It may have been frigid outside, but three girlfriends and I weren't feeling the cold as we enjoyed a scrumptious feast at the Michelin-starred restaurant The Modern one recent night in New York City. Spicy steak tartare, grilled monkfish, crispy duck confit and homemade Alsatian sausage were among the delicious, generously portioned offerings, paired with lovely wines and finished with luscious desserts (why hello there, hazelnut dacquoise!) that we couldn't resist sharing. The best part? Our meals (sans wine and tip) came to just $35 per person.
How is this possible? Ah, that's the beauty of Restaurant Week, currently taking place in New York City, and generator of "approximately $6 million in revenue for our city's restaurants" in 2010, according to NYC & Company CEO George Fertitta. But while The Modern has one of the best RW deals around—they offer their entire bar room menu, as opposed to a just few select dishes, at a bargain price—it isn't always the ambrosial experience that my girlfriends and I experienced: A few days later, I had a RW lunch (the prix fixe price is $24.07 during the day) at Quality Meats in Midtown. My overcooked scallops appeared suspiciously quickly after I ordered, followed by a borderline raw steak with simple scoops of ice cream for dessert. Disappointing.
With more and more establishments offering prix-fixe menus, both during special local restaurant week promotions as well as year round, how do restaurateurs retain quality and ensure the endeavor makes financial sense at the same time?
Executive chef Sergio Sigala of Miami's Cecconi says making sure the prix fixe items are of the same quality as the regular menu items is crucial. "[Our prix-fixe menu] is always based on the best seasonal and local ingredients," he says. "It reflects our overall philosophy as a restaurant—the same as our regular dishes."
Adds James Botsacos, chef/partner of Molyvos in New York City: "I try to create dishes specifically for the pre-theater menu that are easily executed and work economically for the restaurant and guest. We look for items we can prepare efficiently and with great quality."
And any loss in revenue from the lower prices is offset by the uptick in new and repeat business. "We see this every year with Dine L.A.," says Brian Moyers, executive chef of BLT Steak in Los Angeles. "We have a $44 prix fixe that is sold out almost every night. After the promotion is over, guests often return craving our popovers, paté and big char grilled steaks."
In the meantime, I'm more than happy to try new restaurants and afford that Michael Kors watch I've been eyeing for months. Good thing too: Restaurant Week in NYC has been extended another three weeks to February 27. Yum!
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1