Every year I come at the big April Best Restaurants issue from a different, hopefully fresh angle. This year, my inspiration was former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni's farewell piece, at the end of which he argues that there is value at every price level.
It's was an aha! moment for me. I'd thought this way for years, but here was Bruni putting my thoughts so eloquently into words. Many think that spending a lot of money on a meal is a waste, and there is still a strong faction that believes bigger portions of lesser quality are better than smaller portions of higher quality. But--and this will shock exactly no one--I agree with Bruni.
The most I ever spent on just myself at a restaurant is $480 or so at Masa in New York City. This was back in 2004, I think, and the minimum you could spend there was (and still is) $350, so with tax and tip (and sake), well, you know. I went alone (my bosses weren't about to expense this meal for two people), which was awkward at first, but before I knew it Masa Takayama himself was chatting with me, making me feel welcome. At the end of the meal he asked what would possess me to come and splurge and spend that kind of money on sushi (he didn't know I was there on assignment, obviously). He laughingly said, "even my own kids think spending this much money is crazy!" I remember blushing and weakly telling him, "oh, I just really love sushi." I can't imagine he bought that. But no matter: It's a night I'll never forget. I had a smile on my face for days. Oh, by the way, the sushi was phenomenal.
And so, this year we went out looking for meals that left us walking on air, meals that are worth every single penny--even if they cost a lot of pennies--all over town. It's obviously much easier to leave a restaurant happy when you've spent $20 per person rather than, say, $90, so we've concentrated most of our efforts on meals on the lower end. But I believe you can get your money's worth at every price point, and I believe our collection of restaurants this year will convince you of that.
We also decided to tell you the truth about how much these places cost. Our price per person includes what we'd eat and drink if we were going to each restaurant on our list: sometimes a soda, other times a glass of wine or a shared bottle, sometimes a cocktail, and always tax and a 20% tip.
Finally, I tasted my way through every bargain lunch I could find to find the best ones in town for the True Value Lunch section. I hope you'll tear out those four pages and eat your way through them, too. If you don't like what you taste, that's on me. But I think you will.