Okay, I admit it, I ordered the pork chop. I had to know just how good it could be. It arrived, nicely charred on the outside and juicy on the inside, but it wasn't the best pork chop I'd ever had. My son, Sam, when he was 12, seared a pork chop then simmered it in hot peppers and vinegar. Although the chop itself probably traveled no more than a few states, all in all, I'd have to say Sam's was better.

AT ANOTHER RESTAURANT, highly regarded by people whose job it is to regard, the waiter made sure we had one important fact correct: "This," he told us repeatedly, "is a five-star restaurant."

I know about the vaunted Michelin Three-Star, considered the most prestigious restaurant award on the planet, and I have had the pleasure (and financial pain) of eating at a few restaurants with that designation. I know, too, what a AAA four-diamond is. But what is this five-star business?

More to the point, who cares?

When I was a kid, my mother admonished me for being boastful. "Actions speak louder than words," she said. Restaurants these days were clearly not raised by my mother.

It seems to me that a celebrity culture has swallowed restaurants. They make sure you know that everything they do is a labor of fetishism. Their cherries are picked by monks on the south slope of the north face of an ancient upper Michigan meadowland. Their lettuce - excuse me, mesclun - arrives by helicopter wearing sunglasses from a tiny organic farm in the iron-rich folds of the Whoya-Whoya Valley. Their beef watches nothing but PBS.

The waiter at the TV chef's restaurant recommended the calamari as an appetizer. "It is my favorite thing on the menu," he said, nearly swooning. Another waiter - we had waiters coming out our ears - explained, "The chef has learned the secret to flash frying."