Making the Most of Restaurant Week

20100106restweek.jpgToday kicks off New York's winter Restaurant Week, where restaurants all over the city are offering fixed-price menus—$24.09 lunches, $35 dinners. But while some of these places give you great deals, others aren't quite the bargains they seem.

How to determine the best of the bunch? Read on for our best Restaurant Week booking tips—all the questions to ask yourself before you commit. Because nothing is worse than a wasted meal.

How much of the menu do you get?

The Bar Room at the Modern has an extensive menu on offer—eleven starters, ten entrees, and seven desserts to choose from. (Steak tartare, duck confit, and a hazelnut dacquoise for $35? Sign me up.) Telepan has, in the past, allowed full range of the menu—even letting diners get three savory courses, choosing from a lengthy list of seasonal dishes. Many other restaurants, however, limit their choices to just two or, for some courses, a single option. Sure, you'll get dessert—but it might just be a scoop of vanilla.

Are you getting a deal?

Alto's regular lunch special gets you two courses for $36—a relative bargain, at this double Michelin-starred restaurant—making their Restaurant Week lunch special even more of a deal. Nearly all of Bar Boulud's lunch entrees exceed $24, so getting three courses for that price is a comparative steal. And seeing SD26's $23.50 uovo al raviolo show up as a starter on the lunch menu is pretty exciting.

But are "Mr. Chow" noodles, velvet chicken, and sorbet worth $35? Are fried green tomatoes, a half-chicken and chocolate cake at Wildwood BBQ? Check your options before you commit.

Is this special always available?

Barbounia regularly has a three-course, $24 lunch and three-course, $35 dinner. That's not to say it's not a good deal—but it's not one confined to Restaurant Week. Other restaurants also offer prix-fixe menus, with more variety, for only a few dollars more than you'd pay over the course of this special.

Do they have the options you need?

Vegetarians should make sure to confirm their options ahead of time—many restaurants have very limited choices for each course. Though the Oak Room offers four entrees to choose from, none are veggie-friendly; neither are any of the second courses at Mr. Chow, or any of the four lunch options at Butter.

Watch out for hidden charges.

Plenty of restaurants tack on a 20% gratuity, no matter how small your party is. Fine if the service is great, but if you'd rather determine the tip yourself, inquire about restaurant policy ahead of time.

Do they play to their strengths?

Resto has a somewhat limited menu, but having seen what chef Bobby Hellen can do with an animal, I'm glad there's a house-made chorizo on the lunch menu, and a crispy lamb shoulder for dinner. On the other hand, there's only one meat option at Michael Jordan's Steakhouse; I'm not sure why I'd shell out for a risotto or an Atlantic salmon.


Any other tips for Restaurant Week success?

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