Living in the outrageously-price-inflated Bay Area on a shoestring budget has taught me how to eat well with minimal pocket change. Although I cannot afford to splurge on an appetizer of "foie gras galantine encrusted with oven-roasted macadamia nuts and served with chiffonade of arugula"; as a cool and satisfying substitute, I can ravenously devour a banh-mi sandwich smeared heavily with liverwurst and stuffed with pickled carrots and fresh cilantro for under $2.50.
Okay. . . Maybe a banh mi sandwich is not the equivalent of a foie gras sampler, but there are many alternatives in the Bay Area for a thrifty gourmet.
For instance, as opposed to ordering a pricey dessert of "crème bruleé with passion fruit essence," hop down to the Civic Center Farmer's Market and buy a small plastic basket of voluptuous purple figs to accompany a egg custard tart from a Chinatown bakery.
San Francisco has an abundance of fresh organic produce and easy access to ethnic products not readily available anywhere else. It's not hard, but if you know where to look, you can find some very affordable places--like family-owned produce shops in San Francisco's ethnic enclaves. Additionally, the food community here is open to sharing techniques and teaching others how to make delicious gourmet food. (Just look at how many PBS food shows are based here in the Bay Area.) With the arsenal provided by the Bay Area community, one can still have legendary restaurant-style meal, at a portion of the price.