The Perfect Table, or How to Dine Out

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The perfect table.

I follow a few simple rules when dining out. First, only dine in places serving cuisine and dishes that I couldn’t make myself. Second, as my good friend puts it, if your meal is under three hours or courses, you’re doing it wrong. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be the perfect table.

When I worked in the restaurant industry, we referred to “the perfect table” as one that coursed out their meal and ordered a bottle of wine with every course. There are several variations on this theme, but generally the perfect table starts out with a round of cocktails before looking at the menu. Then, they share a bottle of wine with their appetizers. Following appetizers is the main course and another bottle of wine or two. Lastly, dessert arrives along with a round of after-dinner drinks.

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The Champagne and oyster course.

I love starting off the meal by sharing a half-bottle of champagne with my dining companion and a dozen oysters. If I’m dining Italian, then the meat and cheese board is a must. From here, depending on my appetite, I could go into a soup or salad course, or I might dive into the entrée. Whatever the choice, there will always be a new bottle of wine to pair with the meal– a substantial red if I’m eating a meatier fish, steak, or hearty pasta; white if it’s lobster or a lighter fish. I’m partial to an unoaked Chardonnay or an Albarino. Depending on the number of guests I’m dining with or how quickly we sip our wine, a second bottle will be ordered for the table.

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Pass the Courvoisier.

Finally, after several hours of libations and good cheer, time for what is perhaps my favorite part of the meal: the after-dinner drink. Nothing complements a delightful evening of food and friends quite like a snifter of Courvoisier. Some reach for the port, others a Brandy Alexander, but me—I love cognac.

With there being thousands of dining options in New York, I want my dining experience to be just that—an experience. I want the restaurant where I dine to grant me access to food and wine that might otherwise be out of my reach. If not, there’s no point in eating out. While I don’t dine in this manner every weekend, I do strive to be the “perfect table” at least once or twice a month. Of course, being the sensible New Yorker that I [almost] am, I always budget for such meals.

Oh You Fancy, Huh?!

“You know you’re not in high finance considering secondhand underpants. Check your mind, how’d it get so bad? What happened to those other underpants you had?”- Flight of the Conchords, “Inner City Pressure

benjaminsIt’s difficult to lead a life of luxury when living in the most expensive city in the country, especially when student loans still need to be paid off and the job market isn’t quite trustworthy. Layoffs still seem to be happening more often than not and thus, excess money doesn’t really seem to be flowing into my pockets at the rate in which I’d like.

Excess money or not, I still believe everyone deserves to be pampered a bit. Just because I can’t afford a weekend getaway to Barbados doesn’t mean I can’t pamper myself within my means! Here are 5 things I like to do to make myself feel fancy without breaking the bank:

cheese plate1) Add a wine and cheese course to my dining ritual. It’s been a long day at the office and you deserve a break! You’ll be making dinner at some point in the evening, why not start with some hors d’oeuvres! When I come home from work, I love to sit down at the kitchen table, take out a block of aged gouda, pour myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and catch up on the reading of my periodicals. After I’m pleasantly full, I begin thinking about what’s for dinner.

2) Start with a pre-dinner cocktail and finish with an after-dinner drink. When Sangriamy friends and I go out to eat, we usually start with a nice craft cocktail before even bothering to look at the menus. It’s a nice way to ease into the meal and enjoy one another’s company. It also makes me feel like a lady of leisure because I’m taking my time to dine. At the end of the meal, we love having our after-dinner drinks. More often than not, you’ll find me swirling my snifter of Courvoisier while we debate whether or not we’ve made room for dessert.

3) Create my very own spa experience in the comfort of my own bathroom. This can easily be accomplished by drawing a hot bubble bath for yourself or turning your shower on as hot as possible. Play some soothing classical music and light your favorite scented candle. I love anything vanilla-scented. Or fresh-linen scented.

4) Change my outfit at least once a day. Mr. Rogers really got me in the habit of coming home and changing into my house clothes after a day in the office. Throw your shoe over your head while you’re at it! Changing my outfits once a day makes me feel like I have an unlimited supply of clothes in my closet. Look at all my clothes, the poor didn’t want this one! On my days off, I like to start out by hanging around the house in lounge wear and then changing into my going out wear in the evening.

pinenuts5) Buy pine nuts. Have you ever seen how expensive pine nuts are? Buying pine nuts gives me the false sense of security that money is no object. In all seriousness, though, I think it’s important to splurge on a food item here and there, all in the name of good cooking! So while Ethel and Frank are in the nut aisle comparing the prices of walnuts versus almonds, I reach over their heads and grab for the pine nuts, the most expensive nut. Makes for a most delicious addition to a salad or a garnish for butternut squash soup.

What do you do to make yourself feel fancy without breaking the bank?