Six Things We Hate About Restaurant Week...and Six Places Worth Going To
Restaurant week began on Monday. So at participating restaurants, you can sit down for a three-course lunch for $25 or a three-course dinner for $38, now through March 7.
Most of the suckers that buy into this ludicrous semi-annual marketing mega-scheme think it's a great opportunity to visit fancy places like Le Cirque and Cafe Boulud on the cheap, and yes, you get to visit these places, and it is comparatively cheap, given what you would usually pay for a meal in such a place. But we see the event as more of a miserly menagerie than anything else.
Since when is lunch three courses? We can't remember the last time we sat down for a multi-course meal before 6 p.m., and for good reason: Not only is it time-consuming, a full-on feast requires as many drinks to wash it down and a digestive nap to follow.
Or maybe not. Because another thing that sucks about restaurant week is those first courses, which are usually a few bites, consisting mostly of...
Ho-hum soups and subpar salads. Most often, your first course WILL be a small portion of either silky-smooth pureed soup (it's winter, so that'll be squash or root veg) or simple consomme (maybe with a dumpling or two, or a float of truffle oil), or some salad invariably involving too much frisee, maybe with bacon and/or egg and/or radish. And while we're the first to enjoy a light, bright, brothy soup on a cold winter's day, we'd rather pay $3 for a quart involving wontons.
You get what you pay for. If you've been dying to lunch at Ai Fiori, but the sticker price ($42 for two courses, plus $18 per additional course) kept you away, don't go in thinking you're getting a deal at $25 for three courses. In three courses, the restaurant week menu offers the following primary ingredients: greens, butternut squash and brown butter, pate and frisee, tagliatelle, spinach and cheese, skate and fennel, chicken and parsnip. All perfectly fine ingredients, but about what you'd expect from a cozy, affordable neighborhood joint in Brooklyn. Consider now, the offerings on the regular menu: fluke crudo and caviar, lobster and black truffle, foie gras and endive, striped bass, braised veal, dry-aged strip steak...Does $25 for three courses seem like such a deal now?
Another thing: Look closely and you'll notice that many restaurants offer the the exact same menu for lunch and dinner, which means you're paying an extra $13 solely to be there after sunset.
The waitstaff hates you and can't wait for you to leave. Restaurant week menus are more work for less pay for everyone working the floor. Most normal lunches are one course, maybe two, plus a drink or two, and it'll probably cost each guest $25 to $40 to dine. During restaurant week, everyone's eating their three crappy courses and paying only $25 per person, and since the whole premise of restaurant week is that it's a DEAL, people get pretty pinchy with their pennies when it comes to drinks. They'll take the included coffee/tea/soda, ask for fifty refills, and not tip a dime more than the $5 that is 20 percent of their $25 meal, if they're of a more generous garden variety diner.
The chef hates restaurant week and can't wait for it to be over. Going back to the whole ingredients thing: While some chefs may embrace the challenge of making a decent menu for under $9 (theoretically, food cost should be 30 to 35 percent of sale price for a restaurant to profit on food...so for a $25 meal, cost should be less than $8.75), most chefs aren't super excited to be dealing with turnips, grains, and cheap meats when they're used to working with foie gras and caviar. Also, most of these chefs are still cranking out their usual lunch alongside the restaurant week menu, which means they're serving two menus instead of one -- two menus they have to prep and plate and train their line to create.
So many of them keep it simple and phone it in. Which means...
You're going to get generic desserts. We looked at ten restaurant week menus and came out with five flourless cakes, two chocolate pot de cremes, and an assortment of other gluten-free chocolate options. Other usual suspects include the single-scoop ice-cream sundae, the panna cotta, and the tiramisu.
But there are a few deals to be had...Six decent picks on the next page.
Delmonico's, 56 Beaver Street, 212-509-1144 Menu (lunch & dinner): Iceberg wedge, boneless short rib, baked Alaska ($5 extra). This place wins for offering lots and lots of choices and $30 bottles of wine.
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