I have a tenuous relationship with Restaurant Week. I’ve reviewed a few places before, and still believe that Restaurant Week in NYC is a great opportunity to fill seats in a restaurant and allow people to try the food at places they ordinarily wouldn’t want to “risk” at full price. For me, it’s great. I do a lot of client entertaining at restaurants, and I’d much prefer to have a preview before I risk my good relationships on a bad meal. Some restaurants, however, just put the cheapest food they can on the menu and skirt by. I know Restaurant Week is political in NY, but I wish these restaurants just wouldn’t bother. I try to read reviews about the best places to eat during RW and then provide my reviews so other’s can learn from my successes and mistakes.
So without further ado, here is my round-up for Restaurant Week for Summer 2010 in NYC. And good news… they just extended the “week” through Labor Day! So go and find a place to eat a three-course meal: Lunch for $24 and Dinner for $35. Tell them NYC Nom Nom sent ya. (And don’t forget to tip on the original food price!)
My first RW stop of this season was lunch at Olives (note to Olives: your website sucks) with the lovely Miss Lori (of Stuff I Ate fame). Olives is the Todd English restaurant in the W Union Square. (Side online media geek rant… Olives: your website sucks. Todd English: your heavy breathing website is creepy. W Union Square: Sorry I just cost you and my old Search team a few cents. /rant)
We started with a basket of way too deliciously moist bread with caramelized onions on top.
Which came with olive goo for dipping in. Mmmmm
The posted menu is here(however, ours was a bit different). Lori and I both chose the beet salad to start. I have had a good deal of beet salads in recent years, and this was hands down the best one I have ever had. I would eat this over pizza. It was absolutely perfectly seasoned, sweet, and the braised pistachios were TO. DIE. FOR. Wow. I just want to go back for this salad. Immediately.
I first chose two other entrees on the menu before I settled on the ravioli. It was a sad moment, as BOTH entrees had peppers that couldn’t be taken out. So I settled for the raviolis.
And if you get “stuck” with raviolis, these are pretty damn good ones to get stuck with. Not the best, but quite delicious and totally satisfying. The peas were perfectly cooked.
Lori chose the trout (which seems to NOT be on the menu that is posted) which had cherries (damn I love cherries), beans, and bacon. This is what I REALLY wanted but it had jalapenos. Damn. Since I couldn’t even sneak a taste due to my allergy, her full review is here.
And then came the desserts… we decided to each get one of the pana cottas. The first was a buttermilk custard with wild Maine blueberries and things that we kept commenting tasted just like Kix. Turns out, that is exactly what they were! It was pretty good… but nothing to write home about.
The second pana cotta was a bittersweet chocolate with shaved brownie, cocoa puffs, and white chocolate fudge. What they FAILED to mention was the watermelon sorbet. It was so damn good that we each contemplated accidentally tripping and falling (mouth first) into our neighbor’s plates as their desserts came out. This sorbet is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Overall, I was very impressed with Olives. I’ve had apps and drinks there before and I’ve never been dissapointed. I hear the regular dinner menu has AMAZING pasta. Totally worth it.
Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10
Our next restaurant of the season was Ilili. This came as a recommendation and seemed especially enticing since they offered a free pour of Lebanese wine during the two original weeks of RW (thanks for the tip Wined and Dined!)
Even though we got a free taste of wine, I saw a cocktail on the menu that I couldn’t resist. It had tequila, mulberry syrup, and lime. It was quite enjoyable. And obvious QUITE strong… the pictures for the rest of the Ilili post are terribly out of focus. Apologies in advance.
Their Restaurant Week menu is here. (They also offer a Dinner special for $39 every Sunday - Wednesday that is similar to the RW menu was. It doesn’t appear that they are officially participating in the extended Restaurant Week, but this was a steal even for an extra $4!)
We went to Ilili with our friends Josh and Lillian, and what is so much fun about Ilili’s menu is that there is just SO much to choose from so we each chose 2 small plates, 1 entree, and 1 dessert and then sampled around the table. I love friends who share their food!
First up was the green beans with date molasses garlic whip, sesame seeds, and pickled pearl onions. Delish!
Then there was the insanely creamy hummus…
…That came with well inflated pita.
We also got artichokes (which aren’t on the current, year-long menu). I hear they were good, but they were spicy so I had to do without. Poo.
We tried the Mekanek, which was lamb sausage sauteed with olive oil with lemon and pine nuts. Tasty.
And the steak tartar that came shaped like a meatball. I prefer my tartar less reminiscent of raw meat I cook with… but at least it tasted good! (And yes… I stuck to the far side of the plate below)
I ordered the lamb meatballs with onions and pine nuts in a tomato sauce. These were so good and lamb-y! MMmmmm
Our last “app”/small plate was the lamb ribs with burned strawberry, scallions a la plancha, cuin, and aleppo broth. I REALY wanted to try this (burned strawberry just sounded interesting) but, turns out, the aleppo broth took me out of contention. Lillian said it was good though!
Josh chose the braised rabbit with eggplant, romano beans, and roasted heirloom tomatoes. (Right Josh? Man I hope that’s right…) He liked it whatever it was!
Mike chose the Chicken Shish Taouk which was marinated in lemon and garlic on a spiced pita. He enjoyed thoroughly.
Lillian chose the striped bass with a ragout of clams and herbs, kouzbara toast, and lemon espuma. It was deliciously tender and juicy.
