Saturday, May 26, 2012

Are New York prices always higher?

A Trader Joe's in lower Manhattan sells fruit by the piece.
Would you pay 79 cents for an orange, even if it's organic?

This seaweed snack weighs far more than the same product sold in Korean markets.

This sliced Yogurt Cheese costs the same in the Manhattan and Paramus stores.

I paid the same price in Paramus for this excellent extra-virgin olive oil.

At the charming Cafe Cluny in Manhattan, a cup of coffee will set you back $4, plus tax. 

Have you seen an intelligent discussion -- on TV or in newspaper food pages -- comparing restaurant prices in North Jersey and Manhattan?

You'd think the city's presumably higher labor, food, rental, insurance and transportation costs would translate into much higher prices than across the river in Bergen County.

But prices in Manhattan restaurants appear to be competitive, and in some cases lower.

Liquor profits

One reason is that most city restaurants can rely on big profits from ridiculously marking up wine and beer, a luxury not afforded a large number of BYOs in North Jersey.

City restaurants offering naturally grown or raised food on their menus also far outnumber their counterparts here.

Again, liquor profits allow them to buy and serve higher quality food.

Another factor is the number of times a restaurant can turn over its tables each night.

A Manhattan restaurant, in the course of the day, can seat 5, 10, 15 or more customers at the same table, while a place in Bergen County is lucky to turn over a table 5 times. 

Food-market prices

At the Whole Foods Markets in SoHo and Columbus Circle, prepared food is sold for $8.49 a pound -- 50 cents more than in the Paramus market.

But I was surprised to find several items I buy at the Paramus Trader Joe's -- including extra-virgin olive oil and sliced yogurt cheese -- are being sold for the same prices in the Trader Joe's on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan (Chelsea).

Table service

Great service also is more common in Manhattan, as we experienced last December at Lupa, an osteria from Chef Mario Batali, though a slow kitchen and small portions detracted from the experience.

I've had nothing but great service during Manhattan's winter and summer Restaurant Weeks, when a 3-course lunch is knocked down to $24.07, from about $45 on the a la carte menu. 

Service can be the undoing of a North Jersey restaurant, though some of our favorite ethnic BYOs still manage be attentive and deliver orders quickly.

Three that come to mind are Wondee's and Lotus Cafe in Hackensack, and So Gong Dong in Palisades Park.

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