For something a notch cheaper and more casual, I like the three-course Sunday Suppers at Cafe Levain. The din quiets, the staff is less harried, and the homey dining room takes on a serenity not seen on Friday and Saturday evenings. The $25 meals ($20 for vegetarian) have become so popular among Sunday diners that chef Adam Vickerman serves only a few additional à la carte items. And if you call ahead to find out what's on the evening's menu, there's a good chance the chef himself will tell you.
If Vickerman's menu is inspired by cleaning out the refrigerator (the restaurant is closed on Mondays), his knack at transforming leftovers is so keen that dinner is never the worse for it. A few weeks ago, Sunday Supper began with a bowl of potato-leek soup meticulously garnished with a sculpture of sliced potato, which was perfect with slices of fresh baguette from the adjoining bakery. The soup was followed by grilled hanger steak with soft white polenta and a full-flavored mix of fall vegetables—Brussels sprouts, fennel, Swiss chard—sweetened by figs spiked with cinnamon and brandy. By the meal's finale—two artisan cheeses paired with frisée, roasted grapes, candied walnuts, and poached pear—I felt well fortified for fighting off an impending case of the Mondays.
Elegant Lunching at Vincent
Discount dining: Vincent's two-course lunch of linguini with smoked salmon and "Floating Island" dessert
While chef Vincent Francoual's titular restaurant offers a pleasant enough dinnertime prix fixe, budget diners might be more interested in the two-course, $12.50 lunch. For just a few more bucks than a sandwich and bag of chips at Jimmy John's, you'll have a sophisticated seat at Vincent's—with its sun-streaked windows, crisp linens, and sidewalk views, it feels like a place to lunch with a wealthy benefactor or literary agent.
A typical two-course meal offers a choice of salad, pasta, or sandwich with a gratis dessert. That means you can have, say, a lovely nicoise salad or bowl of seafood pasta for less than its à la carte price—plus, they might throw in a wine-poached pear or homemade sorbet. How sweet is that?