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Restaurant Week Wrap-Up: An on-going list of where to go for NYC RW (Updated Winter 2013)

28 Jan

I have now been writing about Restaurant Week for over 4 years. It is one of the most frequented sections on the blog, so I wanted to make it a bit easier and summarize the best, the good, and the bad. I will continue to add to this list as we try new places for Restaurant Week. (Last update is from Winter 2013)

A brief synopsis on Restaurant Week: Participating restaurants serve a prix fix, 3-course menu for lunch ($25) and dinner ($38). (Prices updated for Winter 2013). They participate on all weekdays for lunch, dinner, or both, and some also participate on Sundays. More information for each season, participating restaurants, and menus can be found here. You can also book most reservations on OpenTable, though the best reservations usually go as soon as the newest Restaurant Week is announced. There are two each year, one in the winter and one in the summer, and while it is called “Restaurant Week,” it is usually about 3 weeks long and some restaurants extend even beyond that.

So who had the best Restaurant Week menu? Who didn’t skimp on portions? Who obviously thinks Restaurant Week is a total waste of time? Read on! (Click on the restaurant name to link out to the original review I posted)

Top RW Noms (Book now! Even if RW is another 6 months away):

  1. ilili: I have been to ilili twice for Restaurant Week and I think they are the best of the best. Great selection, plentiful portions, and gosh darn GREAT food. Everyone left raving about it.
  2. Butter: We stuck exclusively to the Restaurant Week menu and enjoyed every bite. I wanted to lick every plate clean. Amazing flavors, fair portions, and a real taste for why Chef Alex Guarnaschelli won Next Iron Chef.
  3. Riverpark: Tom Colicchio’s Riverpark does Restaurant Week right by featuring their usual menu so diners can try out the Restaurant exactly as intended. Each bite was fantastic and totally worth the supplemental charge, and we imagine would be totally worth it even if you don’t pay for any supplements.
  4. Cafe Boulud: This was just barely edged out by the top 2. The braised veal cheeks and the chocolate dessert still both echo in my mind as some of the best bites I have EVER had. Their menu was limited, but there were enough items to keep me happy. I have been dying to go back.
  5. The Modern – Bar Room: Delicious. Small portions but well worth it (and it’s not like you leave hungry). Service was a terror, but the food made up for it. (I went back for Summer 2011 and it was just as good and with great service this time around).
  6. Olives: Small selection but all very tasty. It’s a nice intro. to a Todd English restaurant, especially since it’s usually a bit pricey
  7. Barbounia: Fantastic food and good portions. Impressed by the food and the nice service. They understand that Restaurant Week is all about giving people a reason to return.
  8. Aquavit: The entrées here were a bit on the average side, however, the uniqueness of the food, the fun of doing a flight of Aquavit, and the INCREDIBLE desserts just barely pushed this one to the top list

Average RW Noms (I’d probably go back and try them again, but they weren’t special enough to hit the list above):

  • Craft Bar: I can’t put this in the top list since we actually accidentally booked a reservation that was NOT Restaurant Week (be sure to review the list carefully so you know who serves on weekends). I do think it may belong there, however, as the food was great and the servers were AMAZING about taking care of us since we made the mistake (they gave us 2 apps on the house)
  • Millesime: The food here was fair, with a stand-out dessert that elevated the meal. I was disappointed by my pasta dish due to its blandness, but those that ate off the regular menu seemed to enjoy their dishes.
  • Black Duck: A solid Restaurant Week experience. The initial choice of fish, chicken, or pasta wasn’t an awesome selection, but each dish tasted great. I would like to try this place again and order off the regular menu.
  • Tribeca Grill: My short ribs were pretty good, but I’ve seen better Restaurant Week menus and tried better food. I’m not sure if this was the fault of RW or if the restaurant itself just isn’t top of the heap.
  • Delmonico’s: Good but not great. I’ve had better steaks in Manhattan by far, but there is something fun about going to this place just for the history of it.
  • Ruth’s Chris: Been meaning to try this place but haven’t gotten around to it? Restaurant Week is a good time to get a taste. Their regular specials menu is also quite good, so if you don’t make it for RW, it’s okay.
  • Angelo and Maxies: I was actually impressed with this place, but I think their non- Restaurant Week offering is probably just as good. (NOW CLOSED)
  • 10 Downing: We had an enjoyable experience here, however, something just wasn’t totally right for most of the meal. Service was spotty, there were too many inedible things on my plate (shallot skin? garlic skin? seriously untrimmed meat?) Everything was plated beautifully with a lot of attention to detail, color, and the season (summer). Not to mention, one of the best panna cottas I’ve ever tasted. (NOW CLOSED)

