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Northampton Restaurant Week - Post your reports

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I'm ambivalent about trying any of the restaurants that signed up this time around, but I am certainly looking forward to your reports....I do remember being completely underwhelmed by Sierra Grille last summer, but did enjoy my meal at Circa in '06.

The restaurants and menus participating this year are listed at http://www.northamptonrestaurantweek....

Any reports on Bistro Les Gras?

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  1. got a reservation tonight.. will report back!

    1. I missed restaurant week by 3 days, but enjoyed our lunch at Paul & Elizabeth's last week very much, as mentioned in another post.

      1. went to sierra last night as it was the only place the SO could get a reservation for that wasn't before 530 or after 830.

        appetizers:
        pork shank with spicy jicama slaw
        smoked seafood chowder

        entrees:
        smoked pork tenderloin, grilled vegetables & basmati rice
        orange chipotle glazed tempeh, belgian fries & sesame green beans

        dessert:
        housemade chocolate truffles rolled in crushed pecan with lambic reduction
        lemon curd profiteroles with raspberry puree

        appetizers were both successful.. the pork was extremely tender although the barbecue sauce was somewhat run-of-the-mill flavorwise. the chowder was creamy, but the richness was balanced by a large quantity of crisp fresh veggies, tender seafood (clam and salmon heavy) and fresh herbs. i hope they put this chowder on the menu.

        i was really impressed by both the pork (smoked meat lovers only) and the tempeh, which had a great texture- crunchy bits embedded in a pillowy exterior, grilled with the sauce (which was a little too orangey). i also really enjoyed the green beans, which had a bit of heat and sesame oil. i felt a little ripped off on the fries as there were only maybe 10 or so on the plate. the housemade ketchup and mayo almost made up for it.

        desserts.. the truffle ganache was very milky.. the so liked it, and it paired nice with my dogfish palo santo marron, but it just wasn't my thing. the nut flavor was overpowered. it went nice with the sauce though. the profiterole was really nice, although lemon curd really is a bit strong for me.. it was used delicately and a whipped cream accompaniment was the perfect foil for the citrus tartness.

        overall, a real value for $20 and along the lines of the quality i've come to appreciate at SG.

        B+

        1. I posted my thoughts on Les Gras on its thread, here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/522757

          1. We went to Les Gras last night for the restaurant week deal. The good news: best burger I've had, perfectly cooked on a lovely brioche-type roll and excellent aioli on the side. The bad news: instead of opting to create a great impression during restaurant week, they really went the cheap route. One of the first course options was a selection from 'The Cart,' which, on the menu, is several cheeses, charcuterie and pickles and olives. My husband ordered that, but found the course consisted of only ONE selection - ie, one cheese, OR one salami/ham,etc OR olives. He received a small portion of Humboldt Fog and some bread. This would NEVER happen in France (been there). The chevre salad was OK but small. The lentils with roasted vegetables were very salty with ONE carrot! NO PORK BELLY. Salade nicoise was unremarkable, and not substantial enough for an entree. Most disappointing, the 'Cookie Plate' consisted of selections from Bakery Normand, famous in town for their sawdust cakes and cookies. The red wine recommended by the server was very good, but they need more bottles under thirty dollars, very easy to do these days. We will probably go back, at some point. It's very pretty and the interior is well put-together. It's too bad they didn't have the smarts to really wow people there for the reaturant week draw to encourage them to come back during normal pricing.

            22 Replies
            1. re: tatwood

              A good friend of mine owns a restaurant participating in Noho Restaurant Week. He said they almost opted out this year because of the terrible state of the economy and the HUGE rise in the cost of everyday products (flour and rice have tripled in price, for example).

              I know Restaurant Week is used to get butts in the seats, but really, it barely turns most places a profit currently. In fact, deciding on what extras diners choose, restaurants may be losing money. It's hard to "wow people" when you're barely scraping by as it is. Some owners are having a hard time paying their staff even.

              P.S. This is just an opinion (so take it with a grain of salt), but why would you want more cheap bottles of wine on the list? I create winelists as part of my job, and I have to tell you that the lower priced bottles have the highest markup percentagewise in the restaurant. You're literally going to pay four times retail for your Meridian Chardonnay, Bixio Pinot Grigio, etc. Those are $7 wines. To pay +/- $25 for them is a sin. Once the price point of a wine rises, the percentage markup drops, so you get a better deal.

              P.P.S. It's true that most restaurants will mark up the cheapest bottles EXTRA heavily because they know lots of people out there just opt for the cheapest/ second cheapest bottle of a certain varietal, without knowing anything about the wines. I'm telling you, they get you good on these <$30 bottles. You're WAY overpaying for bad wine. Bummer.

