Dear Mr. Gold:
I need your help. In my experience, a good number of restaurants play music that is too loud to allow one to converse while dining, let alone savor the food. I have a number of times asked to have the music turned down, or at least to be seated in an area not directly under a speaker. Waiters often object. At lunchtime in a newly opened Mexican seafood restaurant in the San Fernando Valley, where I appeared to be the only customer, I asked the waiter to please seat me in an area where the music would be less loud. I was told it would be the same anywhere in the restaurant. I then asked him if he could turn down the music. He told me that the house policy wouldn’t allow him to. And I left. What do you do about loud music in restaurants? Grin and bear it? Tune out the blasting music? Assume that the food must be mediocre? Or just walk out?
Dear Estrid Gamonal:
I tend to be hyperaware of music in restaurants. I often mention it in reviews — it represents what the restaurant thinks of itself even more accurately than the art on the walls or the shape of the plates. (Think of the rock & roll at Pizzeria Mozza, or the classical music at expensive hotel restaurants.) But unfortunately, it is sometimes the case that some of the places with the best food have the worst music playing. And if you insult the music too directly, you are often directly insulting the restaurant’s owners and employees. Most of the time, as you suggest, I grin and bear it, but I can see why you might not.
My personal line is drawn at karaoke, which can send me fleeing from even some of the best local Chinese restaurants where wedding banquets are common. Southeast Asian places often feature KOST-FM at concert volume, or worse, which drives me bonkers, although I usually tough it out. My favorite pho shop in Chinatown has to the best of my knowledge not changed its background-music tape in 25 years. I have rather grown to like blaring norteño music as accompaniment to meals, as well as Bollywood scores, cumbias, vintage punk rock, Veracruz harp music and the inevitable oeuvre of David Byrne, as well as the less offensive varieties of house, although the Gipsy Kings still interfere with my digestion. I generally disapprove of the trend of DJs in restaurants, but it is generally limited to restaurants where the music really is more important than the food — places I don’t spend much time at anyway. And I too dislike being seated directly under speakers.
The French Laundry in the Napa Valley has a no-music policy — chef Thomas Keller doesn’t want anything to compete with the food. Quiet in Los Angeles? Try The Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills, where you can only hear the money talking. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615.