Dining like royalty without raiding the treasury!

Happy hour at Five Palms, Wailea; sushi, coconut shrimp, two drinks, sunset ocean view, about $27.

Fine but frugal dining – dining like royalty without breaking the treasury…

Over the last four-plus years, Susan and I have traveled extensively across the US three times, the TransCan Highway across Canada to the Maritime Provinces and frequently throughout the US western states and Canadian provinces. Along with two two-week cruises on the rivers and oceans of Europe, we have had a chance to dine out hundreds of times.

Splits for brunch at The Ramp Restaurant, right on the bay, San Francisco; we split a huge omelet with a side bowl of clam chowder (not the Bloody Mary - that's mine)!

But it was 17 years ago, when we spent eight days in Paris on our 30th wedding anniversary, that meal portion sizes registered with us. Meals in Paris, not cheap but not outrageously expensive, offered portion sizes probably half of their American counterparts (and, we never left hungry). Of course, we saw all these trim Parisians walking the streets and wide boulevards interspersed with chunky or obese US and German citizens; inspiration.

Shortly after we returned to the US, we began to experiment with portion sizes at nice restaurants. The way to do that, most effortlessly, is to split the main course and a salad entrée. So, split we do! For the first year, we always felt a bit weird, but repeatedly found we had plenty to eat. So, it’s become our routine for nice lunches or dinners for years. Here are additional tips:

Do on-line research on restaurants that are well-publicized. Trip Advisor and Yelp apps give you a good rating service from many reviewers. And, file a rating after your meal.

Clam linguini lunch at the Athenian Restaurant, and Caesar salad, easy to split; Tom Hanks dined here in the 1993 hit movie "Sleepless in Seattle".

Ask locals their favorites (that’s how we found Girardi’s in Edmunds, WA, where “all day, every day, except 6-8 PM, is happy hour” with good, inexpensive food and drinks . So good and inexpensive we frequented the establishment four times in our four weeks in that lovely Puget Sound-bordered city. For upscale, locals suggested Arnies on the Edmonds’ waterfront over several other pricy choices, and we filed that recommendation away.

If you are spending a few days or more at a given location, grab the local newspaper’s weekend section, the local entertainment publication and the local visitor’s bureau website and search for restaurants and coupons. Here we found the offer “buy two dinners, get the second free” at Arnies. Bingo! We had a couple drinks, nice appetizer, two wonderful meals (one free) and watched huge ferries pass our Puget Sound water-front window. And, took about half the two entrées home for lunch the next day.

Search out happy hours (we often dine out on several happy hour appetizers and inexpensive drinks). We get to Hawaii once a year; we’re heading there in about 10 days. We discovered most of our favorite restaurants offer 3 to 6 PM happy hours, where we can get discounted drinks and two or three discounted appetizers (pupus, in Maui) at four or five o’clock – our meal for the day at a great discount, saving about 60% over a normal meal price – and we get the same gorgeous view!

Kids deserve nice restaurant exposure, and kids menu prices make it pretty attractive. Here is Ava, cousin to two of our grandkids, dining with us a Beachcomber Restaurant, Newport Beach, CA.

Check the target restaurant’s web site. Many offer:
Sunset deals – where a restaurant offers special prices on selected meals, usually before 6 PM
Early week dining specials
On-line deals and/or coupons
Corkage-fee – bring your own wine.
A senior’s discount, if you’re that age
Children’s prices – younger kids deserve the option eat out occasionally, and most restaurants make the price reasonable

Wild salmon slider, just $8, University District Farmer's Market, Seattle.

Don’t overlook food trucks and vendors at farmers markets (i.e., some of the best lunches we’ve had are fresh fish tacos from food trucks that line the beach highways in Kehei and Wailea, HI, and the fresh, wild salmon sliders we found at Seattle’s University District Farmers Market were quickly selling out).

Dine in occasionally (if cooking facilities), using local ingredients like local fresh fish served with a green salad and steamed veggies. Same idea, if you’re camping. If you’re traveling in the summer/fall past wild blueberries or blackberries, pick some for breakfast or dessert use!

Historic or local flavor: I’m a closet history buff and always seek out places with historic interest, such as The Athenian at Seattle’s Pike Street Market, an institution where scenes with Tom Hanks were shot for the hit 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle; or Boston’s Fanuiel Hall, birthplace of American Liberty, complete with historic and delectable eateries on both levels of the old hall and nearby market buildings.

Susan, with 1.25 lb. Maine lobster dinner, Bar Harbor, Maine, just $18.95 if before 6 PM.

Sometimes, you have to splurge; as we did twice in our three days last fall at Acadia National Park, next to cool Maine coastal town of Bar Harbor. Here, you have to dine, at least once, on a full Maine lobster dinner. So, off we went, and found several restaurants with 1.25 lb. lobster, clam chowder, corn on the cob…wait for it, $18.95 (or $21.95 if after 6 PM).

The following day, we bought two pounds of Cherrystone clams in a Bar Harbor fish market, returned to our nearby campground and Susan made linguine with clams in a white wine, butter, lemon and garlic sauce. With a small green salad our total cost of that dinner was about $15 for the two of us; vying for best meal of our trip! Yum!

Dining like royalty, without raiding the treasury!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Best meal of trip, made in our campground with two pounds of fresh Cherrystone Clams, linguini in a white wine/garlic/butter sauce and big green salad, Acadai National Park, Maine.

 

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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