No, that’s not my (clever? awful?) pun, that’s actually what the city of Fredericksburg has nicknamed Restaurant Week. This is the third year that the city has hosted the event, where restaurants offer three course prix-fixe meals for $20.08, but it’s the first year my husband and I have checked it out. We chose three restaurants (of the 11 participating) that we’ve eaten in and enjoyed before. We assumed that for $20, the menu options would be limited, and we anticipated that portions might be smaller, so we thought our expectations were realistic.
Our first stop was Poppy Hill Tuscan Kitchen. The Restaurant Week options included a choice of soup or salad, a choice of two entrees (salmon over shrimp risotto and chicken over pasta), and homemade cannoli for dessert. Although we’ve found Poppy Hill to be inconsistent at times in the past, dinner this night was quite good, and well worth the $20. I’m an especially big fan of their homemade tagliatelle.
Second on our list was TruLuv’s, and here is where we hit bottom. We’ve enjoyed dinner here before, and friends have confirmed that the food is usually good. I can only assume that the chef-owner really just didn’t want to do a Restaurant Week menu. For our sake, he shouldn’t have. We were given a choice of soup or salad, but only one entree: a limp piece of bland tilapia over a lump of mushy brown rice, with a few stalks of asparagus, and coated with a gelatinous “Asian sauce.” It tasted like the kind of entree you’d get at a badly catered business luncheon. No choice for dessert, either, just a dish that was possibly the worst excuse for a dessert I’ve ever had in a restaurant: frozen strawberries and peaches, defrosted and put in a bowl with a dollop of what tasted like Cool Whip. If the idea of Restaurant Week is to introduce new customers to your food, I would have expected chefs to give at least a small taste of what’s best about the menu. By all accounts, this meal was the worst I’d expect to get there.
We finished up the week at my favorite restaurant, Bistro Bethem. Here, it was clear that the chef-owner embraced the notion of Restaurant Week, with a special menu that included a choice of 3 appetizers and 6 entrees. Our meal was excellent, from my salad of field greens with shaved lamb (shown above) and my husband’s fried oysters, to our entrees of shortribs and free-range chicken. The only glitch was that there was no third course included in the $20, as the dinefred.com website advertised. But the meal was so good that we didn’t quibble, and splurged on desserts anyway.
So the bottom line is this: We probably won't be rushing back to Restaurant Week. But if your budget doesn’t allow for eating out at fancy restaurants, it can be a wonderful opportunity to get a special night out, and try some places you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford. Just expect limited menus and some half-hearted efforts.