              1. re: invinotheresverde

                Points taken on the wine-under-$30.00. That said, I don't drink or order 'bad wine,' and am fully aware of the markup on all bottles in restaurants. Which, by the way, makes sense if a sommelier is on the payroll, but not so much in most establishments. I have found many delightful wines for under $10.00 a bottle, in both France and western Mass. For example, there is a very nice French white table wine at a local store for $7.99 retail ('Les Rials'). If it was on a wine list for $22.00 to $24.00 I would happily order it even knowing the markup. In your post, you appear to have made some assumptions that are erroneous. There is an element of 'wine snobbery' in dismissing wines as 'bad' based on a low price. Please don't let your blanket disapproval of inexpensive wines keep you from discovering some gems in the future. That certainly would be a 'bummer.'

                1. re: tatwood

                  It's his/her job to make you think that wine price has a causal relationship with wine enjoyment. It does him/her and the industry good. It also serves our hedonism (by paying more we enjoy the wine more).

                  As a one-time resident of Italy, this arrangement strikes me as amusing. It's doubly amusing as a beer enthusiast.

                  1. re: tatwood

                    I agree. Apollo Grill has a great inexpensive wine list, as does The Rendezvous in Turners Falls. (And not every restaurant passes along that kind of markup to its customers.)

                    It shouldn't be assumed that just because someone is looking for inexpensive wines that it means they want swill, or have an undeveloped palate. Restaurants and bars who offer inexpensive, approachable, "interesting" wines might in fact foster a love of "good" wine that might inspire customers to explore beyond their comfort zones.

                    I wish people would understand that elitism doesn't breed loyal (or enough) customers. Particularly in this economy. While I agree Restaurant Week is a challenge to manage, it is an opportunity to pick up new business, if the establishment manages itself properly and understands its market.

                    1. re: tatwood

                      Yes, there are rare gems, but most restaurants don't carry them. They carry Blackstone Merlot, Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir, Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, etc.

                      Also, in my many years as a drunk/educator, I've found that price doesn't equal good wine, but that good wine isn't cheap (with very, very few exceptions). Cheap wine may be good to quaff, but I dislike pairing it with food. Are there occasions when the cheap stuff is fine? Absolutely, but I won't spend my hard earned dollar on it.

                      Anyhow, just my opinion. You're entitled to yours; we're both correct.

                      *No problem continuing this discussion, but we should probably move it to another board.

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        You keep listing these mass market generic wines like they're common to the area, but the restaurants I visit in the Pioneer Valley don't carry those "brands," even when they are offering an inexpensive option. Maybe you aren't giving these establishments (or some of your fellow 'hounds) nearly enough credit.

                        And you are correct, this is O/T.

                    2. re: invinotheresverde

                      Ahhh, the favorite sport of Northampton: blaming it on the economy! If more Northampton restaurants spent more time providing great value, fine service, and consistantly memorable food than wringing their hands, taking their eye off the ball, and cheaping out (to wit: Bistro Les Gras, above), they'd be fat & happy and we wouldn't have to drive to Montague, South Deerfield, Shelburne Falls, and even further to really enjoy dining out.

                      1. re: Big Fat Moe

                        Mo, sorry to say, but the economy iis a harsh reality for restaurant owners. I know of places (not mentioning any names) who can't even afford to pay their staff right now. That's not really "sport".

                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          I do think the high commercial rents in Northampton present a different business challenge than in some of the outlying areas, which offer more diversity and quality (cheaper rents, more chef ownership/control, smaller spaces). That said, even before there was a "bad" economy I was less than impressed with what Northampton has had to offer. Many of the commercial properties and even restaurants in Northampton are owned by a very select few, maybe that's why.

                          I still plan to try Les Gras...but Gypsy Apple in Shelburne Falls is higher on the list, I'm afraid.

                          I hope the quality, small shops can weather the tough times ahead.

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            I know what you are saying, but harsh reality presents opportunity too. Restaurant owners can take the initiative and better control what goes on with each meal within their own four walls, then step up and make their restaurants more compelling, creative, competitive, tastier, and wonderful. Or they can close and blame outside forces that they accept as being out of their control.
                            If I dine out less than before, those restaurants that provide tastier food, stronger value, and more pleasant and singular dining experiences will be the more focused recipients of my eating out dollars.

                            1. re: Big Fat Moe

                              From what I've seen, the crap food at Mama Iguana's, Spoleto's, etc has not seemed to deter customers from filling these establishments. I'm afraid the Claudio Guerra empire will still continue to dominate the restaurant scene here with its mediocrity.

                              With that said, Del Raye is closing and reopening as a tavern: http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:...

