Union Square Cafe(Jim I need your secret strategy please!)
After reading about your ordering strategy for eating inexpensively at USC two weeks ago I find myself in desperate need of your assistance now. My wife and I are taking my mom for lunch there this Sat. We've never been and we need to know how to get the best for the least possible.
Thanks for your help and please keep us up to date with what you're eating at home now and then. Seeing as I only eat out about 10% of the time it's interesting for me to see what the Big Dogs eat when at home.
first of all, I've told Harrison to spare you his afternoon postfest to first-name-only posters (you'll probably notice them dotting these boards), and encourage you, myself, to post with both your names or at least some sort of distinctive "handle".
as for what I eat at home, my refrigerator contains several dozen bottles of beer (no duplicates) and a quart of low-fat milk. Sometimes a vintage quart or two, as well. Get the picture? (g)
My Union Square Cafe trick will NOT suit your purposes. But here it is:
USC has a nightly-revolving Haimish Dish. They don't call it that, but that's what it amounts to. Roasts, suckling pig with potatoes and greens, and just generally stuff accompanied with peas. You get the idea. You get a nicely balanced mix of things, most of which sound more "yummy" than "impressive" (though the one I tried was IMPRESSIVELY yummy). They cost something like $25 and the portions are substantially larger than the standard dishes. I suspect they serve the dual purpose of rounding out the menu and of giving regulars a "square meal" sort of option.
My trick is this (haven't actually done it yet, but more on that in a sec): sit at the bar with a friend, enjoy the great cocktail nuts and a drink while you're waiting, and share one of these. The bar's just bustling enough that two can share a dish without looking totally gauche, if they do it real subtly (or, if you sense klieg lights of attention and potential disapproval, have one person "not eat", but surreptitiously take the plate once the first is halfway done).
Total cost: like twelve bucks (!) per person, plus drinks. The plates are large enough that, even sans appetizer, two people won't go wanting. And there's enough balance on the plate that you won't lack for sides (though the menu offers 4-5 nice sides, reasonably priced, that would nicely supplement if you really wanted).
And the bar's fun and comfortable (though, come to think of it, I had an extremely cursorily-made gimlet there last time which I was not at all happy about, so maybe stick with wine).
I think the reason I haven't done this yet is that if I'm in the nabe and want a non-special occasion low-budget meal, my brain is just not spitting out the possibility of USC. And if I AM thinking USC, I want to do the full, delicious rigamorole (PLEASE note that this strategy is by NO means suggested as a "better" way to use this restaurant...rather, it's a trick you can use to make the place serve purposes it's not strictly intended to serve. It's a way to have a mere taste of the experience on the cheap, but it doesn't supplant the experience).
One thing you can take from this that will serve the full experience with your mom this weekend: if you order the daily special, you won't need an appetizer. If you get an app, you won't have a prayer of getting even halfway through the entree. But their apps are delicious, though........
re: Jim Leff
A few followups to Jim's note:
1) I think you might indeed be able to get away with Jim's "two for one" strategy at the bar without the staff looking askance. They're pretty gracious and I don't think they expect that the bar patrons will necessarily be going for the full three courses.
2) I think those daily specials are dinner only, though I could be wrong.
3)Unless you're ravenous, for lunch there two apps or a main with no app plus some dessert will probably be a good amount of food; that's my experience anyway. It's also a good place to split desserts because the desserts are very generous. So you can save a bit and still fill up on good food.
re: Jim Leff
Hey Jim, next time you find yourself looking for "a non-special occasion low-budget meal" in the USC 'hood, may I suggest Rainbow Falafel (26 E. 17th)? Don't know if you've ever popped in, but IMO they make the most tastebud-tickling falafel in the city (though the sandwich fillings can't compete with Azuri Cafe). As expected, dirt cheap and easy to consume on the fly.
And speaking of Middle East fare, has anyone been to Hoomos Asli on Kenmare and Lafayette? This place is the real deal. Several types of delicious hummus, and an ethereal babaganoush that is unlike any I've tasted - - incredibly creamy,fragrantly spiced, and luscious. I've been told to steer clear of the kebabs so I can't report on that but the spreads alone are worth a visit.