Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tale of the Tape

The other week Peter and I debated the merits of fine dining vs. casual dining. One of the points made was that casual dining is no longer casually priced. As an example, I mentioned that a recent casual meal at Domenica set us back $200.Chefs keep opening casual spots because they tell us, "This is what the public wants in these tough times" or "I just want to serve food without all the BS". These are noble goals, but are we as consumers getting hosed on value?

For comparison sake, let's compare and contrast the two meals using the Warren Buffet definition of value v. price wherein, "Price is what you pay, value is what you get." Both meals were very good to excellent from a food perspective. Both Domenica and Restaurant August are headed by talented, young chefs, Alon Shaya and Michael Gulotta, respectively. This comparison only uses the experiences to compare the cost to find out which meal had a better value.

Opening Impressions

Domenica - Placemats double as menus, hard surfaces predominant, and room is loud in a good and festive way, bottle of water placed on table.

August - Cloth bound menus, although one seam of my menu was nearly split, tablecloths, noise level moderate, bottle of Cava to start.


Domenica - Starters included the always delicious octopus carpaccio ($12) with its thin coins of briny tenderness offset by shards of fennel and citrus. Also had the crema fritta ($14), an Italian mornay sauce essentially, that is cooled to a consistency harder than a pudding but softer than a solid, then fried. The braised goat ($28) came out in a cauldron studded with baby vegetables and was delicious and filling. The other entree on the table was a simple pizza, the tutto carne ($13) loaded with fennel sausage, bacon, salami, and Cotechino cheese. Dessert was the always reliable frittole ($8).

August - After placing order, the first course to arrive was an amuse bouche, cubes of pork belly with a spicy glaze (gratis). Next up was a shared first course baby beets ($17) split into quarters sitting atop pristine jumbo lump crab, all accented by baby greens and a tart vinaigrette. Then a bowl of ramen with a pork and shrimp broth ($14) and a tortelli with chanterelles and bone marrow ($16). Entrees were next and included an overcooked duck breast ($37, the only dud of the night) and the pork three ways ($36), the pork tenderloin wrapped in crispy dough, being one of the best things I've eaten in 2010. No dessert, but mignardises of chocolates, pralines, and other candies.


Domenica - Asked the waitress for a recommendation of something different and she suggested an Italian pinot noir ($65). Unfortunately, the wine lacked acid or structure to stand up to the gutsy cooking. Blame myself though, pinot is a French grape. The glass of limoncello at the end, however was perfect.

August - Juve Y Camps Cava ($45) to start, which was lovely with all of the starters. And then the sommelier suggested an '08 Hautes Cotes de Baune ($90) to round out the meal. I'd order both wines again, but if pressed two bottles of the Cava.


Domenica - The service fits the restaurant. It is unpretentious and driven to make you happy. Any hiccups are readily fixed. Of all the Besh satellites, this is the most complete.

August - Despite the frayed menu (yes, it is stupid to dwell on, but so simple) service was flawless. The courses were timed perfectly and anyone on the floor could answer any question with ease and grace.

Final Cost with tax and tip

Domenica - $200

August - $325

Value winner? August, hands down. Now listen, I spend a lot of money on restaurants. Money that could certainly be put to better use elsewhere. I know that spending this much money on food goes against the teachings of at least three major religions and two political theories. But dining out is a hobby. Given the option, I'd forgo one and half meals at Domenica for one at Restaurant August. Your values, may and will differ. What is your definition of value in a meal?


smooth criminal said...

duh, value in a meal, happy hour cherry limeaides at Sonic with a chilly cheese coney. Nice leather seats and great music in a car that I would pick out, I did! Teenage girls in short shorts delivering your meal, in roller skates no less. Menu has pictures so their is way to be embarrassed about not recognizing something, and you get to talk into a pretty cool intercom. And no, I wouldn't forego 179.7 meals at Sonic for one at August.

DavidIB said...

Of course, at Sonic the "meat" you ate was combined with ground up slaughterhouse detritus, marinated in substantial amounts of ammonia, then formed into the hotdog or burger you ate. So what you had was cheap, tasty and perhaps a great value in entertainment, but was it food?

BloggleNeedsaNewName said...

pinot is a French grape, but the italians can do right by it, usually

Rene said...

Bloggle is a fine name.

The wine itself would have been fine, it was the cooking that needed something with more grit.

Matthew said...

I agree that restaurants with similar prices can vary wildly in value. There's nothing I hate more than paying in the $30 entree range for mediocre food. That's why I'm so careful about where I eat out. As a cook, I know that many places are just not creating food with the care, skill and passion that it takes to make a dining experience excellent. So I usually either go to a carefully selected high-end place like August seems to be an example of or I go for the very basic but high quality cheap places like your favorite po' boy spot. What I avoid like the plague are the middle spots where the prices are still high but the food is mediocre to poor. Good value can be had in the some of the most basic food establishments and some of the high end ones, but rarely is value found, in my experience, in the middle.

coonass_expat said...

If I'm going to spend $300 on a meal it better be memorable. And the service better be good. I don't particularly care if the floor has sawdust or persian carpets. I rarely drink wine when I'm out so there better be a decent beer pairing or a drink offering more compelling than water with a lemon slice in it. And noise and lighting levels should be appropriate. I don't care how good the food is if I can't think or can't see (or am blinded).

Jen Abbott said...

I consider it a great value when I leave the restaurant after the meal and I'm smiling, a little shocked by how good it was, and have no regrets. August definitely does that for me. And I'd never go to a place like August without having mentally parted with hundreds of dollars in advance. The quality of service really does make a difference. Recently I went to Coquette and was in love with the food, but the service was embarassing.