Saturday, January 10, 2009

Carrie Had Her Manolos, I Have My Fennel-wrapped Sea Scallop

Some might say starting a blog about dining out and eating well is out of touch, given the dismal economy and record-high unemployment. Part of me agrees. I remember driving to my mom’s house this past Christmas, passing by a shiny new Lexus parked outside of a fancy restaurant. It had a big red bow on it (just like the commercials), and a blindfolded woman was making her way over, led by a gleeful husband. On the one hand, I was all smiles, wishing I could see her reaction when she first laid eyes on that beauty, and on the other, I thought, well just come on, now. Show some respect and keep your fancy-pants present out of sight (from us, not your wife). I mean, people are hurting.

Times aren’t brilliant for anyone nowadays (except Lexus guy). Everyone knows someone, or is that someone, who’s taken a hit. And dining out is probably one of the first luxuries that people realize is.. well, a luxury.

How much can one afford to eat out? Nevermind at Le Bernardin, I’m talking about ordering up some papri chaat at Ambadi in White Plains, or a slice of salad pizza at Sal’s in Mamaroneck. For some people, these are the first line items to slash when Wall Street tanks. For me, it’s the last thing I want to give up. Because eating at the hands of exceptional talent, to me, is experiencing art in the fullest scope, with all of your senses. I love the anticipation I feel researching a menu online the night before a reservation and planning each course to the last morsel; I love walking into a restaurant and letting it surprise me. I love the good company and the conversation, and forgetting about life’s worries. I love that first bite. I love wondering how to take that first bite when everything on my plate looks so darn pretty. I love it when a restaurant pitches a perfect game, and gets it right from beginning to end, like my experience at Craft. I love taking pictures of my food.

So that I might hold on to my guilty pleasure a little while longer, I’ve compiled some other places to cut back:

1. Move in to the cheapest apartment you can find. Mine is a re-converted porch. The heating’s a bit of an issue due to lousy insulation. My landlord pays for electricity, so naturally, the thermostat never goes above 55 degrees, and my dependable old space heater is cranked up from December through February. It’s still pretty effin cold, but the extra layer of fat on my body from all the truffle butter sauces helps keep me warm.

2. Brown-bag it to work; subsist on rice and beans for dinner. Not only does this trim your wallet and waistline, it makes the food taste even better when you finally decide to hit up Picholine.

3. Count up all that change. My last jar-full of pocket change paid for a memorable three-course meal at Anthony Goncalves’s Trotters (now defunct, and split into Peniche on Main Street, and 42 on the top of the Ritz Carlton in White Plains.)

4. Start up a separate savings account if you must. With only $25 dollars a month, you can afford an omakase meal at Masa Takayama’s Masa in just shy of two years. In four, you can even bring someone with you! But you get the picture. You can have a pretty grand meal in two months (look for fixed-price deals) and not let it sting too bad, especially if you’re brown-bagging it, grocery shopping with coupons, and doing lots of home-cooking in the meantime.

5. Skimp somewhere else if possible, anywhere else. Me? I’ve been wearing the same winter jacket since 2003. And it was on sale for $40… an end-of-winter bargain.

Here’s to holding on to your favorite pleasures. And to a prosperous 2009.

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