Hi, this is features editor Kathy Lu, filling in for Lindsey while she’s away.
I thought of this post while I was on a business trip to St. Petersburg, Fla., last week.
When a group of us were trying to decide where to dine one night, I realized that though this one restaurant many in the group wanted to try had gotten rave reviews, I was totally turned off by its looks. It was a very nice restaurant inside and the menu looked great, but it had almost no outdoor seating and was housed in a corner of what looked like a bank building.
And on that beautiful Floridian night, I wanted to eat al fresco.
So the group split up, and a small contingent ended up at The Garden. We were attracted by the cozy outdoor patio shaded by a large banyan tree and — bonus! — a jazz trio that was starting to set up.
In truth, while the dinner was fine and affordable, it played second fiddle to the setting (I can’t remember the name of the fish of the day that I had, but I learned that the jazz trombonist was Buster Cooper!). Also, it turns out, the restaurant is the oldest in St. Petersburg.
We found it not by getting on our smartphones and using UrbanSpoon nor by following the recommendations in our program guide. We were simply walking by the place and were drawn in by its mojo.
It made me realize that a restaurant’s presence can be just as important as its food — at least for this traveler who prefers to let her eyes lead her stomach.