214 N. Tryon St., in the Hearst Tower (the entrance is on College Street). 11 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays; noon-9:30 p.m. Saturday; noon-10 p.m. Sunday. Prices: $1.30 (spring roll) - $15.95 (Mulan Duck). Credit cards accepted. 704-333-5189; www.sohobistro.com.
One way to dine affordably is to share. But to make it work, there's got to be some compromise on what's ordered. It also helps if you're comfortable with your dining partner. These two things alone are a tall order, and when you slap on a $25 budget, can this social experiment succeed? I decided to give it a try at Soho Bistro in uptown.
I did my homework by going to www.sohobistro.com to get an idea of what appetizers and entrees were in our price range. I'll admit, I'd formed an opinion about what we would order before I met my husband for dinner. This was a mistake, but more on that later.
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We avoided paying for parking by leaving the car at his office. If you don't have that luxury, there was plenty of street parking on the Tuesday evening we went. Soho does a brisk takeout business, and the majority of folks hanging out at the hostess stand were getting food to go.
The brightest thing in Soho may be the colorful cityscape artwork. The restaurant is softly lit and even the servers are dressed in black. If they didn't create a breeze rushing from table to table, they might pass before your eyes without notice. So I give Soho one and a half thumbs up for speedy service. I'll reserve that other half thumb because our server disappeared indefinitely after dropping off our check. After a 10-minute wait, the hostess showed up to take our money.
Since I had gone over Soho's menu beforehand, I knew getting out for $25 for two would be a challenge. If we each got a bowl of soup (hot and sour, egg drop or wonton) and a spring roll and split an entree (Soho Platter; Tangerine Beef or House Lo Mein), it was doable. If we shared a bowl of soup and selected cheaper entrees, it was possible that we could each pick our own. My husband had his own idea: Asian summer rolls, one bowl of hot and sour soup and the Soho Platter.
Soho's Asian summer rolls consisted of a bundle of cool shrimp, lettuce, basil and cilantro encased in nearly translucent rice paper. A sweet brown sauce came with them, but beware. It was laced with red chile paste that heated things up considerably. For $4.95, we received three rolls, and while they weren't my first appetizer choice, they were an ideal pick on a hot day.
Hot and sour soup ($1.95) was perfectly balanced and filled with a gorgeous array of scallions, mushrooms and bamboo shoots. A bowl of fried noodles came with it. When I eat hot and sour soup, I like to crowd the bowl with the noodles. My husband drops in a few at a time. He also likes to leave his spoon sitting in the bowl, which meant I had to gently push it aside each time when I wanted a bite. After the fourth time, I (perhaps more aggressively than I should have) knocked his spoon against the side of the bowl as I tried to capture the last few drops.
I had suggested splitting an entree because at most places, portions are more than enough for one person. Such was the case with the Soho Platter, which was prepared tableside on a sizzling hot plate. Perfectly cooked shrimp, slices of chicken and beef, snow peas, broccoli and zucchini wore a sheer, garlicky brown sauce, served with a cinnamon-red bowl of white rice.
Toward the end of the meal, there was a moment when we were both full but there was a little bit left on the platter. It wasn't enough to take home and it would be a shame to throw it away. But who would get it? I asked my husband if he would like the last slice of chicken, one mushroom and two florets of broccoli. He looked over at me and gently said, “I left those for you.”
With tax and tip, the meal cost us $26.08. We blew the budget (a little) but I'd say this social experiment was a success.