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Broad vs. Deep

November 15, 2009

Here is a real conundrum.  The economists would say it’s an opportunity cost.  I say it is a matter of tradeoffs.

How do you know if something is good?

I would argue that if one has a breadth of experience and has sampled numerous examples of a particular thing, then that person is capable of evaluating item X against their knowledge of similar items.

There is clearly a benefit to broadly trying foodstuffs.

Yet it is a fallacy to assume that one can really know something by sampling it once, or even a handful of times.  To truly know what a restaurant, or a winery, or a bartender is capable of producing, one needs to have a depth of understanding that comes from repeated visits over a long period of time.

There is clearly a benefit to having a deep understanding of foodstuffs.

I think most of us tend to emphasize the importance of a broad spectrum of food knowledge and awareness.  So I am going to talk a bit more about the value and joy that comes from focusing on going deep.

I still say that NY Style pizza is a hyper-local cuisine.  When you eat it by the slice, you go to the best place that is convenient to you.  And that breeds a deep relationship by its very nature.

My favorite pizza place to date is one that I had a deep relationship with.  Certainly I had my fair share of disappointing slices.  And what made them even more disappointing is that I knew what heights this pizzeria was capable of achieving.

But I rode it out.  This was my spot.  And I was committed to it.  Through the highs and through the lows.

When there is a truly handcrafted product involved, inconsistency is par for the course.  If you expect consistency, may I suggest Pizza Hut or Domino’s – they are nothing if not consistent.  And on the flip side, the lows can even make the highs all the better.

The question then becomes, how do you decide to which establishment to give your loyalty, and under what circumstances will you abandon that relationship?  But those are separate issues.

It is more a European than an American notion that one drinks a certain wine.  And by that, I mean the product of a specific winery.

And in Spain, France, and Italy, where you have local wineries in almost every village, wine is not dissimilar to my pizza example.  You drink what comes from close by.  And you experience the highs and the lows vintage after vintage yourself.

One does not focus on whether critics give the wine an 85 for one vintage and a 90 the next and only purchase the higher scoring one.  One tastes the results of the different vintages, and sees how they change from year to year, and how each wine evolves over time.

There is a tremendous value to having one wine that you know intimately, and I mentioned this a long time ago when I made the argument for buying wine by the case.  If you drink enough of one wine, you will just know how it tastes.  Just like you know how it tastes to bite into a ripe peach.  And by having the familiarity with the flavor profile of a wine, you will have a very good yardstick to judge other bottles.

This only comes from depth, not breadth.

I could go on.  And maybe we can do some more examples as the conversation evolves.  The truth is that I really attempt to do a bit of both.

There are some places I return to again and again and again.  But sometimes I think that I really should be exploring new restaurants.  Yet, for every new place I explore I am missing out on capturing a layer of nuance in some of my favorites.

I haven’t been to Capital Q in a long time.  And I am overdue for a return trip to Bros Tacos.  I promised the regional manager that I would return to Five Guys… oh, did I not tell you that story yet?  Come back tomorrow, and it will be here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. phairhead permalink
    November 15, 2009 3:50 pm

    amen, brother!

    quickie question: when you go to Five Guys, do you also purchase a bag o’ fries?

  2. Ellen Whitby permalink
    November 15, 2009 4:25 pm

    I believe that what we’re looking for in a restaurant is so much more than the food. A smell, a kind of decor, something that makes us feel good about being there. How the food tastes is certainly a part of it, but once you have a relationship with a place, it’s a package deal.

    Funny you should mention Five Guys. I was planning to there myself (but not by myself).

  3. November 15, 2009 4:45 pm

    I think it’s much easier to develop a relationship with a restaurant after a few visits with good outcomes. I’ve been to some of my favorite days on off days, or days with really bad service, but I’ll still go back since I know just how good it can be. It’s hard to want to go back to some place where you’ve only had a bad experience, since you’re thinking that’s the experience you’ll get every time.

    It certainly is difficult to be in the service industry, that’s for sure.

    I love the bag of fries at 5 guys!

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