The Poor Student’s Guide to Restaurant Week

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Bwog’s resident gastronomic correspondent Michael Snyder serves up (!) advice on where to go and how to get seated during restaurant week. 

Some say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year; I say it’s restaurant week.  Although this winter’s restaurant week is already halfway finished, you still have five days left—January 28-February 1—to enjoy three-course prix fixe lunches and dinners ($24 and $35, respectively) at some of the city’s best eateries. Below, some simple advice for the remaining days of the best thing to happen to penny-pinching foodies since sliced whole-grain bread.

     Start out by consulting a list of the restaurants participating this season on the restaurant week website.  Some restaurants only offer the restaurant week deal for lunch or dinner, others for both.  Similarly, some places take reservations, others don’t.   As you make your list of places you want to go, there are several important things to keep in mind.  First of all, be aware of the restaurants’ typical prices.  Don’t waste restaurant week on anything but the most expensive places; you want to use this opportunity to eat at restaurants you would not be able to afford otherwise.  And be sure to look carefully.  Some places that appear unaffordable offer lunch deals throughout the year.  An example: Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s wonderful restaurant Perry St. in the West Village offers a $24 prix fixe lunch all year.  It’s a wonderful restaurant, but go some other time.

      Also, if you have the time and flexibility to wait, restaurants that don’t take reservations may be your best bet as they can’t fill up ahead of time.  That said, prepare yourself for a line—most of these places don’t take reservations because they don’t need to.

      If you don’t have such a flexible schedule, you should start by trying your luck on opentable.com, a free, online reservation site.  Registering is free and takes all of five minutes and it makes finding tables much easier.  While looking for reservations, you should check first at odd times, either very early or very late.  A good time to try is toward the end of lunch.  Many of the nicest restaurants that participate in restaurant week close their kitchens at 3:00 to prepare for dinner, so if you aim for a 2:30 lunch reservation, you might have a better chance of getting a sought after table at a place like Aquavit Café or Aureole.  With respect to dinner, you’re more likely to find a table before 6:30 pm or after 9:00 pm.  (The same goes for restaurants that don’t take reservations; the stranger the time, the better your chances.)  If you can’t find anything on opentable, call the restaurant directly.  Some places don’t put all of their tables online.

      If you want to keep your meal cheap, avoid drinks.  Beverages are not generally discounted during restaurant week and that $30 lunch quickly doubles in price once you add a bottle of Pinot Noir to the bill.  Some restaurants include bottles of wine on their restaurant week menus, but even at slightly lower prices alcohol can totally throw off your budget.

      I have only been to about a quarter of the restaurants that participate in restaurant week, but among those I have had some wonderful meals, so for my last tip I will suggest a couple of places that I really like in addition to those already mentioned.  A Voce, in Gramercy, serves perfectly made Italian classics in a particularly elegant setting.  It earned a Michelin star this year and three stars from the New York Times.  Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s celebrated Craft is actually as good as people say.  The menu aims to showcase the finest possible ingredients and succeeds admirably with simple preparations of amazing food. For impeccably cooked seafood, Estiatorio Milos, an elegant Greek restaurant in midtown, is a good choice. The Bar Room at the Modern, the more casual half of the restaurant situated on the first floor of the MoMA, features small plates inspired largely by French cuisine, but avoids the boredom of the city’s many too-traditional brasseries and bistros.

      Wherever you go, be sure to take friends and share.  With a group of four you can often order just about everything on the menu and have a chance to taste everything. Happy Dining!

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  1. expert says  

    go to devi! (indian food) its sooo gooodddd!

  2. whole grain  

    sliced bread is so dumb

  3. opentables  

    Is crap; just call the restaurant, you have a much better chance of getting a table. And it's not just Perry St., all of JGV's restaurant, including Jean-Georges itself, do $25 lunches year-round. Furthermore Vong always does the $35 lunch prix fixe.

    Asiate does terrific RW, as does Gotham Bar & Grill.

  4. foodie  

    This is pretty terrible advice. The most expensive restaurants are the worst ones to go to during restaurant week. They never put their best items on the menu because they know you're not likely to go back for a full priced meal anyways, so instead they'll give you chicken, chicken, or salmon (read: anything cheap so that they can still rip you off). The uber expensive restaurants are also going to be really snotty towards restaurant week diners, since waiters know that their tables could have been filled by fully-paying patrons who will tip them proportionately.

    However, if you go to a middle-level restaurant, they're going to use restaurant week as a chance to reel people in. There, you'll get better menu selections and better service, in hopes that you'll try something amazing and come back. Or at least tell your friends.

    I'll give you credit though--A Voce is a great choice.

    • Inaccurate

      I went to Firebird and the 21 Club for restaurant week. Firebird did serve cheaper fare such as chicken and salmon but the chicken Kiev is really great there anyway. At 21 we had steak. Firebird's staff were very hospitable and allowed us to select what room we dined in. The staff at 21 were also nice even for a wait staff comprised of all geriatric men.

  5. cyang  

    To follow your own advice from above, Aquavit Cafe has extremely affordable and eclectic lunch menu (the smorgasbord dish comes with a two bite sampling of many of the items for around 19$). Save your restaurant week time and money for elsewhere.

  6. ...  

    back in san francisco, where they have good food, they have "dine about town" every year where expensive restaurants apply significant discounts for a week.

    restaurant week out here is kinda like the same idea but it really doesn't seem like they drop prices all that much.

    last time we went somewhere for restaurant week, they had a special RW prix fixe meal that was about $1.50 cheaper than if you had just ordered it's components separately.

  7. meh  

    Uhh I can't afford $24 for lunch or $35 for dinner.

  8. twocents  

    the modern is terrible, aquavit is a good option if you'd like to sit in the dining hall as opposed to the cafe or bar

    • aquavit

      their town-house location had sickk ambiance. i haven't been to their new place, but during restaurant week the only thing on their menu for vegetarians was/is soup or salad!

  9. If you like Milos  

    Fig and Olive is pretty good as well. During restaurant week, I think you get the best deals at unonventional places like Lupa Osteria Romana (Batali's restau)or Morimoto (self explanatory). Conceptually, Park Avenue Winter is a pretty cool as well; it changes its menu and decor every season. Then there's always the ever so reliable Nougatine Room...

    Bwog should so have a food editor

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