Eat Your Blues Away: The New Deal for Recession Dining

Oh, there are times when we miss the restaurant business—the excitement, the camaraderie, the five or more drinks per night. But lately, given the current economic situation, we’re thanking our lucky stars that we’re writers. This way, we can empathize from the sidelines as restaurants white-knuckle it through another economic downturn.

The dining public is a nervous bunch, and prone to sulks and panics. When they realize that their houses are worth $300,000 less than last year, diners are likely to stay home and boil their own pasta. It’s a psychic belt-tightening measure, kind of like what happened after 9/11. In this shaky economic environment, with world food riots and soaring wheat prices, it just feels like the wrong time to dine out.

But as our broker says, bear markets make the perfect time to go bargain hunting. Upscale restaurants, faced with dwindling sales, are designing deals to lure diners back to the tables. You’ll find the best deals in the hardest hit sector, which is mainly at the highest price point. That’s right, you heard me: fine dining is going on sale.

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And while we’re not exactly advocating that you profit from another’s pain, we do feel like it’s a great time to support local restaurants. Remember: now is not the time to abandon dining out—it’s just the time to drink more.

Crabtree’s Kittle House
Crabtree’s, that Chappaqua landmark with a wine cellar like the Carlsbad Caverns, is offering some of the best fine-dining deals around. The “Market Menu” offers a three-course prix-fixe dinner for only $35, Sunday through Thursday –a great deal considering that Crabtree’s mains alone range from $20-$37.50. As usual, you can expect a seductive mix of classic Crabtree dishes like “steak and eggs” (prime filet mignon with quail eggs, porcini mousse and red wine sauce) mixed with new, strictly seasonal dishes. A recent visit found ramps and the lavish use of pricy wild mushrooms.

To be honest, Crabtree’s Chef’s Menu is a great deal, too. If you’re looking for a delicious, good value splurge, go for Crabtree’s $75 five-course tasting menu. When we last indulged, the meal was simply the best appetizer on the menu (blue fin tuna two ways, a yummy tartare and seared and sliced, served on a gorgeous slab of Hawaiian pink salt) plus three full-size mains and three full-size desserts. Our cost-cutting suggestion: skip eating for three days, and bring a large handbag.

Finally—and this one we find perplexing—Crabtree’s is offering BYO Mondays with no corkage fee. One wonders who would have the nerve to bring a bottle to Crabtree’s…

Equus
Equus? Cheap? Well, kinda.

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This Hudson-side castle will never be cheap, but it is offering bargains from Monday through Thursday. Given that this historic building is one of Westchester’s most beautiful, and soon, its glorious terrace will be open for dining, we feel that Equus’s $61/three-course special is a bargain. Where else can you dine in an historic, aristocratic pile, perched high on its own hilltop, overlooking sweeping views of the Hudson for only $61? Plus, Chef David Haviland’s menu is always a luxe mix of expensive edibles and seasonal game—you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. And finally, call us grandiose, but whenever we go to the Castle, we pretend it’s ours, all ours…

Or, if you have a few extra bucks to spend, you can take advantage of one of the Castle’s overnight packages. $695 buys you and your partner a whole night in the romantic castle, complete with a four-course meal, and a slew of slightly embarrassing extras. Look for turn-down service with silk rose petals (are they re-usable?), plus a split of champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries. More to our liking is the all-included full breakfast, which we would enjoy on the terrace, overlooking the daytime version of that stunning vista. One cheapie value point: in summer, if you check in early, you can lounge by the Castle’s outdoor pool all day long.

Plates
Plates, the cute, tiny, pricy little Larchmont joint, is seducing its sticker-shocked diners back with a budget friendly early-bird special: two courses for $30. Offered from 5pm until 6:30, this special goes for a starter and a main, or a main and dessert. If you’re cheap and have plans for later in the evening, this one’s for you, although we wouldn’t exactly expect a young and trendy crowd, if you know what we mean.

Or, if you’re willing to pay for a drink or two, you can hit Plates’ Martini Mixer on May 29. Free small plates and bar snacks are available with purchased drinks. To take best advantage, we suggest you skip dinner, nurse a house wine and pig out on all the freebies. And finally, Plates is waiving its—ahem—prohibitive $25 corkage fee on Wednesdays, when it welcomes cheapo diners to bring their own. Your Wine Wednesday can be either a budget friendly nod to precarious financial times, or, if we know this crowd, an opportunity to show off the best in your home cellar. Show up with a box of Gallo or a dusty bottle of Lafitte-Rothschild—the choice is all yours.

X20
One thing that has always impressed us about X20 is that it offers great value. While still a destination restaurant sitting squarely in the splurge category, X20 believes in a great return for your dollar. Nowhere is this more evident that at brunch.

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X20’s price-fixe brunch is only $38, and that buys you unlimited, genuine, D.O.C.-approved champagne –and not the nasty plonk one usually finds with unlimited pours. As for food, your $38 includes two savory courses and one dessert. (For a sample menu, click here.) For starters, we’d go for Chef Peter Kelly’s Yonkers shellfish chowder, while for mains, we’d have to go for the biggest-ticket protein. Seared scallops would be our good-value choice, here served with Kelly’s not-to-be-underestimated sides of basmati rice with curry sauce and roasted cauliflower.

If you’re still wondering if that’s enough value for your $38, consider that X20 actually butlers five additional dishes as you brunch. Recent passed offerings included coconut shrimp with Dijon mustard sauce, roasted racks of baby lamb, crispy tuna roll and wild mushroom ravioli. Then, of course, there’s the dessert—if you haven’t passed out into your chowder, that is. Remember: free unlimited champagne has its dangers. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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