Buon Appetito

The economic recession has affected the way many of us eat. For me, it's meant dining out less often than I used to a year or so ago. But there has been an upside to things. More and more restaurants have cut prices to lure people like me who are on a budget but are still looking to shell out money at restaurants.

Pizzas, burgers, fried chicken and even Vietnamese sandwiches have come to the forefront as more affordable (and popular) options here in New York. But I'd contend New Yorkers are also seeing a plethora of choices in one of the ultimate category of comfort foods: Italian cuisine.

Places like Scarpetta and Locanda Verde have been providing people with some affordable choices but still well-executed Italian food. I think the true sign that people will pay for good Italian food is that even high-end Italian places like Marea and SD26 have opened in New York during the restaurant. In a place like the Big Apple, where only about 1 in 10 restaurants make it past the five-year mark, that's pretty darn brave.

We talked about this explosion in comfort food and consumers' desire for it. For chefs, it can be a good thing because exotic ingredients aren't always called for and the demands can be pretty simple. But for chefs who want to be more creative, it can be a drain on their motivation to serve interesting and unique dishes.

I'm torn between the two. I'm all for having great, affordable comfort food. But as someone learning to become a better chef in the kitchen, I appreciate finding surprises each time I open a menu. That said, some chefs have been able to find a balance between the two. There's David Chang who owns a number of restaurants in New York that rely on classic French techniques while producing interesting options.

I'll just keep following my mantra: If the food is good, I'm willing to pay for it. So tonight I'll treat myself to some Italian food at a place I've been meaning to try. I hope it's worth it.

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