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A Field Guide to Dine About Town

That the Dine About Town is clearly a publicity stunt to drive traffic to restaurants during their slowest months (January and July, when people are in post-holiday literal and figurative belt-tightening or when they're at the beach) doesn't mean that it's not a good idea. But is it really a deal? I have a problem at restaurants, and I know I'm not alone: I like to have cocktails or wine with dinner. I like to leave a nice tip when service is good. So even though a $34.95 three-course meal is a relative bargain, there's no way I'm getting in and out for under $50 bucks. That means dinner for two is at least $100, which is, well, about the same amount I'd spend any old night, eating whatever I wanted off the menu.

To help you navigate the murky waters of discount dining, we've picked out a few spots we think will be offering the very best deals during DAT's run, from January 15 to the 31st. First up—Chez Papa Resto. Their three-course dinner menu has options, three choices for each of the three courses (another peeve of mine is having to eat the exact same dinner as my dining companion. Because, you know, I do that at home.). Were you to order the crispy frogs legs,  the sea bass with black olive-tangerine vinaigrette and the cocoa nib profiteroles with pistachio gelato à la carte, the menu would set you back $48, before tax and tip. But for the next two weeks you  can eat the exact same thing for $34.95. Not too shabby. Go on, book yourself a table.

This might be a good time for a visit to a steakhouse. At LarkCreekSteak, you can chow down on classic steakhouse fare—a chopped salad with bacon, chopped egg and a buttermilk-blue cheese dressing, followed by a 10-oz. strip steak with mashed potatoes and bread pudding with praline sauce—for, you guessed it, $34.95. I assure you there are few places to get a good steak for that price, and during a regular week that menu would set you back $46.75.

Another beef I have with Dine About Town menus is that so often they seem like an afterthought, the menu comprised of dishes you wouldn't really want to order ordinarily. You look at the prix fixe menu, you look at the regular menu, and all of a sudden the choices on the regular menu seem far more appetizing. But the good folks at Maverick have wisely made the main course of their DAT menu their excellent buttermilk fried chicken and grits, with a sunchoke salad to start and cookies and milk for dessert. And while this menu is not that much less expensive than usual (maybe about $5 less), that just serves to remind me that you can always have a great dinner at Maverick for around $40 any time you want—but why not get five bucks off?

There are, of course, some places that you might be better off just eating at sometime in February—Dosa, for example, is always a great deal, so even if you chose the most expensive options off of their DAT menu (a pomegranate and goat cheese salad, the superb lamb curry and, say, passion fruit custard with coconut tapioca) you'll still be paying the same amount you'd pay any old time. And while Namu's three courses do sound pretty delicious—a crudo du jour, those signature shittake dumplings and stonepot rice with vegetables, tofu, eggs and kobe steak, the price works out to be about the same, DAT notwithstanding.