Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Road to Salivation

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.


Bryan said...

I will second that review for Bistro! 4 of us went and shared drinks and 2 meals plus a cheese plate. The quiche and fried oysters were incredible, as were the short ribs. We also were glad to spring for desert.

Anonymous said...

i think you missed the point with restaurant week. in dc, you get 3 courses and pay $30 for dinner and the choices are limited, but i can't think of another time i can eat out for 3 courses for that price in dc. fred is smaller, but still fun. poppy hill is the only restaurant we think is worth staying in fred for. that guy knows how to cook if you think its inconsistent i think it might be you my friend. bistro is ok but the two times i've been there they are out of like half the menu i am not surprised they cheaped out on restaurant week. truloves is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Can't believe places weren't giving a choice of dishes. So not in the spirit of things. We're off to New York restaurant week tonight (putting a Michelin star to the test!), will report back with reviews.

On the other end of the price-spectrum, went to this teeny Carribean spot near me on saturday. The kind of place where you just sort of get what the two Trinidadian ladies are cooking up at the moment. Got jerk shrimp and goat roti (brought our own Ommegang farmhouse ale). Too full to try to oxtail we keep hearing about. It is on the shortlist for your next visit, bigtime.