Monday, April 6, 2009
Almost every Friday night for years, we would meet our friends Kevin and Cynthia at a local restaurant. For a while, we favored a funky roadhouse on the edge of town, then we switched to a downtown bistro, then to a new Italian restaurant that featured local organic produce.
Really, though, the location mattered less than the ritual: the four of us getting together after a week’s work to trade office frustrations, family dramas, news analyses, canine hijinks, bad jokes, and so forth. Although these evenings out weren’t extravagant by any means, they could add up, once you had a few drinks, a bottle or two of mineral water, salads and desserts. But we figured we deserved it. If our dinners were sometimes spoiled by crowded dining rooms, poor service, or a bad cook, well, that was just part of going out.
After a while, though, we began to notice the limitations of restaurant dining. Cynthia can’t eat garlic, and Ruth is a vegetarian, so they each were confined to a few items on any menu. Beverage markups meant that a couple of glasses of decent wine could easily match the price of a single entrée. And the bread often sucked.
Then, one summer Friday, we ate at one of our houses, on one of our screen porches. We can’t remember whose house, and we can’t remember why—maybe there had been a good selection at the fish truck that day, maybe the evening was so unignorably lovely that we couldn’t stand to eat indoors—but we do remember that at one point we wondered aloud why anyone would rather eat in a restaurant.
Why, indeed, when at home we could enjoy good, fresh food that we had chosen and grilled ourselves; a warm breeze and a fragrant garden; and the ability to eat and drink at our own pace rather than the server’s. Soon we decided to make every summer Friday a “porch night.”
In the process, we discovered that we could feed four people—and have generous leftovers—for what two of us would spend at a restaurant. We could have appetizers, salad, and dessert, and a nice bottle of wine or an artisan beer. If we wanted to listen to Edith Piaf, John Lee Hooker, a Bulgarian women’s chorus, and the Cramps all in the space of one evening, we could do that, too. We could loudly complain about the idiots who run our town; we could laugh and swear and rest our bare feet on our dogs.
Now our financial situations have changed, and the four of us need to watch our spending. As we look ahead, we have some worries about our blasted 401(k)s and shaky health insurance. We look for bargains in the supermarket and wine store, and eating at restaurants is now an occasional splurge. But that last part doesn’t bother us at all, because we’ve learned the art of dining at home.
A lot of people are giving up restaurants right now, and many feel like they’re giving up their freedom—to relax, to indulge themselves, to eat what they like. But we’re here to tell you that with a little—very little—forethought, you can have delicious food and wine, and a lot more fun, in your own house.
Posted by Eat Well, Eat Cheap at 6:48 PM