Dining Deals

Discount Dining

Like Christina Uticone, who rounds up food deals around town for Eating Our Words, I've signed up for every site I've come across, even Gaggle of Chicks, "where moms flock for great deals", and no, I am not a mom. I get about 15 emails daily with new deals and discounts and find it hard to resist any food related bargains.

I've dined everywhere from Valentino Vin Bar to Les Givral's using a discount voucher and have learned a few cardinal rules:

Always read the fine print; there are usually a few restrictions.

A little research goes a long way. Look the menu up online if possible and read reviews if available. This gives you a good idea of what the restaurant specializes in and is known for. Ordering the right thing gives you a bigger bang for your buck.

Always, always, leave a tip based on the pre-discount amount. Times are tough for everyone!

It would only be appropriate that my first entry feature a Voice Deal of the Day, a $20 value food voucher purchased for $10 to Bowl Cafe.

I lived in the Neartown/Montrose area for a couple of years, I patronize Absinthe Brasserie on occasion and knew that the owners of the laid-back, incognito bar had opened a restaurant. But I'd never tried it, as I'm just not a salad or sandwich kind of girl. But this is another benefit to using discount sites -- it gives you a reason to try new places you otherwise wouldn't.

Bowl is a complete contrast to Absinthe. Where Absinthe is dark and moody, Bowl is bright and cheery. Service by the person behind the counter was helpful and friendly.

I did my research, looked up the menu and read through a few of the whopping 97 reviews on Yelp. All signs pointed to the El Capitan, a sandwich of prosciutto, brie, red onion, fresh basil and a honey drizzle on a toasted soft baguette. I ordered the half sandwich and the Butternut Squash soup of the day ($7.50 for the combo). My dining companion ordered the whole order of the Pesto Chicken sandwich ($7.25). We both got the drink special of the day called the Lemon-Rita, a lemonade that, despite the name, was made with vodka. This is where reading the fine print is important, as most of the vouchers do not apply to alcohol per TABC.

The total for the food had not reached $20, so we threw in an order of the Pulled Pork sandwich ($7.50), another hit according to the reviews.

We sat outside on the quaint patio, and our orders arrived fairly quickly. The Lemon-Rita, at $3 a pop, was a surprisingly potent drink.

Butternut squash soup is one of my favorites, but this version left me a little disappointed, as the soup was watery and lacked something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Overall, the flavors fell very flat.

The Pulled Pork sandwich was good overall. The ratio of meat to bread was just right, but when I hear "pulled pork," I think "smoky," and there just wasn't enough of that for me. The Thai Coleslaw it came with was sweet and complemented the meat well, but I couldn't figure out what made it Thai.

The Pesto Chicken sandwich looked delicious as it was set on the table. Upon closer inspection, it was deli-sliced chicken and not whole chicken breast as I would have expected. The sandwich was good, but again, the flavors were a little bland and flat. Although the description listed hearts of palm, which would have added a little texture and a slight tang that the sandwich needed, there were none to be found.

The reviews did not fail me when it came to the El Capitan. This is a sandwich that I will crave and try to imitate but fail miserably at doing so. It is such a simple sandwich, but all the ingredients work well together. The brie and honey, an obvious coupling, melds with the salty prosciutto, the red onions add a crunch and a pungency, and the basil adds a peppery touch with the french bread as the perfect supporting player.

As we finished our meal and our second round of Lemon-Ritas, I regretted that I had traded half of my El Capitan for her Pesto Chicken.

So would I come back to Bowl Cafe without a discount? I would perhaps come again for lunch on a nice weekend and sit on the patio. And if I did, I would definitely order the El Capitan and a drink special of the day.

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Minh T Truong