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The joys of dining out: Restaurants are our friend

Well, the new year has finally dawned upon us. As 2011 gets underway, thoughts undoubtedly turn to the economy and how we, as Americans, can stretch a dollar bill and make George Washington grin like he’s certifiably insane.

In an effort to streamline our finances, there are some extravagances that we can live without: sky-high mortgages, gold- and diamond-encrusted dog chains, designer clothes to fill an already overflowing closet or a weeks’ stay at a $3,000 a night resort.

While many things in life are sacrificed for the good of our wallets, Americans still have a fondness for dining out. And it is no wonder. With a plethora of dining choices in cities all across the country, options are seemingly endless. From the very best of American fare to the most flavorful of Chinese cuisine. Thai to Mexican, Italian to Mediterranean and beyond, we are a nation of eaters.

While this fact may lay in direct contrast to achieving a svelte figure, a manly physique or a tiny waistline, somehow that does not seem to be a deterrent when on a mission to fill the hollowed-out and empty void in our bellies. This nation has been under fire for some time now for being too fat. Okay, so there is a great deal of validity in this, but the saving grace is that the entire country isn’t overweight. And being overweight, obese, fat, rotund, stout, hefty—or whatever words you chose to describe the apple shaped individual who sits next to you on the subway, the pear shaped man who walks past you in the mall or the equally chunky couple who sit at the table next to you in a restaurant and order half the menu items . . . with a diet soda—does not mean that a good meal is totally out of the question.

Food is a life sustaining force. The better the meal, the happier we are. The fact of the matter is this: We love a good meal and, for many of us, we especially love it when someone else does the cooking.

Dining out at a restaurant satisfies in a myriad of ways. For some, it is that much needed release from being tied to a kitchen all week, fighting off the ravages of all-purpose flour under the fingernails, rice shrapnel in the hair and grease stains adorning the front of our shirt. For others, it is to mark a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary, to celebrate a victory or herald the commencement of great beginnings like a new job or an engagement. Still for others it could be a gathering of old friends to share laughter, memories, good times and comforting food.

But do people really need a reason to display the “This Kitchen Is Closed” sign in their own homes and opt for a relaxing meal somewhere besides in their dining room? Because we have the freedom to do so—and some may diligently save their pennies in anticipation of it—we really don’t need a convoluted or elaborate reason to grab our coats, run out the door with car keys in hand and speed to our nearest restaurant . . . except to say that we simply want to eat out.

Cooking at home is, in most cases, far less cheaper than eating out (unless, of course, a McDonald’s happy meal is your cuisine of choice), yet every day, tables in restaurants—some more than others—are filled with those hungry diners who are not opposed to parting with their hard earned greenbacks in exchange for a sumptuous meal. Whether it’s fine dining at a famous Michelin star rated restaurant, casual dining at a quaint corner bistro, or rolling up the sleeves and chowing down in serious fashion at the neighborhood rib shack, Americans will get our fill of food.

Despite the rise in the numbers on the scales, there should be little shame in this thought.

Most of us do not eat to excess in a gluttonous frenzy. We eat because, basically, food is good. True, some people are emotional eaters who turn to food when their emotions are out of whack. Then there are those who eat out of sheer boredom. Still, some seek refuge in a plate of food, a bag of chips or an overstuffed sandwich because there’s that nagging pang of hunger that is inescapable. But a fundamental purpose is served by eating, so this bears repeating: food is a life sustaining force.

So why not stow away those pots and pans, fold that apron and hang it on the back of the door, get out of the kitchen in record time and treat yourself to a nice meal out. Hey, why not tonight? No time like the present.

Dining out is good for the soul . . . and the stomach.

To read an abbreviated version of this article, check out my Fairfield County Restaurant Examiner column HERE.


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