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What’s in a Name? That Which We Call a Restaurant?

Shakespeare and restaurants? Wherefore art thou going for dinner Romeo?

Usually when we consider Shakespeare and dining, we think of going to the corner pub for a pint of bitter hard cider, or Falstaffian feasts, as in, “To finish a dish at Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon, you must have a Falstaffian appetite.”

I’m no expert on Othello’s diet or Hamlet’s favorite foods, though that would be a fascinating research project to embark on.

However, yesterday’s unveiling of Chicago Magazine‘s annual list of the city’s best new restaurants caused me to think of a particularly famous Shakespearean quote.

Since I haven’t tried any of these restaurants in Chicago, I can’t use any Shakespearean references to exude my slings and arrows of disappointment, or my jocund jubilance over the list.

Beach House Restaurant in Poipu, Kauai. A very simple name.

Beach House Restaurant in Poipu, Kauai. A very simple name.

What I noticed was the creative and often downright strange names of the restaurants on the list. As Juliet once queried Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any name would smell as sweet.” There are no Capulets vs Montagues- sized rivalries or controversies with this list. In this case, the roses are restaurants.After visiting 73 (!) new and mostly exciting restaurants across Chicagoland, these are the 18 chosen in the May 2013 issue:

1. Grace
2. Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf
3. Found
4. Elizabeth Restaurant
5. Kai Zan
6. Carriage House
7. Trenchermen
8. Chez Moi
9. Little Goat Diner
10. BellyQ
11. Sumi Robata Bar
12. Table, Donkey and Stick
13. A Toda Madre
14. Fat Rice
15. The Boarding House
16. Siena Tavern
17. Earth + Ocean
18. Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed

Does that not speak to the unorthodox and informal approach to restaurants today, from the kitchen to the dining room to now the sign outside (if there even is a sign, definitely another trait of dining today)?

Restaurant naming is crucial for the success of a restaurant. What language should it be? Should it be avant-garde or straight-forward? Should you include the word “cafe” or “bar?” It’s a very economic and psychological issue for restaurateurs and chefs. Like with start-ups in any sector, ultimately it’s the product that matters. What entrepreneur says, “Well, the content was terrible, but at least we had a great design!”? I’m guessing not many.

Pok Pok...more 2013 than 2003

Pok Pok…more 2013 than 2003

I have no idea what the history of most of these names, except Little Goat Diner (a spruced up diner sibling to the Girl & the Goat). Fat Rice? Table, Donkey and Stick? Milt’s Barbeque for the Perplexed?

I’m sure these are all excellent restaurants. I’m just curious as to the background of these names.

For comparison’s sake, today I dug up the list of Chicago Magazine‘s 2003 Best New Restaurants to examine how styles change over a decade.

The answer? A lot.

Here are the 2003 restaurants in alphabetical order:

Aria

Biggs Steakhouse, Seafood, & Wine Cellar

Bistro Campagne

Cristano’s Ristorante

D. Kelly

Ferrari Ristorante

Fogo de Chao

Follia

Fortunato

Hortex

Marysol

Monsoon

Montage

Ohba

Opera

Platiyo

Starfish

Tin Fish

Tournesol

West Town Tavern

Look how basic and short most of the names are. You have your traditional, to the point French bistro, Italian ristorantes, Asian fusion restaurants, seafood- centric restaurants, local taverns, and a chain Brazilian steakhouse.

Yesterday’s list corresponded with a recent trend-alert article I read about how the “&” ampersand seems to be the symbol for this year’s new restaurant names, much like how many new establishments last year included the “+” signs. Elementary school mathematics seem to now be a core part of restaurant names.

New Belgium? Makes complete sense.

New Belgium? Makes complete sense.

The restaurants themselves certainly have changed over the past decade in more ways than we could ever count. Pork belly has come and gone, returned, and left. The same with upscale comfort food, neighborhood bistros, Scandinavian cuisine, and on and on. We got rid of tablecloths. We got rid of tables. We got food trucks then got rid of them. We changed what meals are and what restaurants are, and will continue to change them.

What most people see first from a restaurant, however, is what has possibly changed the most. Restaurant names with simple phrases or the chef’s name à la Charlie Trotter’s or Everest? That’s not 2013.

Today, names involve fat rice eating perplexed donkeys and goats found belly up at the robata bar.

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