Carol and I just spent that weekend at a conference which took place at the Penninsula Hotel in Chicago, which is supposedly the best hotel in the United States. I can believe that. The rooms were extremely comfortable, the bathroom was the size of many New York City apartments, and the staff were beyond attentive. Since we were attending a very tightly scheduled conference, we had the opportunity to eat all our meals at the hotel, and the food was exquisite, very good quality ingredients beautifully prepared and presented. Then yesterday we drove to the northern suburbs to go out to dinner with my sister, brother-in-law and niece. We had a very pleasant and tasty dinner at Uno's Chicago Grill.
This was a very interesting and informative juxtaposition. The meals at the Penninsula were, well, small. All the portions were pretty much exactly the sizes we are served at Green Mountain, what dietitians would call "normal." In contrast, the portions at Uno's were gargantuan, what the American public might call "normal." The one good thing about the Uno's menu is that it offers three "mini dessert" choices that are actually the size of a "normal" dessert rather than the feast for three size of most chain restaurant finales.
This got me thinking. I enjoyed all the meals at both places, and I mindfully removed more than half of my entree to a take-out box for my niece to take home before I dug in, so I probably had something close to the same amount of food. But for complexity and subtlety of flavor, Uno's wasn't even close to being able to compete with the Penninsula's fare.
Have restaurant portions increased because the quality of the ingredients and the ability of the culinary staff to cook them properly have declined? As economic considerations and mass production values have affected the hospitality industry, did those on the tiers beneath the very top have to make up in quantity what they are not able to provide in quality? It would seem so.
And that leads to an even more important question for those of us on the quest for improved health. Do we, as eaters, make up in quantity for a lack of quality in our food choices? I know from my own experience that if I'm eating really good ice cream, I can be happy with much, much less than if I eat store-brand ice milk. In fact, paying attention to the quality of food so that one can feel satisfied is an essential principle of mindful eating. But is it as true for beef tenderloin (our dinner Saturday night) as it is for ice cream or chocolate? Or for fruit or vegetables? Again, I think so.
Good things coming in small packages seems to be a very relevant truism.
A hui hou.