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I'll Take the Lobster With a Side of Gouge

By Laura Oppenheimer in Food on Oct 24, 2006 6:15PM

2006_10_40entree.jpgThe New York Times reported Saturday on a frightening new trend that is sweeping the nation: the $40 entree.

Chicago is no stranger to expensive meals. We've heard all about the $75+ tasting menus at Chicago restaurants like Charlie Trotter's, Moto, and Alinea. Though these restaurants are undeniably pricey, they are also regularly described as being among the best restaurants in the country. The gist of the Times article is that the $40 entree is being spotted in restaurants that are merely good. From the piece:

Until recently, such prices were the stuff of four-star, white-tablecloth meals, the kind that ended with a diamond ring on the petit four tray. But now entrees over $40 can be found in restaurants that are merely upscale, where diners wear jeans and tote children. In geographic terms, New York and Las Vegas have led the charge, and in culinary ones, luxury items like steak and lobster were first and are still most prevalent. ...

“Forty is the new 30,” said Richard Coraine, the chief operating officer of Union Square Hospitality Group, which recently began charging $42 for a 1¾-ounce appetizer portion of lobster at lunchtime at the Modern in New York. Ten percent of its lunch patrons order the dish, it says.

One local restaurant cited in the article was Nick's Fishmarket on 51 N. Clark. Its Dover Sole entree comes in at just above $40. Suspiciously, their website lovingly describes each dish, but lacks prices. The article explains that even if a $40 entree doesn't sell very well, having an item on the menu of that price encourages people to order the bargain items -- the ones that only cost $35. Does anyone else think this is a little out of control?

The most absurd case of this comes from New York City's Craft, whose dinner menu actually includes a $125 steak for two that comes with no side dishes! Granted, it is a "Roasted 21-Day Dry-Aged Porterhouse," which sounds delicious, but in Chicagoist's mind, it should at least come with some creamed spinach or rosemary roasted potatoes.

Though we love eating out (and eating out in style), spending this kind of cash on dinner makes us feel a little uncomfortable. The idea of one dish costing an entire day's work, somehow seems wrong. In fact, the side dishes at NY's Craft cost about what we like to spend on an entree if we aren't eating tacos: about $12-18. And while we are happy to spend the money on a special occasion, we think there are enough restaurants in the city that we don't need to buy the $40 entree. Not that we could afford it anyway.

Photo via Nick's Fishmarket.