I’ve spent a lot of time in restaurants the last few days. I don’t normally eat out much – I have a love/hate relationship with restaurants. If they’re good, I’m in heaven and don’t care how cheap or expensive they are. If they’re not great, I consider every penny wasted, and for days I feel like I’ve been had. Why spend money to go out, my ex used to say, “when what you cook is better?” (Yes, well, that’s a topic for another post.)
I’ve had quite a wide range of dining experiences since Friday, starting with a pricey four-star restaurant that was beautiful and served average food impeccably, and ending Monday night with a do-it-yourself tasting hosted at the local Eagles Club by a friend and her friend, who are starting a healthy food business together. The food was heavenly, and served by our hosts’ amateur army of family and friends.
The first experience was with a group of 10 friends, and we had a good time. When I agreed to attend, I knew the bill would be split evenly and I was going to spend a lot of money for things I didn’t consume. So while I could quibble about the quality of the food, I couldn’t complain that the inebriated husband sitting across the table from me (and I love him to death) kept ordering $52 bottles of wine (to be fair, that was the cheap bottle). The next day, another friend in attendance said to me, “wasn’t the wine awful?” Unfortunately, in trying to get my money’s worth I had had too much of it to really remember. But I had that “I was suckered” feeling all day – and that wasn’t the wine talking.
Monday night was a trip to an alternate universe. First, I wasn’t paying. Dinner was a five-course series of small plates, each offering two samples of magically delicious tiny bundles. Second, to get alcohol, you had to go into the packed bar across the hall. While I was waiting to be served, the fellow tasting guest standing next to me was quizzing the bartender about their wine selection above the din of the crowd, but it was a pointless exercise: all the wine came in individual-sized screw-cap bottles. She apologized to me for being a wine snob, and we had a good laugh, but I, too, felt like I’d traded down. Still, for $3.75 a bottle, my pinot noir wasn’t notably worse than the one I had Friday at 14 times the price.
And that realization was priceless.