Zeitgeist's guide to love, sex, cars, war and lobster thermidor

The world is big, complicated, and frequently confusing - so it's not surprising that we all need a bit of guidance from time to time. But where can we turn for the essential information to steer us through? The American satirist Evan Eisenberg believe he has the solution: a guide to the important stuff that's as easy to follow as a restaurant review. Read it, and you'll be dining out on his advice in no time...

Monday 21 April 2008 00:00 BST

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Key (all marks out of 30)

F = food
D = decor
S = service
C = cost (I = inexpensive, M = moderate, E = expensive, VE = very expensive)


F: 15, D: 24, S: 25, C: M

"Fresh", "glistening", "ever-changing" fare and "whimsical", "primary-coloured" surroundings make this a place "everyone should try at least once", even if you "walk out several sizes larger than you walked in". Diners are divided on the "menu-less" approach, with some finding it "comforting" while others bridle at the staff's "condescending", "paternalistic" attitude and warn that if you "don't eat your vegetables" you can "forget about dessert".


F: 19, D: 13, S: 7, C: M

You may feel you're "trapped in a Python gag" at this "schizophrenically retro-futuristic diner" where patrons are handed two "salivation-triggering" menus and then, when they try to order, are "told it's too late for breakfast and too early for lunch". On the plus side, "brain-shattering" music and troupes of "strolling tattoo artists and body piercers" will help you vent your frustration while you wait.


F: 23, D: 24, S: 15, C: VE

"Book far in advance" for this "once-in-a-lifetime experience" – and even then the hostess may "conveniently lose" your reservation if she "doesn't like your looks". Opinions are violently divided, with some calling the fare and ambience "sublime" while others find them "horribly disappointing" and "as pleasant as a kick in the stomach". Most agree that repeat visits "bring diminishing returns" and that customers are unlikely to recover the "thrill" of "that first fine careless pig-out", a euphoria that tends to "evaporate when the bill arrives".


F: 17, D: 12, S: 19, C: M

"If you can't get into Love", check out its "downscale sibling", where the fare is "sometimes sub-par" but "service is way faster". Devotees say the "cheap but addictive" menu really "hits the spot" while dissenters warn that "satisfaction is not guaranteed". The establishment's cleanliness is "several blocks from Godliness", they say, and wonder if "a call to the Board of Health may not be in order". But even the most sceptical admit that "as empty calories go, these dishes totally rock".


F = 6 D = 17 S = 15 C = E

"Not a good place for blind dates" is the word on this bondage-themed eatery where, on arrival, your waiter "chains you to your seat" and "hands the key to your dining partner". This "truly sick gimmick" might be bearable if the menu "sustained its early promise"; instead, "sexy", "highly-spiced" appetisers give way to "overdressed" salads, "ho-hum" main courses and desserts that are "not worth the chewing, never mind the calories". Add "yowling tots and pouting teens" to the "Orton-meets-Beckett vibe" and you can only "marvel that the place is always packed".


F = 23 D = 17 S = 9 C = VE

You can "satisfy your cuteness pangs" at this "intimate" yet "dramatic" sushi bar, where the noise level is "10 decibels beyond unbearable". The "pint-sized samurai" behind the bar, who are so adorable "they make your kitten look like Dick Cheney," seem "fresh off the boat", since "whatever you order, they blithely make something else", often "lopping off a finger or two" in the process. Customer comments ("Careful!" and "Did you wash your hands?") are met with "cherubic smiles" that will either "melt your heart" or "make you want wash the little bastards' ears out with wasabi".


F = 16 D = 17 S = 15 C = M

Don't "bite the invisible hand that feeds you" at this City-style steak house where, instead of being "stuck with what you ordered", you're free to "buy, sell, and trade" dishes with other diners. Though fans praise the "maximally efficient" system, detractors note that some tables end up with "enough food to sink a freighter" while others are left with "breadsticks and a carnation". Comments on the quality of the food are scarce, with most patrons admitting that they're "too busy buying and selling to notice".


F = 12 D = 15 S = - C = -

The "food is awful" and "the portions are always too big" at this "ubiquitous", "impossible to avoid" self-service chain. The "gimmicky", "dimwitted" shackle-and-salad-bar set-up manages to combine "maximum effort" with "minimum choice". You can "spend the day there" and "still be hungry two minutes later" – and "in desperate need of a drink".


F = 12 D = 13 S = 9 C = VE

The "tiresome" Wild West theme – waiters "in Jesse James get-up" take your money at gunpoint – "gets old pretty quickly", especially when they "don't bother taking your order". Some, however, find the predictability of the routine "as comforting as a hot bath", and point out that those who can "read the fine print" on the menu may find that "there can indeed be such a thing as a free lunch".


F = 20 D = 23 S = 12 C = VE

Those who enjoy "paying through the nose for a poke in the eye" flock to this far-flung chain, which "oddly enough, never seems to have a branch near home". The menu's "variety is dizzying", but what with the "cramped seating", "long waits between courses" and a staff that "lacks basic communication skills", a meal here can be so gruelling that you walk out "feeling like you need a holiday".


F = 12 D = 18 S = 27 C = I

A "richness of embarrassments" greets diners at this ubiquitous chain, where the "mind-bogglingly vast" menu offers, some allege, "3,000 names for the same three dishes". Handily covering "the main food groups: salt, grease and cheesecake", the fare "makes up in trashiness what it lacks in quality". Service is "attentive to a fault" – waiters "practically spoon-feed you" – yet so leisurely that by the time you leave, you might feel that "you've just squandered half your life".

The internet

F = 24 D = 22 S = 23 C = VE

Taking the "latest culinary craze" to its "illogical conclusion", this "über-hip" Iberian joint serves an "infinite variety of infinitely small" tapas, including such specialties as calf's neuron en croute and sardine corpuscle in aspic. Since it takes an infinitely long time to "amass so much as a morsel", addicted regulars may have discovered "a trendy way to starve to death".


