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Dining in or out

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In another thread, it was suggested that most Californians eat at home most of the time, and go to restaurants for special occasions rather than for daily rations. I thought it would be interesting to see if that is really true here on eG.

My husband and I have a policy that we will go out to a decent restaurant once a week; this just doesn't happen, and I have often asked myself, "Why?"

First, we usually shop at the Farmer's Market once a week and hence have good produce, cheese, meat and sausage on hand for a good portion of that week. We live several blocks from a Chinatown where fish is glistennngly fresh and produce, while not organic, is excellent and really cheap. A couple of blocks in the other direction are two carriage trade markets and one of the city's best butchershops. Good bread is available everywhere. Trader Joe's is within a couple of blocks. The house is always full of good ingredients.

Second, we travel a lot and are often eating lightly because we have just returned home, or slowing down consumption in anticipation of several weeks of great restaurant meals.

Third, we have been cooking for so long that it is easier to toss together a very good meal than it is to find one out. We do eat weekend lunches out or bring them in: soft tacos, burritos, dim sum, Vietnamese barbequed pork rolls in rice paper, or if we are feeling particularly evil, barbeque. When we do eat out in town, it is probably no more than every 6 weeks, and in inexpensive-to-low moderate places (around $100. for 2 people, 3 courses with a modest wine and sparkling water); some places where we haven't been disappointed are Delfina, Zuni, Piperade, Chez Nous, La Table, Alma, Firefly, Lorca, all of which have been well discussed on this board. We almost never eat Asian at dinner.

How and where do you spend your food dollar?

eGullet member #80.

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I totally agree that if wonderful ingredients are easily available then the liklihood that something simple made at home is better than any less-than-topnotch restaurant, is great. I thinkits almost guaranteed. The meal at the less-than-top-notch can cost hundreds of dollars, no less. Sometimes homemade meals are even better than the best restaurants, but not always.

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At our house - eating in means at the dining room or coffee table - eating out means at the patio table on the balcony! :laugh:

Anna N

Edited by Anna N (log)

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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We are about even, between going out and eating in. Although I agree, it is so easy to find great ingredients that it makes staying home a better value. When we do go out, it is more often a local taqueria or pizzeria. We only go out for quality dining a couple times a month.

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We stay in more than we eat out.

Like Margaret, we travel a lot, so we feel the urge to nest when at home.

Another thing keeping me in lately is my dissatisfaction with most medium priced restaurants. Whay pay $15-20 for a plate of pasta I could make better at home? Not to mention the awful mark up on the bottle of wine we will invariably drink. I try now to either eat out cheaply or to really go all out. Most of the places near us are either high priced, special occasion spots, or trendy, overpriced places. Even the ones masquerading as "neighborhood restaurants" fall into the second category.

I wish I had more good, cheap ethnic in my hood, but I have to travel to get it. Most days, after a late night at work, and knowing I'd have to meet my sweetie out (and deal with the dreaded two-car at the restaurant and driving home separately issue), I'd rather cook at home.

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The dining habits of myself and my partner, Bruce, have changed over the nearly two decades we've been together. When we first met, I didn't have any idea about how to cook. Heck, I didn't really have any idea of what food was supposed to taste like, my education had been that shabby. Bruce liked me all the same, and we were soon living together in Long Beach.

The problem was that we both worked in the Fullerton area. Since I don't drive (unusual for a SoCal native, but you really don't want me behind the wheel of a car, I'm that bad at it), the best solution after work was for us to meet somewhere, stop off for something to eat along the way, and then head home.

After several years of this, Bruce took an early retirement option and I transferred to a different office (in Glendale, of all places). Obviously, he wasn't going to be picking me up and we weren't going to be stopping off. Instead, I was taking one bus from Glendale to downtown LA, then riding the Blue Line light rail down to Long Beach. (We tested this once; it turns out it was just as fast using public transit as it would have been for me to drive during those peak hours.) Eating at home, once I got there, was at last a viable option.

What we hadn't expected was to learn that, in those years of dining out, I had figured out what food was supposed to taste like, and by watching television cooking shows and reading cookbooks had some idea of how to put a dinner together. I had become the better cook. So we reversed our pattern, and began eating home more, dining out only when we had other things that needed to be done (club meetings, seeing a play or a film, that sort of thing) or when I really got sick of standing at the stove.

Now I've taken early retirement as well, so there is more time to cook at a more relaxed pace. I'd say I cook our meals about three times to every time we eat out. Eating out gives me a chance to refresh my taste buds and spot flavor ideas I haven't tried yet. We also talk more over the table when we dine out; there's fewer distractions. Dining out has distinct advantages.

This is going to change all over again when we move to Rehoboth Beach, DE. The dining opportunities will be quite different, geared towards the tourists who flock to either the seashore or the outlet malls. (The former crews head to the pricy boutique restaurants downtown, the latter to the chains along the highway.) On the other hand, since we're building our new home, I'll have a decent kitchen to work in at last. Plus, two of the main reasons we're moving are Bruce's grandsons, who will be living just an hour away from us; one of my major jobs will be to teach the lads what food tastes like. They're about where I was twenty years ago, but still single-digited in age, so maybe Bruce and I can give them a jump-start in that area. Dining at home should be a major part of our lives.

Teaching the lads how to cook? That'll come later.

We'll not discriminate great from small.

No, we'll serve anyone - meaning anyone -

And to anyone at all!

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The dining habits in our house are seasonal, during the winter when the garden isn't producing as much and the farmers markets are either shut down or thinly stocked we go out to eat fairly regularly. During the other 9 months of the year we rarely have dinner outside of our house. When we do go out to eat, we go places that make food we are simply incapable of making at home, it's either asian food (which we still suck at making) or it's a trip to the French Laundry, La Toque, Gary Danko, etc.

