Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Devouring The New York Times: My name is T.W. Barritt and I’m an addict. I’m addicted to the Dining In/Out section of The New York Times. It’s the reason I get out of bed every Wednesday morning (with first run episodes of “Lost” a close second).

I crave the enormous high-calorie, above-the-fold color photo, which tempts the taste buds before I have a clue as to what the lead story is all about. I fixate on Florence Fabricant’s “Food Stuff,” drink up Eric Asimov’s wine recommendations and meditate on Mark Bittman’s minimalist approach to food. It’s a craving that must be satisfied and quite candidly, when I’m on the road, the online edition just won’t do, forcing me to scour hotel lobbies and airport newsstands for the real thing.

Perhaps I need dietary therapy. The restaurant reviews are often out of my price range and the recipes are extremely complicated and time consuming. Last summer I successfully recreated a sinfully luscious, peppery Gingersnap Ice Cream, but the preparation probably consumed about four hours of a summer Sunday afternoon. A trip to Ben and Jerry’s would have been far more convenient.

What is it about this Bible of food trends that has me fantasizing over Green Gazpacho or Stilton-Tomato Pizza before I’ve even poured my morning orange juice? From time to time, I’ll attempt to deconstruct this fascination with a review of the Dining In/Out lead story of the day. A rating of Savory Dish means the story provided information that’s flavorful, satisfying and practical to apply as part of an ongoing love affair with food. A rating of Empty Calories means the story may look and taste great but fails to stick to the ribs.

Today’s cover story pairs high-end restaurant critic Frank Bruni with bargain hunter Peter Meehan to give Michelin and Zagat a run for their money in, “Let’s Hear It For The Lounge Act.” Bruni, who has recently attempted to shed any reputation for food snobbery with a wild trek across America consuming massive amounts of burgers and fries, takes another stab at the common man to let those of us on a budget know that four-star restaurants are indeed within reach if we are willing to dine in the less-expensive lounge area included in many top restaurants. It’s not the bar and it’s not the dining room, but the savvy diner who frequents the lounge can get a spectacular meal at far more affordable prices.

Bruni nicely captures the relaxed atmosphere of the new lounge dining trend and makes a case that visiting the lounge is the perfect way to test-run some of the most aspirational dining experiences in Manhattan. His partner in crime, Peter Meehan of “$25 and Under” fame provides detailed factual information for the cash-conscious gourmet with descriptive menu items, décor and pricing for the lounge menus at some of New York’s top dining establishments including Del Posto, Perry St. and Daniel. Both gentlemen make the point that the lounge menu is often a better value than the more traditional chefs tasting menu.

“Let’s Hear It For The Lounge Act” is a practical handbook for anyone looking to try out the best of New York’s top dining establishments. I plan to head out and start sampling, because I expect the wait for lounge seats will increase dramatically in the next few days! Culinary Types Rating: Savory Dish

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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