We kind of have a love/hate relationship with Restaurant Week. At its best, it’s an opportunity to dine out at some of NYC’s most outstanding eateries for a fraction of the price ($25 for three courses at lunch, $38 for dinner). At its worst, you can actually see the portion shrink and taste the kitchen on autopilot.
That’s why we’re helping you weed through the list of over 300 participants to determine which restaurants actually offer real bang for your buck and which are just going through the motions. So if you’re totally excited to try the Malfatti with Braised Suckling Pig at Maialino, or more interested in the Bouchot Mussels with Spicy Tomatoes and Breadcrumbs at Perilla, better make those reservations asap! Yes, in reality, Restaurant Week is almost a month long (it lasts from January 14th-February 8th this year), but the prime tables, especially during dinner hours, are sure to get snapped up fast so make a move.
It’s so hard to settle on a restaurant to dine at any day of the week, nevermind during Restaurant Week, when the chance to dine haute and cheap is so rare and precious. Seize the opportunity to sample the eclectic, globally inspired cooking at Daniel Boulud’s elegant eatery, which is tucked inside the elegant Surrey Hotel on the Upper East Side. Not that Daniel Boulud’s not enough, but Gavin Kaysen, who represented the U.S in the Bocuse d’Or (kind of like the culinary version of the Olympics), is the executive chef at Cafe Boulud and tirelessly creative. Expect to be surprised and satisfied with luxe ingredients and Kaysen’s refined touch. On the menu this week is a Country Duck Pate with Quince Chutney and Rutabaga Mustard, Olive Oil Poached Flounder with Salsify and an Everything Bagel Crust, and a Meyer Lemon Curd with Meringue, Dacquoise, and Mimosa Sorbet.
There’s a lot more to fine dining than just Modern American, French, and gussied up Italian. Take Junoon in the Flatiron District, which offers upscale interpretations of Indian dishes and flavors. Forget the take-out Indian you might be thinking of (sludgy Saag Paneer and cardboard samosas) and rethink the cuisine altogether. This is a grand stage to discover a whole new side of curries and tandoor cooking. The spices at Junoon are blended in-house daily in the downstairs spice room by the handsome chef, Vikas Khanna, who has a way of turning everyday dishes, like Vegetable Pakoras, into something extraordinary. While dishes like Lobster Tandoori with confit artichoke and fried chickpeas typically command $36, Restaurant Week provides the perfect opportunity to indulge without breaking the bank. Dishes like Piri-Piri Shrimp, Lamb Kholapuri with Star Anise and White Poppy Seeds, and Coconut Rice Pudding with Dates, Candied Almonds, and Ginger Ice Cream are all seriously tasty… and thanks to Restaurant Week, wallet friendly too.
You won’t find Harold Dieterle’s newest venture, The Marrow, among the list of Restaurant Week participants, but you should definitely jump at the chance to check out (or revisit) his breakout eatery, Perilla, which participates in the food week. The first winner of Top Chef, Dieterle really made a name for himself with this West Village eatery, focusing on unpretentious comfort food, like Spicy Duck Meatballs, and Chicken and Egg Fricassee. The only drawback is that there are only 18 tables at this cozy neighborhood spot, plus 10 extra seats at the bar, so you’ll need to hustle if you want a shot at Dieterle’s Creole Gumbo, Grilled Smoked Tofu with Mitarashi Dango Dumplings, and Almond Financier with Oatmeal Streusel and Honey Anglaise.
Danny Meyer restaurants dot the city, including Union Square Cafe and his newest venture, North End Grill, in Battery Park. But it’s Maialino, a relaxed Roman trattoria inside the Gramercy Park Hotel, that’s our pick for Restaurant Week. The Restaurant Week menu is only available for weekday lunch, so seize your lunchbreak. There’s two different menus with different pricing, one for $25 and another for $35. If you fork over $10 more (totally worth it), you’ll literally double your menu options. Instead of Raw Market Vegetables with Bagna Cauda, you can order Smoked Swordfish and Marinated Heirloom Beans. For $10 more, a simple Porchetta Sandwich becomes a plate of the terrific Malfatti Maialino (hand torn egg pasta topped with braised suckling pig and arugula.) And you can go ahead and swap out those two scoops of Gelati or Sorbetti for Semifreddo with Chocolate and Praline. Either way, you’ll want to grab a lunch date and just maybe call in sick for the rest of the day.
We’ve always admired chef Ian Chalermkittichai’s modern Thai cooking at Kittichai, an eye-catching eatery in the boutique Soho hotel, 60 Thompson. And he’s not resting on his laurels by serving the expected, cost-effective dishes like Chicken Satay or Green Papaya Salad during Restaurant Week, either. Items like Prawn Cakes with Long Beans and Sweet Thai Chili Sauce, and Chiang Mai Chicken Curry Noodles with Pickled Mustard Greens are available during lunch service. Oh, and he ups the ante even further come dinner. Look for Duck Confit Salad with Micro Herbs and Lychee, Braised Pork Cheek with Spiced Palm Sugar, Steamed Buns and Truffle Powder, and for dessert, a Coconut Crème Caramel topped with a Coconut Tuile.
We love a good bargain, which is why we’re especially excited to get in on Restaurant Week at Ai Fiori, which as you may already know, ain’t cheap. Ai Fiori is an elegant spot, tucked inside the Fifth Avenue Setai, with a menu that pivots around the French and Italian Riviera (sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?). It’s the kind of eatery you might reserve for a special occasion or an expense account if any still exist. That is, unless it’s Restaurant Week! Where to begin? For just $25, you’ll get a taste of Ai Fiori’s Butternut Squash Soup with Pickled Delicata Squash and Brown Butter or Country Terrine, before settling into the Pan-Roasted Chicken with Chanterelles, Fregola and Hen Jus. Lest we forget, you’ll end the meal with a moist, Ligurian Olive Oil Cake with Grapefruit and Cinnamon Gelato.
20 E 76th St., Btwn 5th and Madison Aves.
27 W 24th St., Btwn 5th and 6th Aves.
9 Jones St., Btwn 4th and Bleecker Sts.
2 Lexington Ave., Btwn 22nd St and Gramercy Park
60 Thompson St., Btwn Spring and Broome Sts.
400 5th Ave., Btwn 37th and 36th Sts.