Nailing Restaurant Week
Today’s post was not supposed to be about Albany’s Restaurant Week. Much like the taxi industry in the Capital Region, Restaurant Week has long been a victim of self sabotage. It’s a brutal combination of neglect and disdain. To be clear, these problems extend beyond Albany and the region. Cabs and Restaurant Weeks are in trouble all over the country.
But let’s focus on Albany, since its Restaurant Week start tomorrow and runs through April 7.
How can a restaurant make money when it charges $20 for a three course meal? Well, it can’t. Which makes this an expensive marketing effort for participating restaurants. Not only will the business take a hit on every meal, but each diner there for restaurant week is theoretically replacing a full paying patron.
Which is why in San Francisco, this promotion was only run one week of the year at a time when restaurants were typically dead: the first week in January.
This promotion should be a golden opportunity for a restaurant to show off its chops, and win the hearts and bellies of the food going public. But it has turned into a loveless slog, where restaurants agree to feed people they don’t see as their future guests, dumbed down versions of dishes, in a chaotic atmosphere, by service staff who seem to resent waiting upon the value conscious crowd.
So why am I writing about it at all? Well, one of the menus kind of blew my mind.
Look, there are always a few good things scattered around Albany’s Restaurant Week. V&R always offers a sit down, classic, Italian-American meal. $20 for a caesar salad, eggplant parm, and a cannoli, served in a nice setting is always going to be a good deal.
And places like Parish Public House will smartly include their signature dishes as part of the promotion. So you can make a meal of gumbo, shrimp and grits, and bread pudding. That feels like Louisiana to me.
It would seem that menu shaming is an effective recipe for change during Restaurant Week and the prooftext of that are the solid offerings at Wellington’s.
But it was The City Beer Hall that knocked my socks off. For a couple of reasons.
For starters, you can bring your vegan friends. Seriously. There is a three course vegan meal, and it sounds absolutely delicious. From the watercress salad, to the cauliflower schnitzel, and the matcha tea “panna cotta”. Those quotation marks are mine, because without cream it’s not panna cotta.
And if you aren’t vegan, your treats multiply, with some of the house made charcuterie chefs Dimitrios and Ian do so well. I love the rabbit pate. I love the duck prosciutto. And next week, you can get the pate wrapped in the prosciutto. But even more mind blowing than that is the smoked deviled egg stuffed with chicken liver pate. Stop for a moment, and let that last one sink in. I’m tasting it in my mind, and I’ve got to have one
The pasta dish comes with marrow butter garlic bread.
The lettuce wraps are filled with duck breast.
The cheesecake is topped with a saffron and strawberry rhubarb compote.
There are some other strong menus too, like ama Cocina where you can get a mini nacho pie, with a bowl of posole rojo, and ama’s signature brownie bites. And I am surprised by just how seasonally appropriate The Olde English Restaurant Week menu sounds.
It’s wonderful to see more tempting options. The trick is going to be in the execution. Not just in how the back of the house deals with the crush of activity, but also in the front of the house presents the restaurant’s opinion of the promotion.
Best of luck for all those on the front lines. Have a great weekend.