Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Restaurant Week - Words of Wisdom

Having experienced different versions of Restaurant Week in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, and now Philadelphia, it's become a big debate whether or not it's worth it to partake in the process of culling the long lists of restaurants (and menus) for those few choice reservations.

As Philadelphia continues to prove itself a city worthy of culinary and gastronomic interest, I've been fairly impressed by the quality of the menus offered as part of the various neighborhood-oriented Restaurant Weeks. At present, the Center City Restaurant Week has been soaking up attention for the last two weeks of January.

For $35, one can enjoy a 3-course dinner, consisting of options for appetizer, entree, and dessert. And at some places, one can also find a 3-course lunch for $20. In looking at these price points, the first question is whether or not it's necessary to pay these prices for a quality meal at your restaurant of choice. For example, many of the restaurants on the Center City list pride themselves as neighborhood restaurants that patrons can afford to come back to day in and day out. Am I going to spend $35 on dinner for myself on a daily basis? Probably not. Am I going to splurge on a meal during restaurant week? Probably. Will I do so at a neighborhood restaurant? Debatable.

I certainly don't wish to short-change places like Twenty Manning Grill, Smokin' Betty's, or Oyster House simply because they're affordable (especially since they're all personal favorites), but is it worth it for me to indulge at these places when I could easily spend upwards of $40 and $50 at Amada, Estia, or Zahav? Where getting a meal for $35 is actually a bit of a steal? If you think about it, it's a tough call.

Another consideration in this decision-making process is the quality of the menus involved. For example, my brother, a notorious epicure, has pretty much sworn off Restaurant Weeks altogether. Having experienced his fair share of boring menus (and worse yet, poor delivery of boring menus), he has totally lost faith in the ability of restaurants to showcase themselves during these periods. If he sees another  basic arugula salad, roast chicken, wild salmon, or chocolate cake on a Restaurant Week menu, he's going to shoot himself. And yes, maybe these are staples for many establishments, but restaurants would do well to keep these items off their Restaurant Week menus.

Ultimately, in this day and age of foodie culture, patrons are often looking for more. And what Restaurant Weeks can do is help restaurants showcase their potential, their innovation, and their craft. What combination of ingredients will not only draw in new patrons by their descriptions alone, but more importantly, showcase those ingredients in unique ways? What kind of dishes will reflect and define the personality of a restaurant, such that patrons will want to experience it for the first time -- and then want to come back for more?

For example, take the Square 1682 menu that I chose at random from the Center City list. While this menu presents just a few too many choices (for my tastes at least), what it does well is offer patrons a wide range of options -- and often in dapper fashion. Although you'll recognize a few commonplace dishes like the endive and frisee salad, the New York strip, and the roasted pork chop, you'll also notice the South American shrimp, the chicken consomme, the black cod in porchetta, the Pennsylvania goat chili, and the trio of interesting gelato flavors. You'll even notice that the pan roasted chicken has been scaled up with spatzle, and the wild salmon with ginger-soy hijiki sauce. While not every patron is looking for a bizarre experience, a Restaurant Week menu should at least be able to distinguish itself from every other Restaurant Week menu. Otherwise, what's the point?

Working at the business school, I can't help but be in a constant mode of what I refer to as "CBA" -- cost-benefit analysis. If I'm spending my fairly non-existent spare waking hours going through menu after menu, it better be worth it. If I'm spending my fairly non-existent spare cash paying for my chosen menu(s), it better be worth it. I have very little patience for boring, and absolutely no tolerance for expensive and boring.

For experienced foodies and foodie newbies alike, two words to remember when checking out Restaurant Week: Choose wisely.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...