By Terry Trucco
Twice a year Restaurant Week muscles onto our dining radar with its vaunted three course fixed price lunches and dinners. Now in its 20th year, the twice-yearly promotion timed to boost business during winter and summer slow spells attracts more than 300 restaurants including more than 30 in hotels. This year’s first promotion, with $24.07 lunches and $35 dinners on weekdays, ends this Friday, February 10.
But not everywhere. More than a third of the hotel restaurants we contacted serve similar prix fix lunches year round. Some, like Maialino, the stylish Italian restaurant at the Gramercy Park Hotel, raise their fixed price once Restaurant Week ends. Others, like Ai Fiori at the Setai, downsize to two courses. And a few, notably Mercer Kitchen, charge less for lunch-time multiples once the promotion winds down.
Among the other hotel restaurants offering prix-fixe lunch deals all year are Abbocato Ristorante at the Blakely, db Bistro Moderne at City Club, Ed’s Chowder House at the Empire Hotel, Fives at the Peninsula New York, Kittichai at 60 Thompson, Millesime at the Carlton, Plein Sud at the Smyth, The Post House at the Lowell, South Gate at Jumeirah Essex House, the Strand Restaurant at the Strand Hotel, Tanuki Tavern at the Gansevoort Meatpacking District, 2 West at the Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park and Ca Va Todd English at the Intercontinental New York Times Square.
“I don’t think people realize we do this year round,” a server at Ca Va told us when we stopped by last week, lured by the Restaurant Week triple. Ca Va’s bustling brasserie is comfortable and generically good-looking with contemporary wood-block tables, big leather chairs and a hard-wood floor. It was also quite full, even though we arrived around 2:30, a happy byproduct of Restaurant Week, our server said.
As the name informs, Ca Va is yet another link in the fast-growing food chain commandeered Boston celebrity chef Todd English. If our lunch is an indicator, the restaurant has perfected the art of plating camera-ready meals. Though our mushroom risotto starter appeared to have lingered on a counter a bit too long, it packed a pleasing wallop of mustardy, nutty flavors. A piping stew of white beans, carrots parsnips and tomatoes in the crusty root vegetable cassoulet arrived nestled in its cast-iron baking dish and tasted like a bite of winter. And the creamy rich cranberry-studded bread pudding paired with spiced apples and a dollop of vanilla ice cream was a delectably spoonable concoction. All told, a good deal.
A fixed price lunch at a good hotel, in short, is like an abridged tasting menu. You can turn it into an event or stop by on a whim, like we did, and try your luck. Chances are you’ll do pretty well. Consider Restaurant Week a teaser.