F = 19 D = 20 S = 22 C = E

If you can "suspend disbelief" and buy in to the "somewhat far-fetched premise", you'll love the "old-fashioned", "mind-etherising", "stick-to-your-synapses comfort food" at this "uptown stalwart". Fans praise the place as "friendly" and "great for kids", while critics complain that it "sells the sizzle, not the steak". In any case, it's best to "watch your back": brawls break out "as regular as clockwork", as they have "since the dawn of civilisation".


F = 11 D = 13 S = 9 C = M

Menu options at this "raucous" yet "oddly compelling" bar and grill are so "reliably uninspiring" that many diners "don't bother ordering", preferring to just "eat what's put in front of them". They're here for the mud-wrestling floor show, which dissenters say "might be more appealing" if the "thong-clad" contestants were not, for the most part, "beer-bellied white males". Whatever your opinion, it's "best not to sit too close to the pit".


F = 18 D = 7 S = 12 C = VE

Diners "fed up" with "long lines and snooty hostesses" like the "refreshingly direct" approach at this "crowd-pleasing", "meat and potatoes" eatery, where the only way to get a table is "brute force". Since the place is "pretty much totalled" every night, "not much eating gets done", but the proprietors seem to "rake in the dough" nonetheless.


F = - D = 22 S = 28 C = E

Though the menu "changes every five minutes" and each order comes out with "lots of side dishes you might not want", you'll be reassured by the "eerily efficient" staff, who not only "anticipate needs you didn't know you had", but "take service to the next level" by eating your food for you. Between this and the "virtually virtual" decor, it's sometimes hard to tell whether "you're actually there or just watching the place on a webcam".


F = - D = 1 S = 22 C = E

The "high-octane" fare at this "rapidly metastasising" franchise would give you "the thighs of an Iguanodon" if it was actually served to you, rather than "poured directly into a tank under your table". While some question whether this set-up justifies the "briskly accelerating" prices, most like the privacy afforded by "hermetically sealed" booths, which "prevent awkward contact" with other customers and are "individually climate-controlled" – a "godsend" given that the restaurant as a whole seems to get "stuffier with each visit".


F = 12 D = 29 S = 7 C = M

A restaurant where "birds fly around uncooked" hardly seems to be a "recipe for success, let alone hygiene", but this "seriously retro (think Palaeolithic)" place "makes the concept work". While some decry the "non-existent service", most praise the "breathtaking setting" and "daring" raw-food menu and swear that food "really does taste better" when you've "hunted and gathered it yourself". Though its huge popularity "practically screams 'expansion'", just the opposite has happened, with the original "ginormous" premises shrinking to "storefront" size "faster than you can say Barret Homes".


F = 24 D = 21 S = 23 C = VE

It's a thrill "looking down on the great unwashed" from this "perch jutting over the sidewalk", but the glass floor means "you'd better make sure your knickers are clean". The "rich" food, "glitzy, mirror-heavy" decor and "pounding" music are "fun for the first five minutes". With "attentive", even "fawning" service, it's easy to forget that "that thing they want your autograph on is an Amex slip".


F = 15 D = 24 S = 25 C = VE

"'Bliss' doesn't begin to describe" the mood induced by this Texas-style barbecue joint, which remains "wildly popular" despite the "competition's best efforts". The menu of "deep-fried starch and charbroiled fat" is "the next best thing to anaesthesia"; just "make sure you're sitting down" when the bill arrives – easily arranged, since once you sink in to one of those "over-upholstered banquettes", you "may never rise again".


F = 25 D = 29 S = 7 C = VE

Despite the "baffling" menu and "near-random" correlation between "what you order and what you're served", the "serene", "upscale monastic" ambience seems to make diners "happy with whatever they get". Still, after waiting for what "feels like a lifetime" to get in, it's "kind of a bummer" to find that "the place is practically empty" – and that you "barely have time for a nosh" before they close for the night.


F = 29 D = 29 S = 29 C = I

"Foodie porn" attains "the level of high art" at this "high-concept" eatery, where the "audition-seasoned" waiting staff describe the offerings of the day in "lurid", "jus-dripping" detail "not just before you order, but throughout your meal". While most diners wax lyrical about "out-of-belly experiences" with Lobster Thermidor and Selle de Veau à la Prince Orloff that represent a "mind-boggling value at this price point", a few cynics insist that their actual dinner "consisted of Ritz crackers and tap water".

Old age

F = 9 D = 11 S = 12 C = E

The "food is terrible" yet "people always want more" at this "terminally boring" coffee shop, which draws a crowd only because "it beats the alternatives in this neighbourhood"; "bland", "pre-chewed", "pablum-like" fare is exceeded in tedium only by the conversation, which "most diners have with themselves", and a "queue for the loo that stretches into the next parish"; despite service that's "quick to the point of giving you the bum's rush", it always seems that "by the time the food arrives you've forgotten what you ordered" – not that it matters, since you're "busy remembering that omelette you had in Aix in '54".


F = 14 D = 25 S = 12 C = I

Though it's been around "seemingly forever", surprisingly few first-hand reports have come in on this "downtown (way downtown) institution"; some of those who've sampled it rave about the "ethereal decor" and "warm, subtly diffuse lighting" as you pass through the "dramatically dark", "tunnel-like" entrance. Staff "welcome you like an old friend" and it's a great place for reunions with "folks you haven't seen in years". Critics, though, find the place "stuffy and overheated" and warn that service is so "excruciatingly slow" that you "may start to wonder if you're ever getting out of there".

A shortened version of this piece originally ran in Time magazine

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