The Evils of Expectation

Expectation is the mother of disaster. Set your expectations high, and you're bound to fall in the throes of disappointment. Case in point: dining out. You go to a restaurant for the first time. You're mesmerized by the variety of dishes, and finally you make your selection. The dish turns out to be a real winner. You come back a second time, perhaps a third, but the dish has become a dismal affair. You sulk and shirk away from the restaurant for months on end. With time, the memory of that abject experience fades into oblivion, and you find yourself again at the joint, again ordering your preferred dish, but on this occasion, it blows you out of the water. You remember the pleasure it once brought you, and you wonder why you ever abandoned it.

What happened here? Did the dish actually change, or was it a trick of the mind? On the first visit, you had no idea what to expect. Perhaps the waiter recommended the dish to you because it involved fresh and in-season ingredients, so you ordered it, and lo and behold, it was heavenly. You went home dreaming about it, building it up immeasurably in your head, and that image kept growing and growing until your next visit, when you returned to order it once more. If not on the second encounter, then surely on the third, you condemned yourself to a dud, because reality and the grand expectations brewing in your mind inevitably diverged. They had to. At the very least, the exact ingredients comprising the dish during the first round were no longer in season during a subsequent round, and so the winning combination was no more. But time heals all wounds, they say, and after a while had passed and you'd lifted your boycott, you went back. Your expectations had dropped considerably, if not altogether disintegrated, and you dictated a new pleasant experience.

There are several lessons to be learned. Rarely order the same dish twice, but if you must, let a vast stretch of time elapse before you reward yourself that indulgence again. You'll have reset your expectations and banished any misplaced preconceptions. Opt for plats du jour: they usually draw on fresh, seasonal ingredients and follow a cookie cutter model catering to most palates. Finally, go for dishes that are basic on components and seem easy to reproduce: there's less room for error in their assembly and execution (just as in manufacturing). It's no mystery that your favorite shawerma stand gets it right almost every time.

Bon appetit!

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