For me, good food has never been about high price. The best meal I've had recently involved local heirloom tomatoes, baby artichokes, fresh garlic and basil -- all purchased at a Manhattan farmers market -- and Italian mozzarella cheese from Joe's Dairy in SoHo.
We grabbed a bottle of wine and headed home to make a simple pasta sauce with roasted artichokes, and a tomato-and-mozzarella salad. The entire meal for two cost less than $30, including the wine, and I can still taste the artichokes.
In the past few years, however, a number of Manhattan restaurateurs have had the opposite idea -- namely, that when it comes to food, the more exorbitant, the better.
Whether it's a cocktail served in a glass with a diamond, a $1,000 ice cream sundae delivered in a Baccarat crystal goblet or a $1,000 omelet, over-the-top items are turning ordinary menus into decadent dining experiences.
But when the economy is shaky and gas is nearly $4 a gallon, I question whether these items have staying power. What would make a person drop that kind of cash on breakfast?
Even the experts agree that these high-end eats are driven more by hype than by hunger. "These types of food (make up) a very narrow market," says Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing, a consumer-insight firm specializing in the luxury market. "They're mostly sold for the buzz so that a restaurant can claim they have the highest-priced item."
To taste for myself, I recently indulged in an entire day of luxury eating: breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a late-afternoon snack. It began at Norma's restaurant at Le Parker Meridien hotel, a breakfast hot spot filled with tourists and power breakfasters doing business. None of the breakfast items is cheap. Most are in the $20-to-$30 range, and the menu includes such indulgent items as French toast with "orange-infused honey drizzle" and "wafflewiches" -- chocolate waffles with peanut butter and coffee-crunch filling.
But nothing stands out more than the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata, which has six eggs, the tail of a roasted Maine lobster, 10 ounces of Sevruga caviar . . . and a price tag of $1,000.
"We don't exactly consider it extravagant. We consider it everyday fare," Steven Pipes, the general manager of Le Parker Meridien hotel, tells me as I dig in.
It's good. The lobster is fresh, and the caviar -- which comes from Caspian Sea sturgeon and retails for $80 to $170 an ounce, depending on the quality -- adds just the right amount of saltiness.