Serving Cents

By Jen Wieczner | |

All menus are not created equal—especially when it comes to prices. Here’s how far your dining dollar goes in each New England state.


In Boston, it’s hard to get a meal for two at a nice restaurant for less than a couple hundred, once you add in a bottle of wine plus tax and tip. Does the same hold true in New England’s other cities? We dined at six top-notch spots around the region and found out exactly what two people can eat for $150—and whether you’ll have to share that sinful dessert.

Clio
Boston, MA

White asparagus salad, $18
English pea soup, $14
14-ounce assiette of lamb, $42
1.75-pound Maine lobster, $36
Frozen timbale of apricot, $11
Subtotal, $121
5 percent sales tax, $6.05
18 percent gratuity, $21.78
Grand total, $148.83

Tasting Notes: There’s no avoiding it: Dinner at Clio is expensive. But such is the price you pay for a world-renowned chef and central Boston location. To stay under budget, diners should forgo wine and the second dessert to concentrate on chef Ken Oringer’s celebrated entrées. "If Clio were in Paris, the meals would be twice the price," he says. "We’re already taking quite a hit." True foodies will recognize what Oringer terms a "bargain," after considering the salad’s white asparagus is imported from Germany or France, and a pound of peas is juiced by hand for every bowl of soup.
370 Commonwealth Ave., 617-536-7200, cliorestaurant.com.

Trattoria Delia
Burlington, VT

Shrimp and arugula salad, $9.50
Prosciutto di parma salad, $9
Herb-marinated half chicken, $18.50
8-ounce filet mignon, $28
Panna cotta with raspberries, $5.50
Homemade gelati, $5
Agostina Pieri Rosso Di Montalcino 2004, $41 per bottle
Subtotal, $116.50
9 percent sales tax, $10.49
18 percent gratuity, $20.97
Grand total, $147.96

Tasting Notes: Many of Delia’s greens come from its own garden, letting chef-owner Tom Delia "keep our prices on the low side." The filet rings up at under $30, but Vermont laws give liquor distributors brand monopolies, so wine can break the bank and BYOB is not an option. Luckily, even with the whopping 9 percent sales tax, the menu allows diners to order myriad items and, should they spring for a little vino but need to stay sober, Delia’s will cork the bottle and send it home with them.
152 Saint Paul St., 802-864-5253, trattoriadelia.com.

Fore Street
Portland, ME
Roasted parsnip soup, $8
Turnspit-roasted half chicken, $19
10-ounce steak, $23
Caramel and cinnamon panna cotta, $9
2005 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir, $60 per bottle
Subtotal, $119
7 percent sales tax, $8.33
18 percent gratuity, $21.42
Grand total, $148.75

Tasting Notes: "Maine diners are conservative," says Fore Street chef-partner Sam Hayward on why he piles his plates so high. "Value, and the perception of value, is really what it’s all about." Most ingredients are sourced locally, but "there just aren’t enough steers in Maine," he says with a laugh, so Hayward is forced to import meat from all over the U.S., which drives steak prices up. However, the restaurant sells aged wine bottles for less than half the typical 220 percent wholesale markup.
288 Fore St., 207-775-2717, forestreetrestaurant.com.

The Dunaway Restaurant at Strawbery Banke
Portsmouth, NH

Black truffle tagliatelle, $6
8-ounce braised beef cheek, $32
7-ounce pan-roasted duck, $27
Pear clafouti, $8
2005 Ridge Zinfandel, $40 per half-bottle
Subtotal, $113
8 percent sales tax, $9.04
18 percent gratuity, $20.34
Grand total, $142.38

Tasting Notes: Shopping is tax-free in Portsmouth, but diners aren’t so lucky in the city "that’s on the horizon of being a culinary epicenter," according to Dunaway chef Ben Hasty. But you get what you pay for. The meat here is top-notch, delivered up to six times a week from nearby purveyors. For oenophiles, a high-quality half-bottle is the smart option: Expensive vintages are marked up a lot less than midlevel ones, and, while demi-sizes usually cost proportionally more, the Dunaway simply halves the price of the full bottles.
66 Marcy St., 603-373-6112, dunawayrestaurant.com.

New Rivers
Providence, RI

Spring pea soup, $8
Shad roe salad, $13
8-ounce top sirloin, $27
Roasted half-chicken, $27
Lemon tartlet, $10
2004 Albarino "Berganz," $32 per bottle
Subtotal, $117
8 percent sales tax, $9.36
18 percent gratuity, $21.06
Grand total, $147.42

Tasting notes: Chef-owner Bruce Tillinghast says trendy wines take on significant markups, so he stocks unique blends like the popular Spanish white Albariño. While dish prices are three-and-a-half times the original cost of the food, portions are hefty—chances are two people will have trouble polishing off the lemon tartlets for dessert.
7 Steeple St., 401-751-0350, newriversrestaurant.com.

Firebox Restaurant
Hartford, CT

4 Connecticut oysters, $9
Butternut squash soup, $8
Citrus and endive salad, $7
Five chilled jumbo shrimp, $10
Roasted half chicken, $20
Braised beef short ribs, $27
French fries with aioli, $5
Tahitian vanilla bean panna cotta, $7
Tulmeadow Farm ice cream, $7
2005 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir, $20 for two glasses
Subtotal, $120.50
6 percent sales tax, $7.23
18 percent gratuity, $21.69
Grand total, $149.42

Tasting notes: Sip individual glasses of wine and save up for farm-fresh menu items that "come from down the street," says general manager Dan Meiser, who adds that the chicken is raised specially for his eatery. This local-ness keeps costs down, and the low tax rate leaves enough funds for raw-bar extras.
539 Broad St., 860-246-1222, fireboxrestaurant.com.