As someone who lives alone and has yet to master the culinary arts, I have for years been trying to convince people that it’s actually cheaper or the same price for me to dine out than to shop at the grocery store and cook for myself.  I know you moms out there are probably raising your eyebrows right now, so I decided to perform an experiment to put this theory to the test.  And so, the Dinner For Two experiment began.

The hypothesis: Using a $25 gift certificate for dinner for two will be less expensive than grocery shopping and preparing the same meal at home.

The result: I was right! Our DELICIOUS meal at Piazza Bella in Chicago cost $80.80, including two glasses of wine that weren’t included in the discount and a generous tip because the wait staff was fantastic.  A rough calculation of the ingredients required to make the same meal at home via Peapod’s website ran $87.12 before tax and without the addition of wine.

The process:  I began by selecting a restaurant nearby that I’ve heard rave reviews about.  Armed with a $25 certificate and a friend, I set out for the dining adventure.

We decided to splurge a bit and began with an appetizer, the Melenzane E Patate In Salsa Rossa Piccante Con Crostini (eggplant and potatoes in a spicy red sauce served with croutons.)  This delicious dish also featured onions and green peppers.  Wanting to save room for our main course, we had half of it boxed up to take home (bonus points for leftovers!).

For the main course, I had what I was told is the most popular pasta dish on the menu, the Farfalle Alla Buttera (bowtie pasta with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and mushrooms in a pink sauce.)  It most definitely was better than anything I ever could have made in my own kitchen – the pink sauce, a delicious tomato cream, was amazing.


My dining companion went with the special for the evening: Filet Mignon with mushrooms, peas and risotto.  Cooked to perfection, it was definitely a step up from anything we’d conjure up on the grill at home!

For dessert, one of the servers we’d been chatting with recommended a special dish that’s not listed on the menu: Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with vanilla ice cream…I don’t think I need to tell you how amazing that was, the name should give you a pretty good idea.

After we had devoured the cake, we presented our certificate to the server using the app on my iPhone and they happily adjusted our bill accordingly.  I have to say that the friendly wait staff, ambience of a cozy Italian restaurant in a quiet neighborhood and incredible cooking was something that I absolutely think is worth paying for, whether it’s cheaper than cooking at home or not – but fortunately for this blog, it turned out that it was!

The next day, after enjoying my remaining pasta for lunch, I used Peapod’s online shopping tool to add up the ingredients that would be necessary to replicate the meal at home.  Leaving some room for error (I didn’t include spices or know exact ingredients for the recipes, and I cheated and purchased a chocolate cake mix in a box, the total still came in at more than our delicious and enjoyable evening at Piazza Bella.

We encourage you to try this theory yourselves and let us know the results!  If you have half as much fun as I did in the process, the experiment will be well worth it!