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Looking at dinner only, we eat in most of the week--not only due to costs but also because if I go more than a few days without a heaping of stir-fired Chinese veggies then I practically start salivating at any incidence of the color green.

When we do go out (or have food delivered) it's to our cheap local hole-in-the-walls: Korean, Indian, the occasional Ethiopian, burritos, pizza. Okay, I'll admit that we also frequent Kirala once or twice or thrice a month when I get sushi cravings, Cafe Rouge many weekends for my fries and sparerib cravings, and Grasshopper for after-work pickles and ribs cravings. (Uh, and if you're wondering if I often make ribs at home, the answer to that would be "yes.") Oh, and Dona Tomas for upscale Mexican.

We only go to upscale restaurants (Gary Danko, Fifth Floor, etc.) for special occasions and odd Chinese holidays, so that totals perhaps less than 10 times a year.

Hm, now that I've laid this out, perhaps we actually eat out for dinner or buy prepared food closer to 30-40% of the time!

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Thanks, SWoody, for your roadmap for changing both ways of thinking and doing.  Much success and joy in your new kitchen.  Don't worry about "the lads".  They will learn by osmosis.

If the lads spend enough time with you in the kitchen, they will likely start to get interested. My son has generally helped measure things and stir since he was small. He is now going on 11, and just the other day while I was making a rib marinade, he wandered in and started asking about the components of a marinade and why I did it and what would happen if I "did this" or "added that" instead. His palate is starting to develop now as well, and he is more willing to try (and like) things with spices on them rather than extremely plain when as he did when younger. We are taking him camping for a week in a couple of weeks and he will be in charge (at his request) of making two of our meals that week.

And BTW, he's shown a lot more interest in cooking since we had our kitchen re-done :smile:

As to our own dining habits, we eat out a lot when it's just my husband and I. The weeks that I have my son, we tend to eat in every night during the week, order fast food on Fridays and generally try to take my son to a fine dining establishment once every couple of weeks at least.

Edited by Marlene (log)



Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Who we are -- Mom, Dad and 2 kids ages 11 &14. I make dinner at home most nights. It's generally something simple but good. It has to be simple since I don't get home till 6:00 or later. Last night was salmon filets, green beans and frech bread. One night we typically bring food in -- something good from Whole Foods quite often. One night is leftovers. To keep things easy, I've become a fanatic for preparing things ahead. For instance I make large batches of pizza dough, use enough for one pizza, freeze the rest and defrost when needed. Same with tomato sauce. Though on nights when I'm exhausted and we haven't gotten take out, I've been known to use "convenience food." Isn't that where it got its name?

We eat out on the weekends for lunch or dinner. Something simple and not too expensive. It adds up with four. Upscale places are used for special occasions.

So long and thanks for all the fish.
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I usually have lunch out with a girlfriend about every week or so. For dinner, we eat at home (I cook, hubby does the dishes) way more than we go out. It's usually because we don't have a lot of exceptional restaurants in our immediate area and get tired of going to the same couple of places.


Liberty, MO

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Interesting question and not sure we're at a point where I can give an accurate answer. We're eating out far more than we ever did, although much of it is still at very inexpensive restaurants such as in Chinatown. When my father retired and my parents moved to Manhattan years ago, my mother all but stopped cooking at home. My wife and I couldn't understand it. Now we are beginning to understand.

By the way, we are in NYC. This should be noted for statistical purposes. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum


Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Who we are -- Mom, Dad and 2 kids ages 11 &14.  I make dinner at home most nights.  It's generally something simple but good.  It has to be simple since I don't get home till 6:00 or later.  Last night was salmon filets, green beans and frech bread.  One night we typically bring food in -- something good from Whole Foods quite often.  One night is leftovers.  To keep things easy, I've become a fanatic for preparing things ahead.  For instance I make large batches of pizza dough, use enough for one pizza, freeze the rest and defrost when needed.  Same with tomato sauce.  Though on nights when I'm exhausted and we haven't gotten take out, I've been known to use "convenience food."  Isn't that where it got its name?

Can I come over for meals? Ever since my work schedule became more hectic I haven't had a homecooked meal in awhile.


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  • 2 weeks later...

We're definitely "innies". It helps that my wife is a good and efficient cook of (mostly Shanghainese) Chinese food AND is very frugal. I manage to drag her and the kid out for lunch every week or two, and for dinner on special occasions, but I have to be prepared with the correct answer when she asks me if the restaurant's food is better than her own cooking.

When we're in Shanghai, it's another matter. Between our local eatery, where we can have a great dinner for 3 (including a tall bottle of beer for me) for $4-5 US, and her relatives who want to spare us that great expense by cooking dinner for us, there's mercifully no need for her to cook.

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I go back and forth on this...

In general, we like to eat out about once a week during the week. We like to think of it as "stepping out," a chance to do more than just come home from work too tired to much of anything. I find getting out of the house actually sort of rejuvenating after a long day at work. We like to go out to some of the nicer places close to my house for this-Bay Wolf, Jojos, and upstairs at Chez Panisse-but a nice pizza, burger, Thai, or Indian dinner also hits the spot just as often.

When I'm really, really busy at work, two things happen: first, we eat out more. Just when I need to be sitting at home reading and relaxing, I'm sitting around-usually impatiently-for someone to bring me dinner because I was too tired to make pasta or a salad. So the pendulum swings and we decide we're sick of going out-plus the CSA vegetables start to multiply in the refrigerator-so we cook at home for a few weeks straight. Then we miss going out.

So, we really try to faithfully plan to go out for a nice dinner once a week, cooking at home on the other nights. We spend our weekends up the coast, so going out to restaurants there is mostly something we do for social reasons, not for the food.

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