Restaurant Week 101 | Restaurant Week Tips
Twice a year, in January/February and June/July, there is a unique opportunity to experience some of New York City's finest restaurants for a fraction of the usual price. Throughout the city, restaurants participate in "Restaurant Week" where they offer a three-course lunch for $25 (& some even offer dinner for $38). Restaurant Week is a great opportunity to try out a restaurant that may usually be out of your budget, or test some new restaurants with a little less financial risk. Check out my tips for enjoying Restaurant Week.
In January 2005, I had a great restaurant week experience at Gramercy Tavern. Service, food, and the atmosphere were outstanding. Similarly, we enjoyed a lovely time at Eleven Madison Park for restaurant week the next week -- everything was delicious and served with a smile. We even left Eleven Madison Park with (free) gift certificates good for $20.00 off a future meal.
For lunch during Restaurant Week in January 2002, I went to Cafe Boulud. The waitstaff was incredibly friendly and even offered a bottle of wine for $20.02. Both the regular menu and the Restaurant Week selections were available. The restaurant week options were (understandably) among the less expensive items on the usual menu, but everything we had was served beautifully and tasted great. Of course, the $20.12 Restaurant Week does not include tax or tip, and I always feel that it's only fair to tip more generously when you're getting a bargain (waiters are notoriously irritated during restaurant week when patrons are stingy with tips), so all told, it cost about $85 for the two of us for lunch.
In June 2001, I went with a group of friends to Mesa Grill for lunch during Restaurant Week. Again, the food was delicious and well presented. There were 2 or 3 options for each of the three courses. We all indulged in their famous margaritas and the check came out to about $40 per person. Service wasn't quite as gracious as it was at Cafe Boulud, but nonetheless, it was a great meal and well worth it.
I also went to 21 Club in June 2001. Although the Restaurant Week choices were limited (I believe there were 2 choices for each course), the food was well presented and good. They had crowded in a few extra tables (I'm sure both to accommodate an increased number of reservations, as well as to increase overall sales), but the waitstaff was still very attentive and gracious. We each had a couple of cocktails ($12.75 for Grey Goose martinis) and in the end, the cost of the alcohol was almost 50% more than the cost of the meal. Still, a memorable experience and I'm happy we went there.
In July 2004, I went to Eleven Madison Park for their Restaurant Week luncheon. The service was impeccable, all the dishes were delicious, and upon leaving, we were even given a tasty chocolate and a coupon for $20 off a future meal at Eleven Madison Park. It's no surprise it's on my Restaurant Week Recommendations List.
Into every life, a little rain must fall, and in January 2002 we had an awful restaurant week experience at Lutece. Service was curt & disinterested (even for a French restaurant) and the food we were served was uninspired and relatively flavorless. I came away from the experience with two nuggets of wisdom, 1. some restaurants seem to be a bit bitter about Restaurant Week patrons and 2. you generally get what you pay for. I'm not sure whether the negative experience at Lutece was the result of an off-night, the fact that it was a dinner (for $30.02 per person) or disgruntled waiters, but I do know, that I would recommend the other restaurants to friends (both for restaurant week or during the rest of the year, depending on budget) but I wouldn't recommend Lutece under any circumstances.
Reservations for Restaurant Week
You can make reservations for restaurant week (the earlier the better -- many of the Best Choices for Restaurant Week sell out quickly) by calling the restaurants directly or on OpenTable.com. OpenTable has a list of participating restaurants that take reservations through OpenTable, as well as search functions to show you which participating restaurants have availabilities during on your requested date/time. About 1/2 of the restaurants participating in Restaurant Week allow you to make reservations through OpenTable, but if you're making a reservation for dinner, be sure that your restaurant is participating, as their search tools show availabilities for dinner for restaurants that are only offering a Restaurant Week menu at lunch. That said, registration on OpenTable is easy, and you can collect points toward dining gift certificates by booking online.