Ah, Restaurant Week…so many choices (about 240, give or take) and within a time span of ten days. Lunch is $24.07 and dinner’s $35, which is relatively inexpensive for the high end restaurants, especially in Manhattan. Since it’s less than 1 1/2 weeks away, many ask readers ask me, “Where should I eat?” That’s a good question. So here’s my suggestions and expectations for the (in)famous Restaurant Week.
Reservations are an almost absolute must for any hot restaurant. A few hot restaurants who are participating for the Winter 2008 would be: Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and Nobu. The first three are all part of Danny Meyer’s empire; they stand out mainly because the trademark service and hospitality and good food. Nobu is self-explanatory. If you haven’t gotten a reservation by now, I would cross my fingers and hope there would be an opening for you.
My suggestions that you should go to are: the aforementioned except Nobu since I’ve heard from many friends and foodies who went there that it’s not so tasty and it’s all about the scene; Del Posto, A Voce (I went there last winter and it’s pretty good), Chanterelle, Cafe Boulud, and Anthos (I’m going to the latter two this month.). Others I heard was pretty good also was the Maze at the London Hotel, Butter and Perry St. I haven’t been to the latter two but several Chowhounders have said they had good experiences there.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, reservations are almost a must and it has to be done a month (or 28 days) prior to the expected dining date. Sure, it’s a pain in the neck but at least you don’t have to suffer waiting a long time for a table (since it’s packed with diners). Or you’ll just give up waiting for a table and wander around the streets for something to eat before you want to pass out from starvation.
Service tends to be spotty. Thousands (or millions?) of New Yorkers and tourists are aware of RW that they’re all packing in the participating restaurants. Wait staff are frazzled by the large number of diners hence the lack of attention that a diner would want, unless you have the whole afternoon or evening to casually eat at your own pace.
Food. The most important thing to me more than service, decor, and ambiance. I do admit it’s depends on which place you’re eating (in other words do your homework and read reviews of places you’re thinking of eating to), menus are limited (normally two choices per course, some places three) and how the kitchen’s functioning that day.
The latter is questionably the scariest answer anyone would ever want to face but it’s true. For example, when I went to the Modern Bar Room the past summer for dinner, I had a good food experience while service was lacking. When I stated this on Chowhound, others dissented. But generally, restaurants do stick to their guns and do serve what it’s expected.
Summary of Past Dining RW Experiences
During the times before I started writing, I’ve been to Fleur de Sel, Union Square Cafe, and Nougatine (the casual, slightly inexpensive spin-off of Jean Georges proper). All three were good but I find Union Square Cafe’s food a bit…blah. What I mean by “blah” was that it’s very ordinary, non-inventive food. But that’s my opinion. There’s a cult following who supported USC longer than my twenty-two years of existence on this planet who would beat me to the ground if I said that to their face.
As of the past summer, when I actually document all of my RW outings (Aureole (twice, believe it or not), The Modern Bar Room, Aquavit Cafe, Eleven Madison Park, and Asiate. The least memorable was Eleven Madison Park. Since I had their Gourmand menu a month prior to the actual lunch during RW, it was really underwhelming but at least service was attentive (also being surrounded with good friends soften the blow of the average food). The better ones were Aquavit Cafe and the Modern Bar Room. But the Modern’s service was a bit inattentive. Sure it was a Friday night but the wait service seemed almost inexistent and the dessert was a bit insipid.
Hopefully, this addresses most of your questions about New York City’s Restaurant Week. If not, drop a line on the comments.
Great post! I would also caution people not to dine at places that have an inexpensive prix fixed menu year-round.
Also, I’d mention that you often can’t reserve RW tables on Opentable, as the restaurant will hold back those tables. You’ll need to get on speed dial the moment their books open for the date you want.
Nobu and USC aren’t bad restaurants per se, just that they have menus that haven’t changed in years (or decades). What once was new and exciting us now old hat. And nowadays every Japanese place in town is serving Nobu’s signature dishes!
do you think it is a worthwhile experience? i tend to get the feeling from nymag and eater that those publications hate on RW since the food options are so limited. I admit, it is a lot of fun to get a group of friends together and have an excuse to go to a restaurant that we would not normally visit.
Kathryn: Thanks! Yes, I totally forgotten to mention those two important facts!
Danny: Hmm…after eating RW for the past three years, it ain’t too bad. Most tend to be good and a few are mediocre experiences.
Food options are limited, so if you’re really interested in a certain restaurant, just email them and ask for a copy of their menu so you’ll know if they have want you want to eat. And yes, RW is my excuse to eat out with a bunch of friends who I haven’t seen in a long while as well.
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