The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: The year in review: Best deals of 2011


Ten for $10 at McCormick & Schmick’s. A recent discovery that blew my socks off: McCormick & Schmick’s fun Ten for $10 lunch menu featuring flavorful fare and plentiful portions. The menu is varied, with everything from its “famous” cheeseburger to a chicken Caesar salad, so even seafood snubbers will be happy.

Anything Groupon. It seemed gimmicky to me at first, but I’m now a believer in the power of Groupon, which I’ve used at a variety of spots, from Pyramid Alehouse to Masullo Pizza. It always shaves about half off the bill, and I haven’t found any catches so far. To stay on top of the deals, sign up for e-mail alerts at

Mini-desserts. For $3 apiece, I’ve sunk my spoon into a rich warm chocolate cake with caramel sauce at 33rd Street Bistro and a baby banana cream pie at Roxy—just two examples of another of my favorite continuing trends, mini-desserts at mini-prices. For me, ordering baby desserts started out as a cost-cutting measure and ended up being a lesson in “less is more”: My sweet tooth is always more than satisfied.

Selland’s $25 dinner for two. In a smart marketing move that packs ’em in, the popular East Sacramento market-cafe has been offering a $25 dinner-for-two weekly special—and it includes a bottle of wine. Recent example: paella with chicken, chorizo and shrimp, a green salad and a bottle of Monte Oton Spanish red wine. For two. For $25. Oh, yeah.

Freebies at Il Fornaio. One of the most beautiful restaurants in Sacramento continues to offer one of the most beautiful deals: free appetizers. The action kicks off at 5 p.m. weeknights, when the staff starts trotting out platter after platter of little nibbles, from slim slices of pizza to deviled eggs to finger sandwiches. Get there early (it ends at 7) and make sure to grab some bruschetta, fresh and tomato-y and bursting with basil: It’s the star of the show.

Trader Joe’s treats. OK, so it’s not a restaurant experience. But when you’re running errands and running on empty, it is awfully nice to swoop into Trader Joe’s and stumble upon free coffee (always fresh) and a free food sample. Some of my recent faves: pesto tortellini, orange chicken, a warm chocolate croissant.

Hail to happy hour. Possibly the hottest trend of the year, happy hours are everywhere—and may it continue. I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent many evenings with girlfriends, noshing on appetizers and sloshing down drinks, for maybe half of what we otherwise would have spent on a full-fledged dinner. Among the most memorable: juicy Niman Ranch mini-burgers for $3 at Lounge ON20 and the incredible fritto misto ($5) at Spataro.

All in all, it’s been a great Dollar-Wise year. Can’t wait to see what new bargains 2012 will bring!