The Poor Student’s Guide to Restaurant Week
Written by Bwog Staff
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!