Gently lit by low wall lights and candles on the table, slow pentatonic music in the background, my girlfriend and I brushed off the speckled snow on our coats and sat down for our highly anticipated dinner at a local sushi restaurant one evening.
What caught our eyes on the menu were rolls topped with House Special Sauce.
There is something about a restaurants’ “secret sauce,” the exclusive special dish that makes them particularly appealing, that is counter-intuitive. After all, commercial sauce-makers are known for – well, sauce. Mayo mayonnaise, sriracha chili sauce, and Heinz ketchup are all popular because they are backed by large R&D funding, tasting tests, and marketing.
So why would anyone not choose a time-tested favorite and go for the house special sauce? An independent restaurant has but a single percentage of the resources of a large conglomerate. They are outmatched in almost every way.
It’s David versus Goliath.
But sometimes we favor the underdog, the adventure of the limited, the David who did defeat Goliath. We believe something may be better because it is limited in quantity or limited availability. It is a secret, and secrets are good.
We convince ourselves that independent “specials” can sometimes end in a pleasant surprise. We try the homemade potato chips over Lay’s, or the hole-in-the-wall eatery out in the suburbs over Applebee’s, or house special sauces over Kikkoman’s sushi sauce.
Every time we make such a decision, we implicitly take the risk that things can work out the other way – that the homemade chips can end up soggy and soaked in grease, or the hole-in-the-wall may serve thawed frozen fish fillets.
Or the house special sauce may end up being a concoction whose off-center flavor profile fully explains its limited availability.