                              1. re: fame da lupo

                                There's always room for crapola chow to satisy, excuse the snobbishness, the hordes of people with crapola taste. If Olive Garden or 99 had Northampton outlets they'd be filled too.

                              2. re: Big Fat Moe

                                While I totally agree with most of what you've said here, it's tough to "step up and make their restaurants more compelling, creative, competitive, tastier and wonderful" when there's literally no money. It's a great idea in theory, but not all that practical for a place that's already struggling.

                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  I know, but that's the challenge. And it doesn't just take $$$ to create a buzz. Examples abound. There's a waiting line at Joe's every night of the week, Bottle of Bread (RIP) and Gypsy Rose in Shelburne Falls. How about the incredible vibe at Green Emporium in Colrain. They didn't close because of $$$ woes, they just got older and tired of the grind. All I can say to any restaurant owner is to think outside the box and BE AMAZING in as many ways as you can. Diners will choose you first and often as their really special place!.

                                  1. re: Big Fat Moe

                                    Most of the restaurants you mention are in the Shelburne Falls area, which is a whole different animal than the Northampton area. The cost of doing business up here is considerably less than in Northampton. Real Estate and rent are less, liquor licenses are much less. Also, in the summer and fall, there actually are not enough restaurants to feed everybody visiting. I do agree that there is not much of compelling interest in Northampton, except perhaps Green Street, which, by the way, would be completely at home in Shelburne Falls, but I think places feel alot of pressure to be slick in order to compete. All of the restaurants in Shelburne Falls are very small also, so while none of the owners are getting rich, it's easier to keep a full house.

                                    Oh, also. It's Gypsy Apple. And yes, it is a pretty great little place.

                                    Also again, the original owner of Tusk n Rattle has finally opened her new venture, Ollie's Down Under, in the same space.

                                    1. re: hilltowner

                                      Re: Ollie's - is it a bar or restaurant?

                                      1. re: fame da lupo

                                        Interestingly, it is a restaurant with a prominent bar; much like the Tusk. The menu has a lot more small plates than the Tusk did, but it also includes a good amount of entrees. Much of what we all understood it was going to be ended up to be untrue.

                                        1. re: hilltowner

                                          Awesome news, can't wait to try it -- thanks for the tip.

                                          1. re: hilltowner

                                            Has anyone tried ollies downunder yet? I saw their menu and it seemed really big for the size of the restaurant and a little all over the place style wise...

                                      2. re: Big Fat Moe

                                        Moe, I haven't heard of Green Emporium, can you give any more info?

                                        Re packed houses, I'd also add Hope & Olive and People's Pint to the list, both in Greenfield. But I echo hilltowner; it's a little cheaper to do business up here in Franklin County. To our benefit -- we get the great places to eat! :)

                                        1. re: hollerhither

                                          Green Emporium is, sadly, no longer. Not for any financial reason; the owners just got tired. It was in a very cool building in the center of Colrain of all places.

                                          1. re: hollerhither

                                            Yeah, it was owned by two charismatic guys, Michael who did the cooking and Tony who was the gadabout in the dining room. Very special place, salon-like with art and neon and music. And really good food. Happy happy place. They must be close to mid late 60's by now and and the grind just made them tired. The place is for sale and anyone with great flair, ambition and imagination should talk with those guys and work out a deal. The kitchen is fully intact. They still live up around there.

                            2. Back onto topic, went to Green Street last night. Our third trip there, each time has been satisfying but I will have to revise my expectations downwards a bit from now on. My first trip there impressed me, the last two times out have been good but not great.

                              On this occasion, I had snails in parchment with scallops and a caramel tart. The scallops were not seared well, which disappointed me. I'm not sure anyone else noticed at the table, they all loved the flavor, which was indeed sweet and delicious. But not getting a good sear, that takes what could've been a sublime scallop and made it a merely good one. The snails were tasty, as per usual.

                              Green Street has fantastic desserts, something that really stands out versus Les Gras. I had bites of all four desserts they were offering (caramel tart, goat cheese cheesecake, chocolate torte, creme brulee) and all were delicious.

                              Ultimately I left feeling satisfied, and it was a great value for the buck.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: fame da lupo

                                We went to Green Street Cafe last night and had a very nice meal. Unfortunately they did not have the escargots in parchment that I was looking forward to; the salad with blue cheese was nothing to write home about. Catch of the Day (mahimahi) was quite nice, Chicken Escoffier pretty good and the asparagus risotto was excellent. The desserts were fabulous. We ordered a bottle of white burgundy ('Les Charmes') which had an odd, unpleasant aftertaste - don't know if the bottle was off or not. All in all, a much better experience than Les Gras (I still hold high hopes for them, however).