Each century has one great culinary event which epitomizes and defines it. In the sixteenth century, it was Spanish exploration, which brought potatoes and tomatoes to Europe, manioc to Africa, and yams to New Guinea, and gave Spanish culinary techniques to South America and the Philippines. In the seventeenth, it was the rise to power of Louis XIV and the creation of French courtly cuisine as a way of solidifying his power. Nobles who supported him got invited to great banquets; those who opposed him didn't. A whole round of parties and festivities, see photo below, absorbed all the nobles' time and money, thus eliminating potential opponents. In the nineteenth, the evolution of the restaurant as the locus of grand cuisine. And, in the twentieth, it was clearly and without a doubt the invention of the $20 lunch, a three course prix fixe offered by some of New York City's finest restaurants.
These lunches vary widely in quality. Some restaurants offer bland chicken breasts and tired salmon. In others, the chef devotes much attention to them, and the menu features expensive entrees from the a la carte section. In some places, the top chef is never there for lunch. In others, he always is. The three best I've found are Fleur de Sel and Eleven Madison Park, both now $25, and Cafe Boulud, summer only. So here's the question. Do you know of any good $20 lunches which are offered year-round?
Here are the ones I know: Tocqueville, Aquavit Cafe, Aureole (?), Jean-Georges, Mercer Kitchen. Any others???
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