It’s difficult not to be torn with conflicting emotions after reading New York Times food writer Frank Bruni’s tribute to affordable dining in recessionary times, entitled “Great Meals for Two, Under $100 (It’s Possible)

Writing from a geographic and economic slice of America where great meals are and have always been available for under $100, it’s hard not to get the ol’ hackles up. Who is this fancy New York blowhard to tell Americans that if you really pinch your pennies and seek out exceptional values, you can find tasty food for only about $38 a person before tax and tip?

Then again: we’re talking about Manhattan here. One of the priciest and most exclusive islands in the world. And Bruni goes to lengths to explain he’s talking “at least three courses” and not “cheap eats”: “After all, even many of the most keenly cost-conscious diners can still afford—and still want to enjoy—food of some distinction in full-service restaurants with some coddling,” he writes.

Then again: I recently lived in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan, and distinctly recall a number of wonderful meals (tapas, new American, upscale bistro, etc.) where the total two-person bill came in well under three digits. Table service and some coddling included, although Bruni’s definition of coddling may differ from that of just about everyone outside his upscale readership.

Regardless, the story he files is fascinating reading and has a rock-solid moral, no matter your perspective: “Value” is always a relative thing.

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