I try to be budget conscious. My love of dining out, however, has a way of breaking me down. It’s not always that I don’t have anything to eat at home – sometimes I’ll be ready and game for going out despite a fridge full of produce slowly rotting away. Sometimes I’m just feeling too lazy to bother, and the only thing that stands between me and possibly eating a bag of chips for dinner is the promise of a take out veggie sandwich or seitan wings and sweet potato fries. (When are you going to open a South Hills location, Spak Bros.? We NEED you here.)
Mostly, though, I love to dine out. I love exploring new restaurants, checking names off the “to try” list. I love wandering around a neighborhood until hungry, then choosing a place at random to eat. I love taking recommendations from friends and actually being able to report back my opinion to them. As much as I love to cook, I tend to fall into a loop of making the same dozen things, in variations, and dining out is a great way of shaking me out of an eating rut.
Is it healthy? No. Not for my body, not for my bank account. But dammit, it could be worse! It’s not like I’m hooked on smack or something.
This Christmas, I’m not looking to get anything really big. Last year, I received a mighty Kitchen Aid food processor, and that was the last bit of kitchen machinery that I really needed. Instead of expensive goods, I thought I might request gift cards and certificates to different restaurants, cafes, etc., in hopes that I can spread these cards out over a few weeks, and maybe adhere to my budget just a little better in the new year.
Five Restaurants on My Christmas List:
- Salt of the Earth- Yes, I keep up on local foodie news as much as any local food blogger should, and I’ve heard raves and raves about this recent addition to the culinary blossom of Penn Avenue/East Liberty area. And admittedly, the menu isn’t all that expensive – I could probably eat there for a similar amount that I would gladly spend at Thai Cuisine – but when trying out the new hot place to eat, it’s go big or go home. I don’t want to stick to my expensive restaurant budget saving order – usually soup and whatever appetizer is the least pricey – I want to go all out, especially if it means ordering a dessert cheese plate (“Midnight moon goat, Maytag bleu, quince, maple, bacon” – $8) and a Rye cocktail (“Sazerac, cinnamon, Averna” – $10) to finish.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – It’s not readily apparent on their website, but they are the big buzz restaurant right now, especially after taking “Best New Restaurant” in the Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best of 2010″ poll. If they didn’t offer anything yet, they probably will soon.
- Mekong – The best kept Asian secret in town. I have been to Mekong. I have been there many, many times. The way some people have a neighborhood bar they frequent, that’s how I view Mekong. And because I live within short walking distance, I am both a frequent in-restaurant guest and delivery order customer. Because I already spend a large share of my money there, and because I always like to see more business go their way (especially if that business leads to more Mekong food in my tummy), get me a gift certificate. Maybe I can save you some of my Spicy Vegetable Noodle with Tofu. Maybe.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – They certainly do.
- Le Pommier – I’m not a huge fan of super fancy restaurants, but I’ll admit, all the time I was working in the South Side, broke as shit, and had to walk past Le Pommier on the way to my hourly wage slave job, my mouth watered a little at the thought of sitting down to a table covered in fine linen, set with sterling silver, a fine glass of red wine in front of me, candlelight softly illuminating the lovely face of my dining companion. Perhaps the Chou-Fleur to start (“roasted cauliflower with puff pastry and brown butter” – $8), then on to the main course, maybe the Cassoulet (“southern france white bean stew with a crispy duck leg and sausage” – $25) or maybe the Porc (“pan seared Duroc pork loin chop with apple bacon lentils topped with local cider gastrique” – $24). Then onto coffee and conversation over the season Trio de crème brûlée ($8). I haven’t worked in the South Side for some time, and yes, I’m considerably better off financially now than during those glassy-eyed days of yore, but I still haven’t gotten that fantasy trip to Le Pommier. It’s about time I did.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – At last check, they had gift certificates, but that was pre-renovation.
- Round Corner Cantina – Okay, yes, I’m being a little cheapskate here, cause this place isn’t exactly expensive. But I was thinking: if I got a gift card/certificate for like, thirty bucks, I could take myself and a few others out for dinner. Anyway, it would make a good excuse to finally get over to this restaurant. While living over in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville area, I had enjoyed a drink or two in the weird little setting of the Round Corner Hotel bar, so I wasn’t surprised when new owners took it over and turned it into a swinging hotspot Mexican restaurant. Get me some credit dollars there, and I’ll buy the first round!
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – Probably not.
- Wild Rosemary – Nicole from Yum Yum writes highly of this restaurant in Upper St. Clair, and I’m always eager to take a recommendation from someone whose tastes I can trust. It’s the priciest of the bunch here, so that’ll have to be a pretty big gift card to cover the Chilean Sea Bass ($37) and the Fudgie Mocha Tart with Espresso-Custard ($8), along with enough to include the nominal corkage fee and gratuity. But don’t worry, I’ll treat you when we go to the Round Corner Cantina!
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – No mention of it on the website. Seeing as how they’re fairly high-end, they probably do offer something. Nicole?