Sometimes you just don’t want to make decisions. “Where to eat” is a famously fraught decision to make, particularly when more than one person is involved. Living in a city like New York, which is spoiled with vast choices of eateries, doesn’t make it easier.
But Spotluck does.
Spotluck is an app, free to download and use, that takes the stress out of deciding where to eat. It works like this: you spin a wheel and the app randomly selects a restaurant for you. Simple as that — one touch and your dinner decision is made for you.
Aside from choosing a restaurant, it will generate a discount for your meal, anywhere between 15 and 30 percent off. The exact discount is determined by algorithm, based on factors including day of the week, time of day, and even the weather.
The app organizes restaurants by neighborhood, so on top of making your decisions for you and giving you a discount, it’s also a valuable tool for neighborhood exploration. On any given day, Spotluck allows you to spin once per neighborhood.
In the event that you don’t like what you’ve spun — say, for example, a vegetarian spins a barbeque spot — you have two alternate options. You can try your luck spinning in another neighborhood, or you can go to any other participating restaurant with a standard 10 percent discount (15 percent during the early bird period, 3 to 5 p.m.).
Spotluck isn’t a boon just for eaters, either. The discounts it gives to users tend to be on the higher side during notoriously slow times for restaurants, like earlier in the evenings, on Mondays, or when the weather is poor. This is huge for local, independently-owned spots; it gets butts in seats that otherwise would be empty.
Bushwick Daily photographer Darragh Dandurand and I took Spotluck for a spin in Bushwick, one of the app’s newest service areas. There are currently eight participating restaurants. We spun and landed on Falansai with a 25% discount.
Falansai is a Vietnamese restaurant, with Chinese and French influences, in a warehouse-heavy area of Bushwick just a few blocks from the Morgan Avenue L train station. It’s owned and operated by Henry Trieu, previously a chef at San Francisco’s renowned The Slanted Door. I’ve walked passed Falansai a number of times during my wanderings and always wanted to go, so our Spotluck spin was rather serendipitous.
We started with the Autumn Rolls, a play on the classic Summer Roll with earthy beets, tart green apples, and refreshing blackberry-soy dipping sauce. The stir-fried crab and glass noodles in sade sauce was rich yet light, and the pork belly, caramelized in a clay pot with quail eggs and daikon, was deeply satisfying.
The plant eaters among us will have no issue dining at Falansai, as there are plenty of vegetarian options. We got the vegetarian combo, opting for the sweet-and-just-a-touch-spicy tamarind-tomato lotus roots, the rich, earthy, silky-smooth pumpkin curry, and bright, vibrant sautéed eggplant.
I spoke to Trieu about Spotluck, who signed Falansai up because he liked the way the app looked.
“It reminds me of gambling,” Trieu said, chuckling. “There’s plenty of discount apps out there. We tried Groupon for a few weeks and we didn’t like it.”
Displeased with his experience with Groupon, Trieu wasn’t sure he would try another discount app. But with it’s unique premise, Spotluck caught his eye. He’s hoping that it brings a different, more dedicated type of customer into Falansai than Groupon.
Well fed and very pleased, we got the check. Including tax, it came to about $59 — Falansai is very reasonably priced, especially given the quality of food they serve. With the 25% discount Spotluck generated for us, our pre-tip total was about $44 with tax.
It was a night of firsts — my first time using Spotluck, my first time dining at Falansai. And, without a doubt, I’ll be back for both.