September 29, 2006

Restaurant Week Wrap-Up

Another Restaurant Week here in Center City has come and gone. As always, the draw of this event is the chance to get a three-course meal at a chic Center City restaurant for only $30. Getting a good meal, though, can be a serious challenge. The reason this is so is because not all restaurants take the same approach to Restaurant Week. Some restaurants see it as an opportunity to shine and showcase their cuisine. Others, however, are only trying to cash in. In addition, some restaurants, for whatever reason, serve only their limited Restaurant Week menu (which I previously complained about here), depriving customers of the opportunity to experience their more celebrated fare. And, of course, there’s always a chance that the hungry throngs will overwhelm the restaurant’s staff, affecting the quality of both the service and the meal.

It’s hit or miss.

Chez Colette

During this Restaurant Week we decided to try Chez Colette, a French restaurant located in the Sofitel. Chez Colette wasn’t necessarily my first choice (I waited a little too long to make reservations), but I had heard some good things about it so we decided to give it a shot. As soon as we arrived at 7:00 p.m., though, we immediately noticed two things: (1) the place was empty; and (2) they were only serving from their Restaurant Week menu. These were not encouraging signs.

French Onion Soup

We both started off with a cup of the French Onion Soup. The soup was light and not too salty. It was topped with a mix of Gruyere and some other type of “Swiss cheese.” However, the other “Swiss” took something away from the punch I’ve come to expect from a French onion soup topped only with Gruyere.

Lemon Chicken Breast with Mushroom Risotto

The server recommended the Lemon Chicken Breast with Mushroom Risotto. The entire dish, as you can see, was swimming in an overwhelmingly rich butter sauce, making it rather one-dimensional. Unfortunately, the chicken was dry and overcooked. The Mushroom Risotto, which I assume was the focus of this dish, also was disappointing. It was gummy, and although there were several sliced pizza-style mushrooms mixed throughout, it had virtually had no mushroom flavor at all.

Seared Tilapia, Grilled Asparagus Israeli Couscous in a Beurre Blanc Sauce

My wife picked the Seared Tilapia, Grilled Asparagus Israeli Couscous in a Beurre Blanc Sauce. The tilapia was fresh; however, it, too, was dry and overcooked. The couscous had a nice texture and was well prepared, but unfortunately it was bland. Even just a small amount of spice could have added some depth to the couscous.

Raspberry Sorbet on top of a Meringue Cup, a Lemon Tart and a Coco Loco

Finally, we each received a festive dessert trio: Raspberry Sorbet on top of a Meringue Cup, a Lemon Tart and a Coco Loco. The sorbet—my favorite of the trio—was an explosive burst of fresh, juicy raspberries. The meringue underneath was crisp and airy. The Lemon Tart was light, tasty and refreshing. The Coco Loco, a small wedge of cake densely packed with coconut, had a bit too much coconut for me.

My second Restaurant Week experience was unplanned (hence, no pics). A friend of mine and I grabbed a drink at Washington Square after work. In February I enjoyed Washington Square during Restaurant Week, so I wasn’t planning to hit it this time. But we got hungry at the bar and decided to order from the Restaurant Week menu. Here’s a tip for the next Restaurant Week: If you weren’t lucky enough to get reservations, grab a Restaurant Week menu and just eat at the bar.

I started with the Romaine Salad, which tasted just as good as it did in February. This time, for the entrée I tried the Merguez Orecchiette with Spicy Lamb Sausage. The meaty sauce was lightly accented with a touch of cumin, which added a bit of sophistication to this unassuming dish. For dessert, a thick, creamy dollop of silky milk chocolate mousse with a side of rich whipped cream delicately infused with coconut.

So, over all, Chez Colette was a miss this time around. Washington Square, once again, was a hit. Ultimately, Restaurant Week may not be the best way to find out what a restaurant is really like. But it definitely will answer this question—Is the restaurant able (or willing) to pull off a good meal under abnormal conditions? Is that information useful? Who knows? But it certainly is fun keeping score.

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