The recession has made us all rethink the affordable luxuries we might have taken for granted not long ago. While we may not find it too much of a struggle to forgo an extra sweater or to opt for a bodega bouquet instead of a florist's arrangement, somehow, it just seems cruel to deny ourselves the occasional dinner out.
After all, a girl's gotta eat!
Thankfully, restaurants are well aware that everyone is feeling the pinch. They have come up with new menus and strategies for helping even the most frugal foodie enjoy a fabulous dining experience. One of the most popular—and welcome—trends at the moment is the star restaurant “spinoff.” From Top Chef judge and award-winning chef Tom Colicchio to Big Easy Beard Award-winning toque Donald Link, top-name culinary talents are embracing the idea of inexpensive eats.
Among dining aficionados, Bravo's Colicchio is just as well-known as the executive chef of high-priced eateries like Craft and Craftsteak in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. With big spending going by the wayside, he recently opened Halfsteak in the front barroom of his West Chelsea steakhouse, offering gloriously good steak frites for merely $14.00. He has also rolled out a series of 'wichcraft stores in NYC, San Francisco and Las Vegas to focus on creative lunchtime sandwiches like a sandwich with grilled cheddar, smoked ham, pear and mustard on cranberry-pecan bread ($6.95). To “top” it off, there is also a dinnertime menu at his 'wichcraft Flatiron location, featuring sweet pea cannelloni with Parmesan cream and a ceviche of fluke with green mango and watermelon, both priced at just $9.00.
Heading down South, Donald Link, who helms both New Orleans' celebrated Herbsaint and Cochon restaurants, has opened a butcher and “s'wine” bar around the corner from Cochon, offering some of the city's best meats, along with luscious gourmet fare such as garganelli pasta with Butcher sausage, Louisiana crabmeat “au gratin,” truffled mac n' cheese, duck sliders and a foie gras torchon with peach jam and brioche. Each costs only $6.00. Now, that's Southern hospitality!
Even if you can't find similar affordable foodie finds in your area, we have a few other tasty tricks to keep in mind when contemplating a cost-effective culinary adventure:
A little known perk designed for oenophiles who may want to bring a special bottle to the table, most restaurants offer patrons the chance to drink a bottle of wine purchased elsewhere, in exchange for a small corkage fee. It is always best to call ahead to double-check that your dining pick has a corkage policy and get the price tag upfront, but usually the fee doesn't even come close to the restaurant's typical markup.
Early Bird Specials
It might sound like something meant for your grandparents in Florida, but many well-heeled dining establishments offer early-hour or “pre-theater” prix fixe menus.
Services like Opentable.com don't just allow you to book a reservation online, but also help you rack up dining points that can be exchanged for deep discounts on your next meal. American Express also provides their customers with a similar online service, enticing them to use their AmEx card in return for up to 20% off every meal booked.
So, keep these tips in mind -- and there won't be need for belly-aching when the bill arrives.
Laura regularly covers food and dining trends. To read more, visit her blog VittlesVamp.