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Pocket Change

Taxes, oil, recession! If you’ve picked up a paper, flipped through the channels or simply walked outside in the last year, these words are becoming all too familiar. For many, it’s been a struggle just to pay the bills, nevermind the fun.

I like to face adversity. I’m turning off CNN and stepping out my front door with nothing but $35 and a sense of curiosity to find the thrifty treasures I know this city is hiding.

My first frugal find had my fork dipping in the pool of dining deals. I’m not talking about two medium pizzas for the price of one — more like three courses for $35. Ah, yes, Philadelphia dining weeks. There’s the bi-annual Center City Restaurant Week, to be held again Sept. 14 to 19, University City Dining Days, coming once more July 24 to Aug. 31, and, most recently, Eight Days of Eats.

The latter featured more than 20 restaurants close to home in the South Street area that offered select menu items — mainly one appetizer, entree and dessert — for an affordable $30. Add tax and gratuity and I came in right on budget. This particular event featured chains like Kildare’s, casual eateries like Downey’s and chic places like Chick’s Cafe & Wine Bar.

A friend recommended Bistro Romano, 120 Lombard St., last Wednesday, the final day of the event. I figured the place would be packed, but when I walked in, the only patron at the piano bar was the other half of my dinner party. We headed downstairs to eat and maybe half a dozen tables were filled, making a good atmosphere for conversation.

I chose the white bean soup as my appetizer, a veal saltimbocca entr�e and a chocolate torte for dessert. I had options, though. There was the lobster ravioli or a salad to start. More veal than you can shake a stick at for the entr�e, along with chicken, lasagna and fish, and dessert was anything from the dolci tray. So, no, the menu didn’t seemed dumbed down for the Days and, thus, worth every penny I pinched.

Eight Days has ended and won’t be back until next spring, but there’s hope for number-crunchers. When the weather makes a Shore trip seem drab or mid-week blues have you running from work, summer means restaurant deals — you just have to look. The Italian fare at Bistro Romano can be had at the $33.95 "Wow Wednesday," which offers a choice of any appetizer, entr�e and dessert. The check may come in a little higher than the annual special, but it’s still a steal.

Also, get your datebook out because Restaurant Week, where partaking is almost like a social event in itself, will be here quicker then the next dining trend. You can bet reservations for the hottest spots are already being taken. If your appetite for a meal deal is still unsatisfied, there’s more than 20 restaurants (from Fatou & Fama to World Cafe Live to Rae Restaurant) participating in the University City event with three-course prix fixe dinners starting at $15.

There is always someplace new to go or something new to try, but the wallet rarely cooperates. At least twice a month in this spot, the two worlds will live in peace.

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