On being ... comparable?
I have a favourite dim sum restaurant. It isn’t fancy, but the décor is cheerful, the tablecloths are clean, the service is prompt, and the food is consistently delicious. This place has a lunch special that’s a sampling of seven items and the only one that ever varies is the noodle dish -- sometimes it’s thin, vermicelli-like noodles, and sometimes it’s fat, worm-like ones. Otherwise, time-after-time all the items are the same and they’re all delicious.
Recently, a friend and I were meeting for lunch and I suggested my favourite dim sum place. Turns out he had just had dim sum a day or two before, so we settled on another place. On the day we were meeting, he phoned to ask if I’d mind trying a new dim sum place in my neighborhood. The name rang a bell, but I thought I might be confusing it with another, very well known Chinese restaurant downtown. In any event, since I’m always happy to try new places, we agreed to meet there.
The dining room at this new place was very chic, wth crisp linens and crystal stemware. The menu was quite formal, with posh English descriptions of the items under the Chinese script. And, if there was any doubt in my mind before then, a quick look at the prices confirmed that this place was, in fact, the new, up-town sister restaurant of the famous downtown place.
I hadn’t seen my friend in a long while so we had lots to catch up on. One of the funnier stories he told me was about a weekend at Niagara Falls he and his family had just gotten back from. He and his wife are both hard-working professionals and so family vacation time is precious. Because of this, they often go to very nice hotels and resorts (the kind of place where adults and children are well looked after).
As part of the story about their weekend at the Falls, he mentioned that he and his wife are beginning to wonder if they’re spoiling their kids by taking them to high-end places. (He and his wife backpacked around the world for a year before settling into their high-powered careers and trips featuring four star hotels.) Apparently he and his wife had discussed this in passing on other occasions, but a comment by one of their pre-teen daughters on this particular trip seemed to drive home the concern. Because the weekend was a reunion involving a group of families, everyone stayed at a motel. As they were unpacking, their daughter went into the bathroom. When she came out, she announced (with a note of disdain in her voice, so I gather) that the bathroom counter, tub and floor were not marble. From the sounds of it, that fact was as big a shock to her as her comment was to her parents.
As we finished the last bite of dim sum, we agreed that the restaurant lived up to its reputation. While waiting for the bill, my friend asked how I thought this place compared to the other place. Given that we’d eaten at the other place many times, the question sparked an interesting conversation.
Some of the dishes we ordered that day had rather exotic (not to mention expensive) ingredients, like lobster and truffles, that the other restaurant’s lunch special didn’t include. And clearly, the esthetic and atmosphere was different between the two. Not surprisingly, the costs were quite different as well. The bill that day was more than twice what we’d have paid at the other place.
As we worked through our little analysis, I realized what we were doing was very much like what his daughter did when she unconsciously compared the bathroom in the motel to those she was used to at high-end hotels they’d stayed at. We shared an embarrassed chuckle as we agreed that both comparisons, though not quite as bad as apples to oranges -- were, at best, unfair and unproductive.
I’m not sure why, but I think it’s human nature to compare things. Sure, to the extent comparisons help us differentiate things, they can be useful. But when we compare things subconsciously, we could be doing ourselves a disservice, because something that might be perfectly acceptable when taken on its own, might come up short if the comparison is unfair to begin with.
Anyway, if you ever need a dim sum recommendation in Toronto, let me know. If you’re looking for a high-end, luxurious dim sum restaurant, I know just where to suggest. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a delicious, less formal dim sum restaurant, I also know just the place. As for which is better -- well, the simple truth is, there’s no comparison -- it all depends on your expectations and what it is you’re looking for.
© 2007 Ingrid Sapona