Have you been wanting to try that venerable-but-fancy restaurant down the road, or that trendy hotspot across the river, but feared the sticker shock when the check comes? Well, for the 11th time in eight years, you can conquer your fear, feed your cravings and go, ending your meal with a much-smaller check. Starting Monday, November 3 and running through Sunday, November 16, you can visit any one of 200 restaurants across seven counties and get a three-course dinner for $29.95, and in some cases a three-course lunch for $20.95. To lure more customers and win new fans, participating eateries will be doubling their efforts to offer the best of local, seasonal produce with their own unique spin during Hudson Valley Restaurant Week.
The prix fixe tradition has been long-established in Europe, where diners can eat economically by choosing from select options in multi courses for a fixed price. But it has been slow to catch on stateside, in spite of being a great way to sample the best of a restaurant’s own style at an affordable price.
Tim Zagat, known for founding the Zagat Guide series with wife Nina 36 years ago, spoke at the Restaurant Week kickoff on October 7 at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Along with late restaurateur Joe Baum, Zagat was co-founder of the Restaurant Week concept, with the first event in 1992 in New York City. It was intended as a goodwill gesture to 15,000 reporters who were in New York City for the Democratic National Convention, and participating restaurants charged $19.92 for a three-course prix fixe.
Zagat and Baum saw it as a loss for the restaurants, but a worthwhile undertaking anyhow. Since then, Zagat said, there are now ten or 12 Restaurant Weeks around the country and even one in London. Restaurateurs have discovered that it’s a win for them, too, increasing business and drawing new customers “We thought it would be expensive for the restaurants,” said Zagat, “but it was only four days. We did not understand what Restaurant Week would do: bringing in new customers from all walks of life, who would come back to the restaurants again and again.”
“It’s so gratifying for me to see it here in the Hudson Valley,” Zagat added, “and I’m grateful to you all for making this a success.” Zagat has lived in the Hudson Valley for 30 years, he said, as well as the City. “It was hard to find an outstanding restaurant in the Hudson Valley when we started, but now they are all over; there are hundreds that are really first-class.”
And 200 of those – 114 miles up and down the Hudson Valley, according to Janet Crawshaw – will be especially accessible during Restaurant Week. Eight years ago Crawshaw, co-founder of Valley Table magazine, started it all, with only 70 restaurants participating. Inspired by a cross-country trip with the magazine’s co-founder Jerry Novesky, she returned to the Valley and found it deserving of attention for its culinary riches and abundant quality produce. A few years later she launched the Restaurant Week, which has been growing ever since and recently expanded from being an annual event to twice a year.
This fall’s event features three-course prix fixe menus for $29.95, and some places offer lunch as well for $20.95. Generally there are at least three choices in each category, and the regular menu is available as well. In many cases, local products, from vegetables to vodka, are spotlighted in the prix fixe offerings.
In Ulster County, for example, participating restaurants include the Village Tea Room Restaurant and Bakeshop, the Huguenot Restaurant and A Tavola in New Paltz, Tuthill House at the Mill in Gardiner, the Would in Highland, the Ship Lantern Inn and Henry’s at the Farm in Milton, Duo Bistro and Frogmore Tavern in Kingston and the Tavern at Diamond Mills in Saugerties. Columbia County has only one as of this writing, the Greens in Copake Lake; and the many in Dutchess County include Terrapin in Rhinebeck, the Mill House Brewing Company, the Artist’s Palate and Crave in Poughkeepsie, the restaurants at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park (Bocuse, Ristorante Caterina di Medici and American Bounty) and a couple of dozen more.
All offer dinner, but not every day of the week; sometimes certain evenings are excluded. So check each restaurant’s listing at www.hudsonvalleyrestaurantweek.com or call. Lunch is available at some, but not all. You can search by town, county or cuisine.
Restaurants are encouraged to plan their special Restaurant Week menus to feature local products, to offer information on where they come from and also to give patrons a realistic “taste” of their menu offerings by serving dishes that are representative of the menu in portion size and quality. In many cases you can check out the items on the prix fixe menu ahead of time via the Restaurant Week website and/or the restaurant’s own website. Menu items may be subject to change based on availability, however.
Reservations are recommended in all cases, required in some. Some can be reserved through www.opentable.com, some by calling the establishment directly. In all cases, the $29.95 or $20.95 do not include taxes or any accompanying beverages, and especially do not include the tip. It is highly recommended to tip based on the actual value of the meal, rather than the low price paid.
In the Hudson Valley area where these restaurants choose their raw materials and products, there are now 75 farmers’ markets and 2,552 farms, 35 of them with Community Supported Agriculture programs. The last Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, this past spring, had about 200,000 participating diners, about half of them trying out places that they hadn’t been to before. Nearly 90 percent returned to the restaurant. Of the participating restaurants, 85 percent saw an increase in sales during the 14-day event – most by 20 to 30 percent, and for some, double or even triple normal sales.
As with some past events, the Culinary Institute of America kicked things off by hosting a pull-out-all-the-stops reception, this time in its new Marriott Pavilion. Dozens of local purveyors offered samples, from succulent rabbit from John Fazio Farms of Modena to award-winning cheeses from Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie to tart/sweet cider from the brand-new Bad Seed Craft Hard Cider in Highland.
During the event, you can win prizes from some of the restaurants, Adams Fairacre Farms or the Valley Table by tagging pics or Tweets with #HVRW and @ValleyTable, or taking a diner survey at the website www.hudsonvalleyrestaurantweek.com.