Monday, May 7, 2007

$200 dinner

Here’s what I want to know: when did a night out in New York City become a two hundred dollar commitment?

Take for instance the other night. After a month of no dates, no time spent just the two of us out on the town, my husband Steve and I decided to get a babysitter and go to dinner. We chose Lupa, which is two blocks from our apartment in the village, mostly because it’s close and it has an excellent wine list with many decent bottles under $30. The chaos of Lupa, the brilliant music mix—from Elliot Smith to Beck to Aimee Mann, the great cocktails, the organ meats, the vegetables. OK, there is a lot to love about Lupa, even if it is owned by Mario Batali, who seems less like a chef these days and more like a franchise, but I digress.

We ordered a twenty dollar bottle of ice-cold Rose, Cerasuolo ‘Vigne Nuove’ Valle Reale 2005 ~ Abruzzo, which was one of the cheapest on the list, four appetizers-- the escarole and pecorino salad, Radichio with Anchovy, roasted Brussel Sprouts, Sweet Breads—deep-fried and served with lemon, and one primo- a pasta with pig jowels. We finished with one grappa each. The bill, with tip, was $150. Our babysitter, brilliant and all, charges $15 an hour. So $50 for her. In three hours we spend two hundred dollars. We laughed and said it was cheaper than couple’s therapy.

I remember a time when this was not true--working full time and eating out most nights. Before I was more schooled in fine-dining and the thrill of settling in for a night of performance—of great waiters and multi-courses and decent wine and after-dinner drinks. As a single New Yorker, part of my evenings revolved around meeting a friend or two for dinner at one of the cheaper restaurants of the East Village. I spend at least one night a week at Mee Noodle Shop, often alone with a book, slurping big fat noodles in duck broth, boney duck parts floating on top. I could eat for under ten dollars, tip included. Or I’d venture down to Chinatown for Vietnamese Pho for 3.99. Or up to Hell’s Kitchen for Peruvian. Somehow I could afford it all. And if a meal was bad or dissapointng, no problem. There was always tomorrow night.

Now, I rarely eat out. We don’t have the budget for either the babysitter or the check. So when we finally do get out, every couple of months, the need for a guaranteed experience always wins out. I want to feel taken care of. I want the food to be not just good, but perfect and exactly what I expect. I want a great bottle of wine, music that is good. I need nice lighting. And so we pay. Maybe we’ll never be one of those couples with a healthy nest egg, or a car or a country home. Maybe home ownership will never be ours, we’ll stay here in our rent-subsidezed apartment in the Silver Towers forever. We’ll hobble over to Salt or Balthazar or Babbo, sit down at a table for two and spend our social security check on something tasty and satisfying, if fleeting.

Here's the thing: I don't want a car, nor do I yearn to own a home. But I crave excitement and food and presentation and the unfolding of time spent around a table with someone I love. Maybe two hundred dollars is a bargain for all this. Even if I can only afford to do it once ever three months.