Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Art of Dining in, and of Dining out, in New York

Who bothers to cook TV dinners? I suck them frozen. - Woody Allen

The Next Two Day's Meals
It's taken me sixteen years, but now by George, I've got it. At last, even though it has taken sixteen years, I've got it.

How can people afford to eat, let alone eat out, in New York? It's always puzzled me. And now I know.

I've been content to "order in", cook the occasional meal, and to dine with a friend at a restaurant. But it hasn't been cheap. And yet every day, coming home from work, I pass hundreds of people eating out in restaurants - restaurants that line the streets of Manhattan - so much so that I'm reminded of Kuta Beach in Bali. Where all the world's a restaurant, and all the men and women merely diners.

And then last night, the penny dropped.

I was having dinner with a friend at the retail-up-market restaurant - David Burke's @Bloomingdales. Yes, they've even put the "@" sign on their brand-name in their menu. So 21st century. Well, maybe ....

For some years I have observed that it is apparently socially correct in New York to ask for a "doggie bag" to take home what you cannot, or choose not, to eat. In light of this, I was rather taken by the episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", where Larry David is incensed when a waiter insists that the contents of David's "doggie bag" not be given to a dog. Surely, it's implied, a doggie bag from a Michelin-rated restaurant is merely a euphemism, and not to be taken literally.

Yes "doggie bag" means "people-who-want-to-eat-it-the-next-day-bag". At least here in New York. Elsewhere the practice is frowned upon. Indeed, in Australia, if not illegal, it is at least discouraged. There's no "use by" date on doggie bags. Perhaps the restaurant could be sued, should the eater of a doggie bag fall ill, five days after devouring last week's left-overs.

But in Manhattan, who cares about law suits. They're a dime dozen, and so restaurants are only too happy to supply "doggie bags" to diners who are in a hurry and who wish to vacate chairs that can be used for other hungry New Yorkers. After all, it means that the diner will leave without actually eating the stuff. Same price, same profit margin. Less the overhead of flatware and chair "real estate". Let them eat from doggie bags; let them eat at home!

From The Box - David Burke@Bloomingdales
David Burke's has a "Prix Fixe" menu. Good value. Especially if you only want a main course in situ.

Here's the thing - you order the appetizer, the main course, and desert. But you only eat the main course. The rest doesn't even have to make it to the table. "We'll have it at home; please put it in a doggie bag," we ask. And the waiter obliges.

And so a $25 "Prix Fixe" meal serves to feed one for three nights.

It's taken me sixteen years and I've only just begun to understand why so many of my of my fellow New Yorkers can be seen leaving restaurants carrying plastic bags. I HAD thought they were for their dogs ... to clean up after their pets had emptied their bowels. I now know they are containers for their human meals. Forget the dogs! Doggie bags are for human beings!

I'm starting to think that this practice must be based on the premise that we are all equal under the law in America.

Doggies are people too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Taken you that long, Kate?
If you lived around all the cheap oldies in my neighbourhood you'd have caught on a lot quicker. But, snob that I am, I never get a doggy bag. I'd rather cook at home 'cause we have the time and I love my wife's and my cooking.
But you have such great restaurants in the City, I can see why eating out is enjoyable. What does Jo think about it? Does he doggy bag or is he spoiled with his personal on-board cook?

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