The Daily picks the best restaurants for this year's Restaurant Week
Diners can enjoy premium meals at budget prices
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 29, 2012 07:03
or most Tufts students, a meal off-campus means a trip to Anna’s Taqueria. The idea of heading to one of the city’s white-tableclothed establishments to sip on a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon while cutting into a dry-aged steak may seem foreign. However, during Restaurant Week, such a gastronomic fantasy can become reality.
The idea behind Restaurant Week is fairly simple: Give people the chance to dine at restaurants they would otherwise be unable to afford. A three-course dinner is set at $33.12, while lunch is offered at $20.12. Such pricing is quite appetizing, especially when you consider that an entree alone at some of the participating restaurants is more costly than the Restaurant Week combinations.
But Restaurant Week isn’t just for the diner’s benefit. It is an opportunity for the restaurants to energize sales. This event occurs biannually, during the weakest times of the calendar year for most of Boston’s restaurants. Restaurant Week is meant to attract more customers during these dead zones. For instance, in late summer, many Bostonians leave the city for vacations on Cape Cod. In early spring, diners tend to be relatively budget-conscious. While a restaurant might only seat 30 tables on a given Tuesday night, it is not surprising to encounter a restaurant at full capacity during Restaurant Week. During this period, profits are amassed through volume sales, not pricing.
Restaurant Week is also a form of marketing for these businesses. The discounted meals lure in new diners who might be inclined to try regularly priced offerings in the future.
With only a few days left in Restaurant Week, I highly encourage you all to explore the gastronomic offerings of Boston. There are plenty of restaurants for you to try, and there’s no better time to see what is available.
But you should remember to enter Restaurant Week with modified expectations. Know that just because you are eating at some of Boston’s best restaurants, you are not going to get the “full” experience. Many of the dishes are exercises in prosaic preparation. That means you shouldn’t expect to get made-to-order desserts like souffles or expensive entrees like butter-poached lobster.
However, fancy dishes have never been the point; rather, Restaurant Week is a chance to experience a chef’s style or take in the ambiance of a swanky establishment. And, as the expression goes, one should never look a gift horse in the mouth.
Also keep in mind that not all menus are created equal. Lots of places will try to keep costs low by featuring inexpensive dishes. If you’re going to spend $20-30, it might as well be on something you actually want. The Restaurant Week website [restaurantweekboston.com] has a copy of almost every participating restaurant’s menu. Do your research and sift through the menus until you find a restaurant serving fare that is of interest to you.
Also, learn to read between the lines. Many places offer “supplements” to the prix fixe menu. Several places happily let you order something special — foie gras or premium cuts of meat — but at an extra cost. Look for the word supplement under the item in question. If you’re willing to take the plunge, then go for it; if not, keep looking for something else.
Alternatively, pick a restaurant based on ambiance. If you want a swanky place in Back Bay, try Barbara Lynch’s No. 9 Park. Want something more casual? Try Lynch’s more casual spot, Sportello’s. Restaurant Week is a time to indulge and try something entirely new. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ignore familiar faces — after all, The Foundry On Elm is offering a great menu. But there’s so much more to Boston; why not go explore a different part of the city?
Many chefs during Restaurant Week feature dishes that highlight the chef’s oeuvre. Nowhere is this clearer than at Market, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Boston restaurant. At Market, the lunch and dinner offerings this week were cherry picked from the actual a la carte menu. At lunch, for example, the salmon fillet is slowly baked at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until it has the tenderness of room-temperature butter. While the cut of fish is slightly smaller than it would be on the full-price menu, there is no difference in preparation. And in typical Jean-Georges fashion, the salmon is served with unexpected flavors — in this case, passion fruit and black olive.