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A Lovely Meal at Home: Take-Out from 12 Bones BBQ, Asheville, NC

Hard to beat a home-cooked meal: Jason's German-style dinner - organic, western NC sausages, German potato salad, cucumber salad, Coconut cake from the Well-Bred Bakery in Weaverville, NC

Last night my husband and I decided to have our long-awaited date night at a cute tapas bar on the upper west side, which will remain nameless, but I have indeed been there before — twice, in fact —  and was reasonably pleased both times — enough to go back.  I’ll keep this as succinct as possible so as to get to the point of this post.  We had a lovely time, mostly because it was the one time in the last month that we’ve actually sat down face to face with no reason to hurry through a meal and/or a conversation (our lives are crazy…seriously).  I do like this tapas bar.  It’s candlelit, cozy without being too cramped like many NYC wine bars, and the service was attentive and friendly — the host even inquired about the book I had on the table.  Nice touch…I mean, I like when people are inquisitive without seeming too nosey.  The wine was fine.  $13 for a quarttino of Pinot Grigio (so-so)…Jason had a spicy, full-bodied red (Crianza???), around the same price.  Anyway, the food was really just so-so, and we ended up spending waaayyyy too much for the quality.  We had grilled calamari, which was just weird…I mean, it’s not even worth describing.  Brussel sprouts which badly needed salt and had a presentation that would perhaps even scare off the most die-hard brussel sprout lover.  The meatballs were pretty good, though Jason thought they too needed salt.  The bread & olive oil was lovely, though we ended with this little “snack” for $3.50, which was basically a slice of slightly stale baguette, a piece of serrano ham, a piece of unexciting cheese, an olive, all toothpicked together.  It kind of reminded me of something from the infamous Ohio relish trays to which I was introduced Thanksgiving 2008.  Bottom line: lovely date, disappointingly so-so food, too much money spent.  We could’ve prepared every single thing better at home.

So hard to find a great restaurant sometimes!  Since the above comments are about a tapas bar, I should say that two of my favorite wine bars EVER are on the upper west side, but we opted for tapas, because the other 2 tend to be crazy busy & just a tad too expensive for what we were looking for.  I’ll go to my staples next time: Bin 71, Barcibo for uptown; 8th Street Wine Cellar for downtown.  You can’t go wrong with those.

Here’s the question: how do so many restaurants — cute, pretty, inviting restaurants with attentive servers — get away with such subpar food?!?!  I’m realizing as I’m writing this that I sound like a total snob…but it’s really about standards, isn’t it?

I recently started working at a really fabulous restaurant in Tarrytown.  I’ve really been enjoying the job so far & it’s been a much-needed break from so much of the stuff I’ve been doing for so many years.  And I have to say, the food is STELLAR.  And THAT’S what makes me enjoy going to work.  I used to find waiting tables to be demeaning.  Waiting on snooty people?  No, thank you.  Waiting on people who treat you like you’re below them?  No, thank you.  But I (knock on wood) haven’t encountered those attitudes at my current job, and I notice that people are just blown away by the food.  What a difference a high quality meal makes!  The food is almost all locally produced/grown, with the exception of a few seafood items.  The presentation is beautiful, I literally want to eat every single thing on the menu, the restaurant cozy and inviting with a really beautiful bar as well.  I just can’t say enough good things about this place.

But then I come home to Manhattan, meet my husband out at a cute little chic tapas bar on the UWS…and we’re disappointed.  We also experienced another recent disappointment when we did dinner on the UWS back in July at a restaurant that I had absolutely raved about to Jason — and we were so incredibly disappointed!  It was just subpar quality and (big surprise) too much money!  Maybe they went downhill???  Or maybe my standard just suddenly got higher.

I should write a quick disclaimer here that I am not a picky eater…and not really a picky drinker either.  I’m pretty good at identifying shitty wine, but I’ll gladly settle if that’s what’s offered.  (I can’t say the same for Jason…but then I just get to drink his crappy wine, so it all works out)!  But J & I really do good food at home, we know how to eat, how to savor food & wine…but we’re just not in the budget to go to Le Bernardin.  So what to do.  Either cook at home or go to a place that you KNOW is going to be good.  No more risk-taking a la last night’s date.  The tricky thing here is that both of our not-so-good UWS dining experiences these last few months were at places that I thought were good.  Perhaps my standard really has gotten higher.  But if we’re going to go out and spend, say, over $50 on food, it should be absolutely stellar in my book.  Anyway…  So I’m making a relatively short list here of places that rarely, if ever, disappoint (the first 5 are in Manhattan).  As for any new places to try, I’m going to go with friends’ recommendations.  So here are my picks:

1. 8th Street Wine Cellar  http://8thstwinecellar.com/

2. Bin 71  — Their meatballs in lemon broth is one of my all-time favorite wintertime meals.  http://www.bin71.com/

3. Barcibo  http://barciboenoteca.com/

4. Supper  http://www.supperrestaurant.com/

5. Otto — go for the wine & cheese & of course, the famous olive oil gelato; the pasta is so-so.  Sorry, Mario.  😦  But it’s still a go-to place and doesn’t seem to break the bank.  http://www.ottopizzeria.com/

6. Sweet Grass Grill — Tarrytown, NY http://sweetgrassgrill.com/

7.  Rezaz — Asheville, NC (this is one of my favorite places of all time).  http://www.rezaz.com/intro.html

8.  Laughing Seed — Asheville, NC  http://laughingseed.jackofthewood.com/

And lastly, chez Rigby, Washington Heights, NYC.  🙂

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