There is a classic scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where it is revealed that the best way to destroy the mind of the average intelligent being is to put them in a room that shows exactly how insignificant they are with respect to the rest of the universe. In other words, the last thing people need is a sense of perspective.
We were in SF to go to the Slow Food Nation show which happened at the beginning of September. But that’s another article. It so happened that we got lunch at the Hong Kong Flower Lounge. This is a good, but to my mind distinctly second-tier dim sum place that happens to be very close to SFO so it’s convenient if your plane lands near a meal time. We sat down and got five or six batches of dumplings, sticky rice, the thick rice noodles, and so on. As each dish arrived, I thought back to the last big meal we had in Pittsburgh at the Richard Chen restaurant and I could not help thinking that at least in the area of dumplings, this place had Mr. Chen beat.
Then the bill came: $26. I think we might have been under-charged. But even at twice that amount one might say that on a “value for money” scale the HKFL completely destroyed Richard Chen. Of course, the comparison is not completely fair. The level of service and polish at Richard Chen is much higher. They have some fancy dishes made from fancy ingredients that the Flower Lounge lacks. They have a wine list. And so on. But I still felt smacked hard in the face with the cold hard reality of perspective. While the state of Chinese food in Pittsburgh has undoubtedly improved, it is a fact that at some level it will never compete with larger cities especially on the West Coast.
On a related note, people often ask me why there is no good dim sum in Pittsburgh. There is some stuff that is OK. But not really good. Later in the trip we went to our favorite Dim Sum place in SF: Yank Sing, and was presented with an easy answer for why. We went to Yank Sing on a Sunday. On a Sunday, Yank Sing not only serves people in their normal 50 to 60 table restaurant space in the RinCon center, they also fill the food court outside their restaurant with another batch of tables. I took a picture:
So my answer is simple. We don’t have enough people for a place like Yank Sing to exist. By the way, if you are ever in SF, go to Yank Sing and ask specifically for the Pea Shoot Dumplings. If they are not the best dumplings you have ever had in your life in North America, I’ll pay for your meal.
Parting note: I am still happy with my experience at Richard Chen. I think it’s safe to say that they could be doing better on their dumplings though. They remain my only major disappointment.