Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cheap Eats... that don't look cheap

I was out with some friends recently and we were all discussing where to go for dinner. Two of the friends, Jo and Meg, recommended a Thai restaurant called Song, saying it was really cheap, so that is where we ended up going. When we got there, I was slightly alarmed. It's a very sleek, stylish place, very designed, with brushed metal and cool colored lights under the glass bar. I should have taken photos, because I'm not describing it very well, but basically, when I saw the restaurant decor, and the fairly hip, young crowd at the bar, I thought "this place doesn't look like my idea of cheap!" Since Jo and Meg are both corporate lawyers, I figured their idea of cheap was probably my idea of expensive!
We ordered drinks while we were waiting for a table, and 4 drinks came to $13 and Jo said "see, I told you this place was cheap!" At that, I had to agree. One drink was a fancy martini, one was wine, and the other two were non-alcoholic, but I still thought that was pretty good. Jo further reassured me by saying that most of the entrees at the restaurant were around $6-7! Sure enough, I got large beef dish for only $6.95, half of which went home with me in a doggy bag. The final bill for 3 appetizers, 4 entrees, and 4 alcoholic drinks came to $62 not including tip. I don't think you can get much cheaper than that in NYC! We were all kind of marvelling at what a good deal the place was, but what we realized was that it's not that it was so much cheaper than any other Thai restaurant, it was that it didn't LOOK cheap. It felt like a trendy, expensive restaurant, from the colorful cocktails to the interior decor to the backyard garden with the pillow-seating tables on the grass.
Meg recently moved here from Boston and made some comment about the restaurants there-- I haven't lived in Boston for a long time but I sort of defended the city, saying I thought there were some good restaurants there, but she replied that in Boston "anyplace this cute would be really expensive." I had to admit that my limited experience of Boston restaurants was places like the Locke-Ober Cafe on one end, and Boston Chicken on the much more frequent other end: swanky expensive, and dumpy inexpensive, but nothing really cute-yet-inexpensive inbetween.
I think for most people, enjoyment of a restaurant definitely involves the atmosphere as well as the taste of the food-- not all restaurants win in both regards, and price isn't always an indicator of quality in either regard, but it usually has something to do with it. What do you think? Do you have cheap restaurants in your area where the food and atmosphere make them feel expensive? (Jane and Bluebird, step up and defend Beantown!)


Anonymous said...

The 'beef' you ate one-half of and took the rest home, may not have been cow's beef -- if you know what I mean. Thus, cheaper cuts equal less expensive meals and drinks for everyone!

Madame X said...

Well maybe it was horsemeat, but if so, it was very tasty horsemeat!

Anonymous said...

I walk by Song all the time, so I know what you mean - it looks very sleek and ultra-trendy.

Glad to hear it was good and "cheap" - two value combinations that are hard to find in Park Slope these days. In fact, $62 for four at any decent place sounds totally impossible.

I have to wonder how long it is going to stay cheap, as they are leasing some fairly expensive real estate. The smarter restuarants like to open cheap, draw in the crowd, get a buzz going, and then gradually raise prices.

Anonymous said...

We have a place like that in Portland -- it's an Italian restaurant called "Pastini's". You wouldn't mistake it for a "fancy" restaurant, but it definitely doesn't feel cheap. The food is good, and my wife and I can generally get two entrees and a (large) appetizer for around $20.

I love finding places like these, though I also enjoy the places that are cheap and look like a dive, but actually serve great authentic food.

Lazy Man and Money said...

When I've gone to NYC, my friends and I stop at the Dumpling King and eat about as cheaply. In SF, where I'm moving, the House of Nan King seems to be the same.

In Boston, I'd say Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage in Harvard Square is pretty reasonable. Though it's burgers, it's considered some of the best ones in Boston. I'm also a fan of the Chateau Restaurant in the suburb of Waltham. Some of the best BBQ is at Blue Ribbon, but the one I went to was largely a take out place (limited seating). And while in town, you should stop by Kelly's Roast Beef.

Anonymous said...

Joya in Carroll Gardens Brooklyn and Planet Thailand in Williamsburg has the same feel as Song. In fact they're so similar, it may be owned by the same people. I always wondered about that. It's no wonder why they're all so crowded everytime I go.

Madame X said...

Joya is definitely the same owners as Song. I'm not sure about Planet Thailand.

Anonymous said...

Recommend another Thai restaurant in Brooklyn. It is called "Joya". Here is the link:

When we lived in Brooklyn Heights, we used to go there every week. But I have to remind you they only open for dinner.

Marc said...

I agree about the Blue Ribbon in Arlington and Mr. Bartley's in Cambridge. Another great place in the area is Dok Bua in Brookline. Amazing Thai food for under $15 (sometimes under $10!).