Editor's note: Please welcome longtime SE reader and brand-new contributor Ben Fishner—also known to Serious Eaters as FozzieBayer. He'll be joining us each week with "Apps Only," eating his way through New York's appetizer, bar, and lounge menus as your guide to fine dining on a budget. Take it away, Ben!
In New York, it's easy to be a serious eater on a budget. There's no shortage of street meat, dollar dumplings, or top-notch falafel to fill you up in just about every neighborhood. But sooner or later, we all want to shell out a little bit more for a nicer meal. What's a food lover with a slim wallet to do?
Sidle up to the bar and order a bunch of appetizers. Even better if you bring along a friend to try more. Tom Colicchio knows it—appetizers are usually the best part of the menu as it is. Call it the recession-friendly fine dining approach. ("Recessionary spending," if you will.)
My philosophy holds that for under $20, you should be able to sample enough of almost any restaurant's offerings to be satisfied. (Okay, fine, I won't be hitting up Per Se.) More than your average cheapskate's meal? Of course. But $20 gets you fine dining on a budget. It's still a splurge, sure, but it's a manageable splurge.
This theory led me and a friend to Ed's Lobster Bar on Lafayette Street. A long bar makes up the bulk of the space, with a few tables set up in the back; there's an extensive raw bar full of exceedingly fresh seafood, but that's not on the post grad plan. Luckily, Ed does not play when it comes to appetizers.
We started with the Baked Clams Oreganato ($10), in-shell clams baked with a healthy dose of butter and garlic, and topped off with breadcrumbs that crisped up in the oven. These were perfectly cooked, if a bit small, and quite rich from the butter and breadcrumbs. Best of all, the topping didn't obscure the flavor of the clams. The drizzle of lemon was all they needed to reach clam perfection. This dish wasn't the most filling, but it was worth it.
We had to try something with lobster in it—yes, I know, the last thing you'd think of on a budget. But we were in the Lobster Bar, weren't we? The Lobster Galette ($10) was substantial and decadent. "It's like a latke with lobster!" my dining companion exclaimed when it reached the table. An astute comparison. Thinly sliced potatoes are fried to a crisp golden brown and filled with chunks of lobster tail meat, then finished with a dollop of crème fraiche. Not exactly kosher, but boy, was it good—the best dish we ate.
Finally, we shared an order of the Crab and Artichoke Dip ($10). If you're trying to eat out on a budget, always be on the lookout for dips—filling, usually on the cheaper side, and all but guaranteed to be delicious. This dip had real chunks of crab meat, and plenty of it, mixed with artichokes in a rich, creamy base. There was also a proper amount of bread with the dip, leading to that beautiful moment where the last bit of dip ends up spread on the very last piece of bread. (Not that there's any shame in a re-up.)
All in all, before tax and tip, we spent just $15 each—on lobster, crab, and clams, mind you—and left satisfied. Maybe it wasn't a three-course meal. But in my book, it was pretty much the perfect meal out.