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Jan 30, 2008 07:53 AM

Restaurant Week - never again.

For the past five years or so i've made it a point to go to at least one restaurant week meal each season (Winter & Summer). I eat out a lot, I make it a priority to spend money on high-quality food, and I use the Restaurant Week promotion as an opportunity to try new places in the hopes that i find something interesting and tasty and will then go back for regular, non-Rest.Wk meals.

I used to love the experience! I felt that restaurants welcomed me as a first-timer, gave me a nice tasting of what they had to offer, and many of my earlier experiences made me a repeat customer at various places. HOWEVER, in the past two years I've seen this experience decline in a terrible way, and after my experience last night at Thalassa I can safely (and sadly) say that I believe what was great about the promotion has been snuffed out and I will no longer take part.

Our meal at Thalassa was mediocre at best. Once we asked for the restaurant week menu we were ignored for at least 15 minutes before i had to wave wildly to get a waiter to come take our order. We ordered an extra appetizer (asked for it to come before our rest.wk first courses) and a nice bottle of wine. The waiter brought the wine and then disappeared for the duration of our meal. The appetizer we ordered came WITH our first course; it was a cheese plate and the server just plopped it down and ran away as I pleaded after him "Can you tell us which cheese is which?!" He either didn't hear me or didn't care - the fact that i couldn't tell which was the case is enough of a problem right there.
Then our main courses came while we were still eating the appetizer and first course (a lobster bisque that was actually quite tasty, but unfortunately luke warm). I had the Lavraki fish which was supposed to come with "wilted organic greens" and a "kalamata olive risotto." Where to begin? Well, the fish was okay, though it was covered with so many capers and too much salt so i couldn't exactly tell you how the FISH tasted.
The wilted greens had been so overcooked that they had a bitter taste and looked horrendous. And the risotto was...depressing. It was a pile of white mush (no bite to the rice kernels, as there should always be with risotto) and instead of having a deep olive flavor it was painfully obvious that a few kalamata olives had been thrown in at the last minute.
The dessert was a walnut cake. It was okay, though nothing to write home about.
At the end of the meal we sat there for at least 15 more minutes, trying desperately to flag down a waiter to get our bill. When it finally came they brought these nice little boxes and announced that they were filled with "some little treats, on the house." This brightened my spirits a little bit, until i got home and discovered that inside the box were two of the most tasteless mini-cookies i'd ever tried, and a promotional leaflet about their Valentine's Day dinner specials.

I really am sad to see that this is what Restaurant Week has become. It was such a wonderful idea, and I had so many lovely experiences years ago, but after a handful of these types of evenings I am finished. I wonder why places even bother to take part in the promotion, if they're going to treat it as a burden and serve food of much lower quality than is on their regular menu (I've heard from friends that Thalassa has delicious food, regularly)? Instead of making me a repeat customer, I've been turned off of Thalassa for good, whereas if i had gone for a regular meal I bet I'd have enjoyed it. Seems to me they're working against themselves with this one.

Sorry about the long vent here, I just don't understand why it has to be this way. (And I won't go into a second rant, but the fact that these meals have escalated by over $10 in price over the past few years and declined as much in quality puzzles me even more.)

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  1. You went to the wrong place. Go to Eleven Madison Park and you will be treated like visiting royalty.-- and you will eat food fit for a king.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Brian S

      Chinatown Brasserie also does a fantastic RW with the most value I've seen thus far.

      1. re: LeahBaila

        Had great restaurant week experiences in previous years at Blue Water Grill and Vento.

    2. Hey, ElenaRS,

      Thalassa may have been a huge disappointment -- and from your description, it definitely sounds like a bad meal -- and they have done themselves harm by treating those ordering the RW with such disdain. I agree that any restaurant that does that is very foolish and would be better off not participating.

      However, I do think it is unfair of you to paint a broad, negative brush regarding the quality of RW cuisine. There have been many very positive RW reports on this board this year, including those mentioned here. So, most restaurants do know the value of offering RW diners a good experience.

      Trying new restaurants even when it is not RW can be a crap shoot. While we Hounds pick each others brains in order to keep disappointing meals to a minimum, they still happen to all of us. That never stops us, and you shouldn't let this horrible RW experience stop you from trying again during the summer. But instead of picking blindly, post here and ask for recommendations. That may not be a 100% guarantee of a great meal, but it will certainly boost the odds in that direction.

      6 Replies
      1. re: RGR

        You're right that there are definitely a handful of places that continually treat all customers with the same level of respect. Unfortunately, I have to agree with the OP on Restaurant Week. I take this as an opportunity to try other restaurants that may not get as much recognition on this board and elsewhere. It's, as the OP said, a chance to try new places without spending tons of money. But when I venture out and get treated like a miscreant, it feels terrible and certainly not worth $35.

        That being said, I've still got to try the Eleven Madison Park lunch. RGR, I know it's a favorite of yours. ;)

        1. re: Gluttonous Prime

          Hey, G.P.,

          There are still two days left for RW. Acc. to Brian S, you can easily get a seat at EMP's bar without a reservation, so go to it! :-)

          1. re: RGR

            As I wrote in my post, I went again on Monday and no one sat at the bar the whole time I was there. I believe that any restaurant associated with Danny Meyer gives a great Restaurant Week meal (including Craft, which is indirectly associated with him)

            1. re: Brian S


              With respect to Craft, I presume you meant the Tom Colicchio connection? While it's true that Colicchio opened Craft while he was still executive chef at Gramercy Tavern, Danny Meyer has never had any involvement with Craft.

