Here's an interesting question for you. Is there such a thing as a four star bargain? We all know about the terrific informal eating bargains around the city and the entire country for that matter:
the Gray's Papaya Special; two slices of pizza made with mozzarella di bufala at DiFara's; the hot dogs topped with good french fries at Jim and Jude's in Chicago; the pork shoulder sandwich at Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, Alabama; the all you can eat buffet (including his incomparable fried chicken) at Charles Southern Kitchen; the wonton soup at New Chao Chow, Chris Bianco's incomparable mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich at Pane Bianco in Phoenix, AZ. Oh, you get the idea. These are all dirt cheap eating experiences that come without any luxurious accoutrements: no friendly sommelier, no lavish flower arrangements, no plush chairs.
But is there such a thing as a four star bargain meal? One that comes with caring service, comfortable lux environs, and world-class food?
Meals at Masa begin at $350 before sake, tax, and tip. Per Se? $210 dollars before you've even had a drop of vino. Le Bernardin? Dinner starts at $105.
I had just such a meal at Enotecca, the inexpensive half of Del Posto, on Saturday night.
At a comfortable table for four my friends and I each had four fabulous courses of Mark Ladner's traditionally inspired yet utterly contemporary Italian food for what I think of as a steal: $41
I had superb beef carpaccio drizzled with mozzarella di buffala, gnocchi with a phenomenal bolognese ragu, turkey osso bucco that came with saffrony risotto Milanese, and a selection of three housemade sorbetti. My wife and friends had ravioli with cauliflower, orrichetti with spicy swiss chard, heritage pork marsala, perfectly fried shrimp and artichokes, fried calamari that was a little too heavily battered, and perfectly cooked cod with salsa verde.
All that, along with the great bread basket that is made in-house, for $41? That's a good deal for a great meal in extremely elegant and comfortable suroundings, and when you throw in the fact that you can only make a reservation for this repast the morning of the day you want to eat, this meal saves you money and time. Of course, I should mention once again that to get through to make this "day of" reservation can be a frustrating experience (you might wait awhile before you get to talk to a human being, and the cheesy Italian music you're forced to listened to doesn't help). But all in all, this is a helluva deal.
Are there other such deals in Manhattan and elsewhere?
Jean Georges has a $14 a course lunch deal in the main dining room overlooking Columbus Circle. I haven't been, but I have friends that partake every week, just because the idea of being able to eat three courses for $42 (or two courses for $28 and have a Haagen Dasz bar for dessert from the deli one block north on Broadway) at Jean Georges is too difficult for them to resist.
Megu, which isn't in Jean Georges or Del Posto's class as a restaurant, but is pretty luxe in its own right, has a $17.95 chicken udon lunch special that includes a phenomenal salad made with marinated yellowtail and great miso soup.
And for $29 you get a bento box that features three little cubes of kobe beef, fried shrimp, scallops, bean curd, sushi and about five other tiny bowls of food. And how about this? At Megu they have a nine ounce Japanese Kobe Ribeye steak lunch for $48 that includes the same soup and salad. If it is real Japanese Kobe, nine ounces is in fact too much. It's that rich. I will try it and let you know.
The food at both Megus has gotten better over time, and the Tribeca space is as spectacular a dining room as there is in NY, so I think Megu qualifies as another four star bargain. When I had lunch at the First Avenue and 47th Street location the other day, the ice sculpture Buddah from the night before had melted down to a ice sculpture torso. Ah, the indignities we suffer in search of a bargain.
Are there others I don't know about, both in New York and elsewhere?
And aren't these places great to know about with the holidays coming up?
To eat at the Enoteca at Del Posto (85 Tenth Avenue (bet. 15th and 16th Sts.), call 212-672-0390 and wait out the cheesy music.
To eat at Jean-Georges (1 CPW, at 60th Street) for lunch, call 212-399-3900 and just put up with the occasionally snooty reservationist.
To eat lunch at Megu (62 Thomas St., bet. West Broadway and Church Sts.) or 845 U.N. Plaza (First Avenue at 47th St.), call 212-964-7777 or just walk in.
To eat at Gray's Papaya, don't call. Just wait in line like the rest of us.