Friday, April 19, 2013

Restaurant Week is Upon Us!

Things have been heavy lately... so let's take a break and talk about something everyone loves:

Food. Good food.

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." -  Luciano Pavarotti

I'm more than happy to take Pavarotti's advice and devote my attention to one of my favorite Richmond dining events: the biannual Richmond Restaurant Week, held once in the fall (usually in October) and once in spring (usually in April). This spring, it will be held from April 22 - April 28.

Admittedly, when I moved to Richmond I was not very adventurous when it came to eating out. Being the Planny McPlanerston that I am, the thought of going to a local restaurant with a menu that I had never seen before in my life gave me heart palpitations. Thankfully, my lovely work wife Allison began to coax me out of my terror and having the great taste that she does, introduced me to a few of my now-favorite Richmond haunts (Cafe Rustica, for instance). With the help of my current group of coworkers, my palette has expanded even further and these days I am a dedicated  localvore when it comes to restaurants. In fact, if someone suggests that we eat at a chain restaurant while in Richmond, I generally just gape at them for a minute because I can't imagine that anyone would prefer a chain when we are surrounded by what seems like hundreds of awesome locally owned options.

For me, Richmond Restaurant Week is the perfect excuse to eat out as many times as possible during one week and add to my list of go-to dining spots. The gist of the week is simple (from RRW website):

  • Area Chefs create a three-course prixe fixe menu and offer it all week for $25.13.
  • $2.13 of each meal goes to FeedMore, the umbrella organization for the Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals of Wheels.
  • Celebrate Richmond as a great food town!
In other words: eat in some fabulous restaurants for a reasonable price and help people in need.

Pretty great, right?

Although last Saturday was the first time I ever employed a race-day strategy, I can't say the same for Restaurant Week. As soon as I learn what week it will fall in, I start to plot and plan. With so many participating restaurants, it's really hard to narrow down which to choose (my wallet and my pants will only stretch but so far), so I base my restaurant choices on the following factors:
  1. Is the cuisine something I like or have always wanted to try? Obviously going to a place that has a menu you are interested in is your top priority.
  2. Have I been there before? I try to use this opportunity to test out places that I have heard or read about but just haven't gotten to yet. Plus, at $25.13 a person, if you end up hating the place (which I feel is highly unlikely anyway), it won't be that big of deal, whereas if I went and spent $100 on dinner for two and wasn't wowed, I would feel pretty annoyed.
  3. What is the price range of the menu when it's not Restaurant Week? If you can go to the restaurant any old time and get a similar meal for a similar price, to me it's not worth it. I'm going for the multiple-dollar-sign rated restaurants so I can get the most bang for my buck - you know, the ones that I probably couldn't afford to patronize but once in a blue moon otherwise. I try to stick to restaurants where the entrees are in the $20-$30 range.
  4. Do they take reservations? Obviously, participating restaurants are absolutely swamped during this time. Being a highly impatient person, I do not like to wait around to eat. The fact of the matter is that I turn into a raving b*tch when I get hungry, and nobody needs to see that. Therefore, if the place doesn't take reservations, I'm probably not going to go there during Restaurant Week. 
Once I've narrowed down to about 5-7 restaurants, I poll Husband and my friends to see if their selections overlap with mine. Or I just try to convince them that I've got the perfect plan. Then I make my reservations as soon as possible and count down the days until the eating-fest starts.

This spring, the list of participating restaurants is really impressive. There are many that I have been to already (and love) and there are also many that I have been meaning to get to. After much debate, we settled on two choices for this round: 
  • The Water Grill with Greg (of running buddy fame) and his lady Gretchen
  • The Blue Goat with my beloved Viceroy of Anguish, Teka, and her husband Erik

Some of my other top choices include:
  • Acacia - I broke my own rule and have gone to Acacia twice during restaurant week because it is that good.
  • Avenue 805 - Great Italian spot. I've never gone during Restaurant Week because they have a really good $35 Date Night special every Monday and Tuesday. 
  • Julep's - Four words: Cheesy. Shrimp. And. Grits. (Oh. Em. Gee.) It's on the Restaurant Week menu. Trust me, you won't be sorry.
  • La Grotta - Another great Italian spot. One of Husband and I's favorites in Richmond, actually. And he's Italian, so he would know. (I'm Scotch-Irish, so really I don't have any right judging food at all.) We have never gone during Restaurant Week and are perfectly willing to shell out full-price to partake, which says something.
  • Secco - A wine bar whose lunch specials I love. They serve these amazing fried chick peas as a side that I could just eat piles and piles of. This was on my list for this year but didn't make the cut. If you go, tell me about dinner! 
  • Tarrant's Cafe - We have been here many many times for both lunch and dinner. Get the french fries. Just. Do. It.
  • Bistro 27 - The sight of Husband and I's most expensive dinner of our lives. We went with a $50 gift certificate and still ended up blowing $130 out of pocket on two people. In other words: it's delicious food and by going during restaurant week, you'll save yourselves a boatload.
  • Zeus Gallery Cafe - This place is so hole-in-the-wall that they don't even have a real website. And that's because it's so good that they don't need one - word of mouth does the trick. The menus are on chalk boards at your table because they change every day. I'd be in here all the time if it wasn't so darn expensive - so this is your perfect change to get it without the pain in the wallet.
So I encourage all of you who may be in the Richmond to employ your own strategy and head out there next week. Jump out of your comfort zone, find something new, support local businesses, and help raise some much needed funds to fight hunger among our fellow Virginians.

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