Music to Dine By
Restaurateurs pour bucks and intention aplenty into interior design, lighting, ingredients, menu, and big-name chefs. But who’s minding the music?
The first Phil Collins song was okay; pleasant and mildly nostalgic. By the time the fourth rolled around we had fallen into an easy-listening coma. We were at Blind Pig Bistro, Charles Walpole’s teensy hideout in an Eastlake strip mall. The food was newfangled and variously intriguing; the unlikely space still radiant with the legacy of its two former occupants, Nettletown and Sitka and Spruce. Fellow diners were card-carrying Capitol Hill hipsters and independent foodie-types who could not possibly have been reacting any better to the insipid soundtrack than we were.
Oh! Change of music! Oh. Sting, circa 1985.
Was this merely a matter of taste? I asked my tablemates. Like a restaurant critic who doesn’t like eggplant—er, that would be me—unfairly dissing a restaurant for serving it? No, we all agreed, this is different. Restaurants are mood-makers; good restaurants like little theater sets which create a unified world for the diner to inhabit. The best restaurants match music to atmo to food, creating that intangible quality which builds memories: ambiance.
So Sting and Phil Collins in a family restaurant in a mall, perhaps? Ideal. No one’s dissing the musical chops of these talented gentlemen. But in a boutique foodie haunt known for the unique seasonal inventions of a name chef? (A really small foodie haunt?) For such a place, lowest-common-denominator pop is a jarring mismatch to the message of the enterprise. “Is it even possible to enjoy grilled radicchio with pumpkin puree and Moulard duck while listening to ‘If you love someone, set them free…’?” posited a tablemate with something like existential fervor.
The sting (ha) intensified when we reminisced about the turntable Sitka and Spruce owner Matt Dillon used to spin in this very space, playing his own quirky collection of world music and old jazz. Sigh. A few places around town have turntables, like Mulleady’s in Magnolia—but the match I’m talking about isn’t dependent on vinyl. It’s simply a matter of aesthetics. When perfect matches of music to mood to food happen the effect is so seamless you might not even notice.
When they don’t? You notice.