March 11, 2006

Is Restaurant Week really for foodies?

I know, I know. Restaurant Week was over two weeks ago. Time to get caught up. Philadelphia’s Center City holds a Restaurant Week a couple of times a year. Most cities with a restaurant scene do a Restaurant Week at some point during the year. The formula is roughly the same everywhere—one week (6 days, actually), 99 restaurants, 3 courses, $30. Sounds great. But is it really for foodies?

  • No soup for you. There’s a good chance it’s already too late to make reservations at that special restaurant you’ve been waiting to try by the time the list of participating restaurants comes out. Time is of the essence. It’s difficult enough to get dinner reservations at your favorite restaurants in Philadelphia in general. But throw 3 courses for $30 into the mix and, well, it turns into a post-apocalyptic scramble for a table. Before you know it, everyone else is dining on Horseradish Crusted Salmon with Basmati Rice Cake, Bok Choy and a Dijon Mustard Sauce, and you’re left choking back a pepperoni and mozzarella bagel from Wawa. It’s frustrating.

  • “Oh, I’ve been to Prague.” Can you really say you’ve been to Tangerine if you’ve eaten only from their $30 Restaurant Week menu? When you dine from a restaurant’s Restaurant Week menu, you’re getting the product of a limitation. And that limitation is price. To conform to this limitation, the chef may offer you a smaller version of something on the normal menu, the chef may only offer you the restaurant’s less-expensive entrées, or the chef may create a new item to fit within the price limitation. Think of it as Iron Chef meets $40 a Day. But going to a restaurant like Tangerine isn’t about going out to dinner—it’s about experiencing fine art. In that environment, the only limitation that you should allow yourself to experience is the chef’s imagination. All I’m saying is, if you’ve been to Tangerine, for example, during Restaurant Week, you haven’t necessarily “been to Tangerine” been to Tangerine.

Don’t get me wrong—I support Restaurant Week. Anything that highlights the Center City restaurant scene, keeps the local restaurants in business and allows more people to experience fine dining in Center City is a good thing. Moreover, the folks who organize and sponsor Restaurant Week should be applauded for pulling off such a successful event twice a year every year. Just keep this in mind: When Restaurant Week comes around again in September (1) make your reservations early; and (2) if you ignore the restaurants’ regular menus, you may be cheating yourself.

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