In my humble opinion, my entree was the best. It was the lamb and plum stew with crispy vermicelli. It helps that lamb and plums are 2 of my favorite foods. The meat just fell apart on my fork and the tastes were effortlessly elaborate. I loved it. Love love loved it.
The desserts were plentiful. First up was the Ilili Candy Bar that came with chocolate kataifi crunch, chocolate ganache, pistachio and fig caramel and finished with warm chocolate sauce (table side). I’m not sure why it was called a candy bar, but it was delicious and decadent.
Josh chose the homemade Lebanese ice cream. I’m not sure what kind it was… but he enjoyed it from what I could tell.
Lillian got the Ashta which is traditional Lebanese clotted cream with orange blossom simple syrup. This was tasty, but not as rich as I like my desserts. (I’m a glutton for chocolate).
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with Ilili. Not only was there a lot of food and a lot to choose from for a typical Restaurant Week menu, but they do a similar special all year long AND the food was spectacular. Not a bad dish on the table. I will do work lunches and dinners here. It was that good.
Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10
After reading some reviews, Mike and I chose to do a RW dinner at Park Avenue Summer (which also doesn’t appear to be on the extended RW list). They change the menu and decor for each season.
Our bread basket was concerning, as while the biscuits looked delicious, they also looked like they could have potential inclusion of peppers (and as we all know, jalapeno peppers ARE in fact peppers).
Luckily, they read my mind and included a descriptive card about the breads! (and the Summer Corn Roll was tasty).
We started with a chef’s treat of watermelon pieces on a stick. Good… but if you are just going to serve watermelon on a stick, it had better be VERY good watermelon. It wasn’t. Just okay. I’m hard to impress with watermelon though.
The restaurant was VERY dark (even leading an old lady to block the stairs as we went to our seats to allow her “eyes to adjust”) so the pictures are not great. Sorry!
Mike started a dish that isn’t on the posted menu (my memory isn’t good enough for this!) I have no recollection of this… hmmm…
I got the salmon tartar and this was REALLY good. Impressive citrus flavor that perfectly balanced the fish.
Mike got the Dr. Pepper Baby Back Ribs for his entree with fresh peach slaw. He made the right choice.
I went with the roasted chicken with peaches. It was just… ehh. The skin wasn’t crispy enough, there was too much sugar in the peach sauce and not enough peaches, and the chicken was a bit dry. Very disappointing.
We also ordered off the regular menu (in addition to a bottle of wine) and got the fried artichokes. I was SO disappointed with these. The breading was so heavy and fried so much that you couldn’t even taste the artichokes. They tasted like fast food. Weird and disappointing.
For dessert, Mike chose two curious flavors of ice cream: sweet corn and carmelized honey. They were both stupendous but I LOVED the corn. Wow! Like licking cold popcorn flavored deliciousness.
I went with the Chilled Banana Parfait with Chocolate Crumbs & Banana Butterscotch Puree. Honestly, I hoped it was something like my insanely delicious Faux Banana Ice Cream, but it was lackluster until I hit the butterscotch, which made it better, but still not GREAT. Bummer.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed by Park Avenue Summer. I don’t know if it was the RW menu or if the food was just not what I expected. Bummer.
Total Nom Points: 6 out of 10
Our last scheduled stop for Restaurant Week was dinner at Perry Street (a Jean Georges restaurant I had heard good things about. They also seem to not be participating in the RW extension… damn. But they do have a summer special for lunch ($26) and dinner ($38).
The day before, Mike and I checked out the RW Dinner Menu and were disappointed to see that they only had 2 apps and 2 entrees to choose from (and both entrees included scary words like “spicy” and “ratatouille”). I called to confirm and asked if they could move us to lunch, which had a MUCH bigger menu (though even with so much selection, I had trouble finding pepperless items).
I really liked the ambiance of the restaurant.
Even the bar just looked comfortable.
We started with an amuse bouche of cold watermelon soup. It was tasty but a little too vinegary for me (it burned the throat).
Mikes app was the goat cheese and peach salad. These were the best peaches I have had all season. Hands down. I want to know where they source them from. This is how peaches are meant to be. Mike enjoyed the crystallized wasabi (and wasabi nuts) but I steered clear (not a fan… reminds me too much of the scary pepper in taste).
I went with the arctic char sashimi with lemon, olive oil, and crispy skin. It was good, but really was no comparison to the salmon tartar from the week before at Park Avenue Summer.
Mike chose the grilled yellowfin tuna burger. It came with bonito mayonnaise, shiso, and yuzu pickles. I think it was tasty, but it was a bit hard to get past the fact that this was ground up tuna rather than a tuna steak.
I had the spinach and goat cheese omelet with crunchy potatoes.
It was good but nothing too special.
For dessert, Mike got the “berry soup.” It was good, but felt like a cheap alternative to a real dessert.
I went with the chocolate lava cake.
It was disappointing… especially because the center was pretty well done. The chocolate was SO bittersweet that even the ice cream (which was tasty) couldn’t quite make up for it. It was also a bit dry. It would have been well suited for a berry sauce of some kind.
Overall, I was underwhelmed by Perry Street. For a name like Jean Georges, I expected more, especially for Restaurant Week. I don’t know how their regular menu is, but this was just… ehhh. Another bummer.
Total Nom Points: 6 out of 10
Restaurant Week Summer 2010 was an overall success since we had TWO great meals.
Summary: Skip Perry Street and Park Avenue Summer, Hit up Olives and especially Ilili.