              1. re: RGR

                Yes, I meant the Colicchio connection... the owner of Craft hosted many years of Danny Meyer-style Restaurant Week lunches at Gramercy Tavern. I remember back then he'd come out to greet the RW lunchers, and a really trendy crowd it was; all the tables around me seemed to be full of people talking about their latest meals at El Bulli ("Honey, phone the airport, I'll phone Ferran and tell him we'll be stopping by Barcelona tonight")

        2. re: RGR

          thanks for the suggestions. you guys are right, i shouldn't give up on RW in general. next season i'll definitely go to 11MadPark (though from all the good reviews i might have to go before then!).
          but warnings to all: avoid Thalassa at all costs! (RW or not, i'd say)

        3. The original comment has been removed
          1. It's clear that some restaurants are better than others, and the OP 's review sounded more than objective. To be denied an explanation on a cheese plate (It also happened to me at Artisanal incidentally, during RW), and to be forced to eat a risotto that has been overcooked, or a fish that has been oversalted are pretty bad indicators of the quality of a restaurant. I think your response sounds unduly harsh and biased. (oops - the post i was responding to seems to have vanished!)

            As the others have stated, there are plenty of RW selections out there. I've personally enjoyed Aquavit, Perry Street, the Modern, and Asiate. I hope to add Ilili to the list after tonight.

            1. re: kayonyc

              Did you see the NYT review of Ilili today?

              1. re: MMRuth

                yes, i did, thanks! I was gratified to see I had a reservation the very same day as Bruni's review. I've heard more than good reviews through this board, so am looking forward to it.

              2. re: kayonyc

                Hey! I'm going to ilili tonight, as well! Whoever reports back first tomorrow, the other needs to respond with their opinion.


                1. re: LeahBaila

                  hmmm. That sounds like a great idea! Let's!

                  1. re: kayonyc

                    Hi Kayo,
                    What did you think of ilili? Our service was horrific, the food was ok to good.


                    1. re: LeahBaila

                      Our service was sufficiently attentive but not polished enough. Timing was a bit off. Food quality ranged from very good (amberjack and baba ghanouj app, octopus app) to just ok-good (chicken entree and branzino entree). Desserts were fine, but not amazing. I wasn't thrilled with my wine. Overall, no real complaints other than waiting more than 15 mins for my 7:30 reservation and being seated upstairs in no man's land (does the confirmation of a RW reservation decide this?) The pluses: beautifully designed space and copious amounts of food (4 items) and a good value.

            2. There was a thread on this phenomenon in the last couple of weeks as well. I agree with you. It's unfortunate that restaurants take this approach. I feel like they look at it as "cheap food for cheap people." I sometimes call RW menus "wedding food."

              Although I had a pretty good RW experience at Mai House last night. The staff was great. The service was great. We tipped a little over 20%, etc. The food was 50/50 though. 1 great app, 1 pretty good app. 1 great entree, 1 not-so-good entree. Desserts were status quo.

              1 Reply
              1. re: egit

                Egit, I love the reference to "wedding food." That makes perfect sense! Such a great comparison.


              2. Interesting that you mention Thalassa- my experience last week was actually quite different. We had never been and decided to try something totally different because the menu looked good. We got seated, asked about water, then were essentially ignored for 10-15 minutes as well. However, they didn't know which menu we were ordering off of yet, at that point.
                We were about to get extremely annoyed, when eventually, we got the waiter's attention & ordered. Our waiter seemed a bit quiet & timid, so I don't know if that was the problem, or maybe it's their style to let you sit & unwind for a bit? We were not happy about it though either.

                We ended up dong the RW menu, plus an additional appetizer special- some delicious filo dough encrusted scallops, w/some veggies. We were asked about the timing of that vs.the other apps. & it arrived as requested.

                Once we finally ordered, and our wine, and app. came out, things turned around and the service was absolutely wonderful. Questions were answered, explanations, a manger stopped by, wine was refilled, etc.

                Our lobster bisque temperature was good. It was pretty tasy, not best ever, but I enjoyed it. As for the Lavraki, my mom ordered that, and we suprisingly found it very simple and delicious- if anything, I would say ours was underseasoned-you really just tasted the fresh fish w/ some seasoning/ flavor. I had the skate, which I really enjoyed & don't have often- served with simply roasted beets & potatoes.

                I agree the desert was nothing to write home about- and thought the cookie boxes were a nice touch, although not so great tasting. Maybe the V-day advertising wasn't the classiest thing to do, but as a professional marketer, I appreciated it ;-)

                Anway, we really enjoyed our overall experience & all of the food, despite the initial shaky start. Sorry to hear yours wasn't the same. Maybe the place has consistency issues? And at the prices I think I saw, I don't know how I'd feel going back knowing it could be so hit or miss, but I would probably give it a chance.

                I've also have had several excellent meals & great service at Lure Fish Bar & once at Vento during RW. EMP is on my list for next time. I like to to new places I might not usually go to, and with the exception of Butter, I've never had a really horrible experience at all.