Restaurant Week: 2013 Winter edition

Whoever thought up the idea of Restaurant Week deserves a big pat on the back.  Or maybe a smooch.  Or maybe the Nobel Peace Prize.

Restaurant Week, for those of you who are deprived of one, is a week when a number of local restaurants offer a special menu for a set price — $20.13 or $30.13, or occasionally something else (like $13.13 or $25.13).  It’s a great opportunity to experience restaurants that would normally be out of your price range.  It’s also just a great excuse to go out to eat.  Not that I usually have a hard time finding one.

I’ve heard NYC’s Restaurant Week lasts almost a month.  This gives rise to two questions. 1) why do they call it Restaurant Week?  2) why am I not there right now?

Last fall I was only able to go to one restaurant the whole week.  That was unacceptable.

So I made up for it this year.  Seven days, six restaurants.  Yes, I’m poor and fat now.  But boy, was it fun.

I didn’t take pictures of every meal for a variety of reasons.  And then later I was listening to Jim Gaffigan and these words hit a little too close to home..

“‘Hey, instead of enjoying this moment, let’s take pictures!‘  We take pictures of every day life and act like we’re capturing history.  ‘Unbelievable!  The cat’s asleep!  Post that on my Twitter.’  It’s because we have the cameras on our phones.  Do we need that?  It’s not like ten years ago we were like, ‘I wish I could take a low quality photo of my dessert and text it to someone who’s not interested.  But I can’t, so I guess I’ll just eat it.’” – Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe

Guilty.

Monday: Watermark

No pictures here because the restaurant’s mood lighting was too low. And I felt a little conspicuous taking pictures since the restaurant was so nice.  I’ll stick to taking pictures of my McDonald’s french fries instead.

Watermark had received high praises from my  Restaurant Week veteran friends who go there every year. It’s a very nice restaurant that none of us could afford outside of RW.  I’m already looking forward to going back in the Fall.

There was a choice of appetizer and a choice of entrée, then dessert was chosen for us.  For an additional price, they had also paired wine with all the appetizers and entrées and offered half glasses, which was a nice touch.

My choices:

Appetizer: Hickory grilled baby octopus over Tennessee stone ground grits with ratatouille in a lemon, opal basil and roasted pine nut vinaigrette. (paired with a Spanish red wine)

Fantastic.  I hadn’t had octopus that wasn’t fried since Rome in 2005… and actually, I didn’t eat it then.  So I was kind of second-guessing my bold choice until I tasted it… and it was wonderful.  If you didn’t look at it, you didn’t know you were eating octopus.  The texture was tender and rich … not chewy at all.  A+

Two of my friends got mushroom soup, and the waitress brought bowls of mushrooms — and then simultaneously, two waiters appeared on either side of them and poured soup into the bowls, perfectly choreographed.

Entrée: Amish chicken confit over a black eyed pea and roasted shallot ragout in a cracked hazelnut and fresh thyme jus (paired with another red wine)

I really wanted to get the other entrée (Carolina shrimp and Tennessee stone ground grits scented with lemon in a garden rosemary and roasted pine nut sauce) but thought that might be a little grits-overload.  I’m sad to admit that I chose poorly.  The chicken was good, but I tasted Manda’s shrimp and it was much better.

Dessert: Pineapple upside down cake with brown butter ice cream.

The dessert was a bit of a let-down.  When a restaurant lists its pastry chef on the menu, you’re expecting big things.  It was okay, but nothing I would go back for.  And it was a bit heavy after a pretty rich dinner.  I was hoping for something light and chocolate.

With our bills, the waitress brought a “taste” for each of us, compliments of the pastry chef-  chocolate shortbread.  It was good, but didn’t make up for my disappointed expectations for dessert.

The service was wonderful.  I’m definitely going back in the fall.

Tuesday: Burger Up

Burger Up is a nice burger joint in a hipster part of town.  They’re known for their farm-fresh ingredients, locally raised beef, etc.  That translates into “expensive for a hamburger.”

But it’s definitely worth treating yourself every once and awhile, because they’re darn good burgers.

Their RW deal was two burgers and two beers for $25.13.  Since you might normally drop $18 on one burger and beer there, it’s a pretty good deal.  So on the spur of the moment, three of my colleagues and I decided to head over there for lunch.

I had the “turkey burger” on beef.  I liked the toppings listed for the turkey burger but was craving some good red meat.  Avocado, caramelized red onions, mayo, romaine lettuce and tomato.  I had the seasonal beer, a winter lager, which I really liked.

My burger was cooked perfectly.  I think I should probably take my parents there when they come down in a few weeks.  Mom, you’ll most likely get a hipster sighting as a bonus.

Wednesday: PM

I had heard good things about PM but never ventured over to check it out, partly because I don’t venture into the college part of town very often.  PM is owned by Arnold Myint, a Nashville chef celebrity.  PM isn’t completely out of my price range on a normal night, but RW was a nice opportunity to try it for the first time and have a girls’ night with my friend Rachel.