Disappointing RW Noms (Not sure why they bother with Restaurant Week):

  • Park Avenue (Summer): While we had some great nibbles, it really felt as if this is one of those restaurants that doesn’t like Restaurant Week and it comes out in their food. I might try them again for their regular menu, but I wouldn’t suggest it for Restaurant Week at all.
  • Perry Street: Come on Jean Georges! I expect more from you. Nothing was bad, but nothing was great. A Restaurant Week faux pas perhaps.

Bad RW Noms (Just plain wrong):

  • Mercer Kitchen: Awful in every way. This place is what gives Restaurant Week a bad name. Awful menu. Small portions. Food that seemed like it could have been cooked at McDonald’s. I haven’t been able to eat cooked salmon since this night. It was THAT bad.
  • Russian Tea Room: Bad service. Food that hardly could pass for wedding food. This place could have such great potential as a NYC icon but instead, it’s just tacky and bad.

What are your favorite Restaurant Week places?

Where are you trying out this year?

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NYC Restaurant Week- Winter 2012: Russian Tea Room

6 Feb

Our second stop this Restaurant Week was at The Russian Tea Room.  The Russian Tea Room is a NYC classic, but I had no idea why. I also had no idea why I had never been there before.  So Restaurant Week seemed as good a time as any to check it out.

When we entered, we were told that due to the popularity of Restaurant Week, they had opened up the 2nd floor, which was usually reserved for private parties.  The hostess bragged about the “Fabergé inspired” egg tree in the back…

This was a plastic tree with some plastic lit up eggs… I didn’t get it.

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She also bragged about the “bear aquarium” (which, much to my dismay, was a bear shaped fish aquarium and not, in fact, a big aquarium filled with bears).  It turned around and around in the dining room and was filled with large goldfish.

This makes me wonder… who, while decorating a dining room, says “I know what would be perfect! A bear shaped aquarium that spins!”  But hey… there was opulence everywhere in this dining room with no clear decoration direction… so I guess it went with the room.

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Onto the food!

The regular menu was VERY expensive.  All apps were $18-$35 ($18 for beet salad!) and most entrees were in the $36-$48 range ($39 for beef stroganoff and $38 for chicken kiev!)

We stuck to the Restaurant Week menu.

Mike started with the Goat Cheese and Wild Mushroom Blinchik which was described as a crêpe filled with mixed mushrooms, goat cheese, melted onions and lingonberries.  It was crispy and actually quite good.

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I got the borscht.  It was no Veselka, but it was decent. I found it tasted more like carrots than beets, but it was still hearty and good. It came with a small meat-pie type thing that was so so.

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Mike got the chicken a la king.  It both looked, and tasted, like wedding food.

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I got the filet of beef that came with garlic mashed potatoes and “baby vegetables.”  The mashed potatoes tasted quite bland (no garlic) and the “baby vegetables” consisted of a single carrot and a single piece of asparagus.  Neither were baby, unless the portion size was what they were describing. This also both looked, and tasted, like wedding food.  Cheap wedding food.

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For dessert, Mike got the cheesecake.  As a purist, he LOVED this.  It was absolutely pure cream cheese and sugar.  I can’t blame him for enjoying that.

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My dessert was the “chocolate dome.” It was filled with some raspberry something. It was overcooked, dry, and one note.  One of the most boring desserts I’ve ever tried.  Bleh.  When I don’t finish dessert, you know something is wrong.

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The service was also pretty horrid.  No one offered us refills on water nor wine, it took a long time between courses, and we waited 20 minutes for our check before finally asking a busser to get it.  Our waiter never even came over in the next 15 minutes before we left. Bravo.

Overall, the Russian Tea Room seems to be relying on it’s long-standing history and it’s opulence, rather than on its food and service.  The food was hardly passable, and had I spent more than the Restaurant Week price ($35 per meal), I would not have been pleased.  Even $35 for what we ate was decidedly overpriced.  This is the exact reason Restaurant Week has a bad rep.  I want to assume that they served so-so things to fit into the price of RW, rather than serving smaller portions of their regular menu (which gives people a reason to come back and eat off the regular menu).  If their regular menu is that bad, they are robbing New York tourists.

Total  Nom Points: 5 out of 10