June 15, 2011
EATING OUT ON THE CHEAP
I often picture myself as a guest on “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” and when James Lipton asks, “What is your favorite word?” my answer is “Restaurant!” I would pay extra for a house without a kitchen. I love eating out. I love the whole ritual of studying the menu, hearing the specials, and sampling tastes of other people’s dishes. I particularly love the fact that I can enjoy all this deliciousness without having done any of the work.
Eating out doesn’t have to break the bank or expand your waistline. My dream restaurant is a small family-run ethnic place where the chef is the owner’s grandmother. The food is tasty, exotic, and inexpensive. Every city has these treasures. (If you live in an area where there is no immigrant population, I suggest you move.) In Los Angeles alone, I’ve enjoyed fabulous Persian, Armenian, Polish, Greek, Cuban, and Thai feasts for under twenty-five bucks – with enough leftovers for dinner the next two nights. That’s actually cheaper than cooking at home. Many of these places don’t have liquor licenses and allow you to bring your own wine or beer – which is another saving.
UNCHAIN MY HEART
I rarely eat fast food, junk food, or chain restaurant food, where every item – be it fish, meat, or fowl - is smothered with a gluey three-cheese melt. Sometimes I’m stuck in the boonies somewhere and TGIF is the only game in town. If so, I keep it simple and order the club sandwich - rather than the “quick-fried crusty ravioli filled with pulled barbeque pork.”
You won’t catch me at a Red Lobster or Olive Garden. The ambiance is institutional, the prices aren’t that terrific, and the food is blandly heavy heavy heavy. “Steak Gorgonzola-Alfredo” will put a lot of money in your cardiologist’s pocket. As a matter of fact, I saw a paid ad on Olive Garden’s home page that read, “Gastric Bypass Diet. Learn About Proper Dieting Following Gastric Bypass Surgery.” I rest my case.
Discerning foodaholic that I am, I never thought I’d set foot in an IHOP until I spotted one of those discount coupons in the Sunday paper: “Order one entrée and get the second for free.” That’s an offer I couldn’t refuse. My chicken fajita tostada salad was actually quite tasty - and large enough for a family of four. So I started using coupons for other low-price chains: Souplantation, Sizzlers, Boston Market and Acapulco, which were also a lot better than expected. I am not, however, a Starbucks aficionado: four bucks for self-service coffee in a paper buck is not my idea of a good deal.