My choices:

Course One: Crab & Bacon Wontons

Course Two: Salmon Teriyaki w/ Lo Mein Stir Fry

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Dessert: Brownie Tempura donuts

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All in all, it was a ton of food.  I ended up taking half my salmon home for lunch the next day.  It was all very good, although I would get a different dessert the next time.  Their dessert menu was pretty impressive and unique– American standbys with Asian twists.  These donuts were a little too tempura and not enough chocolate.

Thursday: Holland House Bar and Refuge

Again, no pictures here because of the mood lighting.  It’s really too bad, because the Holland House is such a neat place.  The atmosphere and decor are so fun but hard to describe. To say industrial country chic just sounds weird, but I’m not sure how else to describe it.  Think exposed ducts and lots of wood, chandeliers and two really awesome bars. I wish I could somehow replicate it in my apartment, especially since I already have the concrete floors.  But I’m not sure it would be very cozy to live in a bar.

My choices:

Course One: warm white bean and spinach salad, lardons, honey vin, gorgonzola, almond

This was such a winner.  I want it right now.

Course Two: spicy ginger grilled hanger steak, olive oil smashed potatoes, arugula, pea pods

The steak was a bit chewy, although I guess I should have read the Wikipedia entry beforehand to know I should order it medium rare “to avoid toughness.”  I didn’t really get a lot of spicy gingerness. The potatoes were good but nothing I couldn’t make.  The pea pods, strangely enough, were my favorite part.

Course Three: flourless chocolate cake, dark & white chocolate ganache, mixed berry compote

Goodnight nurse.  This thing was fantastic.  So light yet so rich… I guess this is what I had been hoping for on Monday.  The Holland House won the dessert competition.

If you can’t tell from the name “Bar and Refuge,” the Holland House is probably better known for their drinks than their food.  Like the Patterson House, another favorite watering hole, their cocktails aren’t just drinks… they’re works of art.  They’re also expensive.  Hey, you have to pay for a Raphael or a Degas.  We took advantage of the time of day and ordered off their happy hour menu, which meant drinks were only $5 instead of $11 or $12.  I was boring and got a Manhattan with Weller bourbon, partly because I would like to acquire a taste for bourbon while I’m living down here.

Saturday: Flyte

This was sort of a wildcard.  Manda and I had wanted to try this place but hadn’t gotten a chance, so we decided to take advantage of the price drop of RW.  Neither of us knew what to expect, although we had heard good things.

The interior was not what I was expecting — very bright and open.  They somehow achieved a feeling of warmth, even though it was almost industrial inside.

No pictures here because I had just listened to Jim Gaffigan.

My first impression was good — our waiter was very nice.  And nice looking.

After we ordered, a waitress brought us a “taste” compliments of the chef — pear butter with goat cheese.  It was silver spoon (short handle, big bowl) with just a dab of the pear butter with a tiny square of cheese sitting in it.  One little taste.  And it was wonderful.

My choices from the menu:

Starter: Cauliflower Soup

It was like dessert.  So smooth and creamy.  And it had to be healthy because it was cauliflower, right?

Entrée: NY Strip with Kimchi butter and fingerling potatoes

The steak was perfectly tender.  And the Kimchi butter!?  It really elevated the steak from “hm, that’s a good steak,” to “I’ve never had anything like this.”  It wasn’t the best steak I’ve ever had (that was at Shula’s, for anyone keeping track), but it was pretty darn good and the Kimchi butter was great.

No choice on dessert, but that’s okay —

Dessert: Zeppole with mascarpone cheese, tangerine and blood orange

Two wonderful creampuffs.  Light and creamy and perfect.

Then with the bill came a taste compliments of the pastry chef – a chocolate brownie bite.  It helps sticker shock to get a present when you have to pay the bill.

What really elevated Flyte in my book (besides our good-looking waiter) was the red wine flyte.  They had an enormous wine list, but before I got completely overwhelmed, I glanced at the back and noticed they offered six flytes — three red, three white.  Essentially, each flyte was made up of three glasses of wine grouped together for different reasons.  Manda and I both chose (per our waiter’s recommendation) The Olde Country, which was a wine from Spain, a wine from Italy, and a wine from France. All of the wines were very good, but tasting them next to each other really highlighted different parts of the wines that you might not have noticed otherwise.  Manda and I will be going back soon to try another flyte and to see our waiter again.

Sunday: Table 3

It’s hard to believe I was still hungry on Sunday, but after Mass I met my friend Maria for brunch at a fairly-new French restaurant.  They were having a nice lunch special that was $13.13. Again, I had never been there, and this seemed like a good time to try them out.

My choices:

To drink, a café au lait.

First Course: Potato-Leek Soup with a Gruyère crouton

Second Course:

Croque Madame – Grilled Ham and Gruyére Sandwich with Mornay Sauce and Sunny~Side Up Farm Egg

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While the sandwich was very rich, it was also very good.  I think I need to learn how to make it — it can’t be hard once you perfect a béchamel sauce, and I’m pretty sure Julia Child would tell me it was about time I perfected a béchamel sauce.

All in all, restaurant week was a success in my book.

Kudos to anyone who got through the whole post.

And I’m taking reservations at Chateau Joan for anyone who wants to come into town for the fall edition of RW.  Just bring your credit card and your elastic-waisted pants.

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