Over a very nice meal at a Sichuanese restaurant in NYC’s Chinatown, an interesting dining question came up.
I was there as an additional stomach for a Serious Eats review. We were digging into platters of stir fried greens, silken fried tofu clouds dropped in thick, sweet bath, offal slicked in chile oil redolent of numbing-hot peppercorns, and spicy diced rabbit with salty black beans.
The price for these “chef specialities”: about $13-20. A notch higher than the beef with broccoli, sure, but reasonable.
But would people be willing to pay higher for fine dining flourishes?
While in the case of Japanese cuisine, there’s Costco sushi and $500-a-head sushi, Chinese food hasn’t achieved the same price spread. For some reason, American consumers just aren’t enamored with the idea of high-end Chinese food. There’s some restaurants, sure, that provide a more elegant experience with prices to match, but Boston – and just about anywhere else – doesn’t have French Laundry-esque aspirations for Chinese cuisine.
Our table at lunch came up with a few theories. Familiar Chinese-American dishes can mask inferior ingredients with deep frying and plenty of sauce. In this case, even mediocre Chinese food tastes decent, with marginal gains not swaying less savvy diners. Chinese food also may have an image issue, being commonly encountered in cheap takeout form.
Why do you think there are so few expensive, ambitious Chinese restaurants?