never found a following. I never got to try the pizza or the bread from Townsend Bakery, and I still regret not making a beeline down there when they reopened the second time.

Maybe your favorite quiet little restaurant will get more crowded. Perhaps the throngs of humanity will rob a place of its charm. There are many ways an increase in popularity can be the downfall of a business.

But without enough business a restaurant will certainly fail.

If you truly love a restaurant, you should allow it the chance to be successful. Do not keep it a secret. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, and anyone who will listen. Let the management deal with the growth. Maybe they’ll find a way to maintain standards and the original vibe of the place even with increased traffic.

When good restaurants become successful, others will try to copy their success. You can see that in Albany, minus the good part. Just look at all the awful hibachi restaurants. And before you say anything, all hibachi restaurants are awful. They are.

But most of our better restaurants are still relatively obscure. Ask around your workplace and see how many people know about Garden Bistro 24, and tell me how many know about the place and how many have been. I bet you none of them know the place doesn’t have any freezers.

Albany food is improving, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Please help me spread the word about our good restaurants. I guarantee that if you do, more good ones will come. That’s just how it works.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    November 30, 2011 11:43 am

    Well done sir, and I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. For every excellent establishment that fails, at least five bastions of mediocrity unrelentingly persist, mostly due to either location, cheap beer or the general ignorance of the American palate. Food should be fun, sometimes challenging, and most importantly delicious.

    I am gratified you tried and enjoyed La Mexicana. For what it’s worth, the Tlayuda is simply ravishing. If only they would expand just a wee bit more…I have yet to find anything remotely close to some of the moles I experienced while dining in Mexico City – truly unique.

  2. November 30, 2011 12:07 pm

    Places I need to try this winter include The Ginger Man, GB24, and the Wine Bar. I’m grateful that you share these gems with me. Ala Shanghai is one of my favorite restaurants, and I bring many guests there to enjoy a ton of good food at a dangerously low price. And we have leftovers. I could bring more guests there if they made non-pork soup dumplings, because I feel bad bringing my pseudo-kosher people there when they can’t have what I consider to be a star attraction, particularly on a bone-chilling winter evening.

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 30, 2011 12:10 pm

    Of course you should spread the good news about a fine restaurant!

  4. November 30, 2011 12:40 pm

    I wish that either all of these good food spots you keep finding would move out of Schenectady, or the city would have a sudden, dramatic overhaul and become a nice place to go (aside from the half-block or so where Proctors is).

    • phairhead permalink
      November 30, 2011 1:05 pm

      Nice sweeping generalization of Sch’dy!

      FYI, La Mexicana is in a fine neighborhood…stop being such a damn snob!

  5. November 30, 2011 12:52 pm

    Amen! I mean, how else are newbies like me supposed to find the good places?! (@DC2ALB, the Wine Bar is a place I really like. Tiny, but in a snuggly way. It was hard for a no-shellfish person like me to find a menu item. But once I found one, it was great! My dining companion loved hers as well. And the service was thoughtful. Thoroughly enjoyed it.)

  6. November 30, 2011 12:53 pm

    This is all great stuff, and I think it’s a great thing to have the medium of the internet to spread the word and learn about what is out there. The smart businesses and chefs will be online, just like us, reading and observing and using the information they find to move things forward and make things better.

  7. November 30, 2011 2:54 pm

    Just remember what Yogi said – “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

  8. Lakeside permalink
    November 30, 2011 11:17 pm

    Funny was just thinking that the TU had a positive review on Loca Luna this past week. It’s Mexican themed, but not quite a taqueria as you described. However, it still sounds like a hidden gem for those of us in the Ballston Spa area. A very nice review, and not many comments on the Table Hopping blog. How often does that happen?

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