You can get around paying top dollar at top restaurants if you know about a little secret called lunch. OK, so portions may be a bit smaller and choices limited. But on the upside, high-end restaurants can be much quieter during the day, meaning you'll probably get more attentive service. Plus, there's an aura of privilege in a long, leisurely lunch you just don't get at 8 o'clock on a Friday night.
So, let the eating start with these four choices (star ratings below are based on lunch only):
399 Jericho Tpke., Jericho 516-433-9100 palioristorante.com
CHEFS: Massimo Fedozzi and Juan Mercado
OVERVIEW: At this seductive new Italian restaurant, the scene is much more tranquil during the day than at night, when the noise level zooms.
AT LUNCH: On the a la carte menu, pollo al mattone (chicken under a brick) means a pan-seared boneless organic skin-on Murray chicken breast with tiny onions and locally grown potatoes in a white wine sauce with balsamic vinegar for $14.
COMPARE AT DINNER: A nearly identical dish goes for $24.
BOTTOM LINE: At lunch, the portion is appropriately smaller, the sauce and accompaniments just a bit different.
RUTH'S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE :
600 Old Country Rd., Garden City 516-222-0220 ruthschris.com
CHEF: Rigo Acosta
OVERVIEW: The Garden City branch of this nationwide chain is the definition of a power spot, with red meat its main (but not only) attraction. (Little known fact: The hamburger here, available at lunch only for $12.95, just may be the Island's best, served with superb hand-cut fries.)
AT LUNCH: A Caesar salad served with 4-ounces of grilled sliced filet costs $13.95
COMPARE AT DINNER: A first-course Caesar salad is $7.95; a petite 8-ounce filet, $31.95.
BOTTOM LINE: The lunch serving of sliced filet on the Caesar salad is super steak, velvety and rich.
KITCHEN A BISTRO :
532 North Country Rd., St. James 631-862-0151 kitchenabistro.com
CHEF: Eric Lomando
OVERVIEW: Weekend dinner reservations at this small BYOB must be made about a month in advance. In the afternoon, it's easier to get in and is a magnet for oenophiles, who bring their most treasured bottles to relax over meticulously sourced and crafted food.
AT LUNCH: On Lomando's ever-changing light-lunch menu, entrees are all $13. One day, the choice might include roast ocean trout with salsify or roast organic chicken with barley risotto. And it costs only $8 for sandwiches or Kobe beef burgers.
COMPARE AT DINNER: On weekends, a three-course prix fixe is $42; all other nights, entrees cost $25.
BOTTOM LINE: While Eric Lomando's superb dinners are still one of Long Island's top values, his lunches are a veritable steal.
PANAMA HATTIES :
872 Jericho Tpke., Huntington Station 631-351-1727 panamahatties.com
CHEF/OWNER: Matthew Hisiger
OVERVIEW: Panama Hatties has a reputation as a pricey special-occasion spot, where elegant food is served in subdued surroundings.
AT LUNCH: Addictive warm salt-topped rolls kick off a three-course prix fixe, at $21. Lunch might start with a first course of warm baby spinach salad followed by an entree of pan-seared diver sea scallops over a mix of roasted corn, bacon and Brussels sprouts. A conclusion might be an apple-pear tart.
COMPARE AT DINNER: A three-course menu is $65 a person. You might begin with Caesar salad, followed by pan-seared wild salmon with roasted corn, pearl onions, English peas and a Newburg sauce. Dessert choices are the same as at lunch.
BOTTOM LINE: What a coup, escaping into this leisured sphere in the afternoon.
Prix-fixe dinner steal:
West End Cafe 187 Glen Cove Rd., Carle Place 516-294-5608 westendli.com
OVERVIEW: Chef-owner Bill Holden's cooking is as contemporary as it is comforting.
WHEN: 5-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-6 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3-9 p.m. Sunday. The three-course "twilight" prix fixe offers many options. Dinner might begin with crisp duck tacos or steamed mussels, followed by barbecue-glazed double-cut pork chops or pecan-crusted tilapia. Dessert? Bourbon pecan pie or molten chocolate cake.