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Ask the Critic: S. Irene Virbila

November 03, 2005|S. Irene Virbila

Question: Why are restaurants so noisy? I've almost given up going out because instead of spending a nice evening conversing with friends we end up trying to shout across the table. It's exhausting and frustrating.

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Virbila: I'm with you on that one. It's very hard to find a quiet restaurant. Part of the reason is design trends -- concrete or hardwood floors instead of carpets, no curtain treatments at the windows, very few absorbent soft surfaces. Bars tend to bleed into the dining room. There's nothing to soak up the sound.

But very often, it's not accidental. It's an effect that restaurateurs cultivate. When it's noisy, it conveys life, action, fun -- this is where it's happening. There's another effect, too: Your senses seem to shut down under the onslaught of noise. It becomes harder to distinguish tastes, and as a result, you're not as critical of the food. Sometimes that's a good thing.

Hotel restaurants tend to have tables more widely spaced, and rugs, curtains and all those elements that go into making the room a bit quieter. That's one way to go.

The other is to dine earlier, before the dining room fills up. Or on a weeknight, when it's less busy than a weekend night. A room that's barely tolerable half-full will be unbelievably noisy after every table is taken. Avoid the trendy places that attract a huge bar crowd. Take a table at the edges of the room. The patio or any outdoor tables tend to be quieter too.

Formal and French is quieter than casual Italian restaurants where everybody gets into the feeling and starts drinking Chianti and making like Marcello Mastroianni.

Dine out at lunch instead of at dinner.

Call ahead and request the restaurant's quietest table. You won't always get it, even if it does exist, but it's worth trying. Boa on the Sunset Strip, for example, is head-poundingly loud, but there are a few tables outside where you can actually have a conversation.

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