D.C. Restaurant Week 2011: The deals, the people, the experience

Mie N Yu
Mie N Yu (Photo Credit: Julia Benton)

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Chefs and servers dish on D.C. Restaurant Week: Are those meals really the best deals?

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Jason Haynes, a bartender at Urbana Restaurant in Dupont Circle, says he doesn’t think Restaurant Week is a very effective marketing tool. “You see all of these people during the promotion, but then you never see them again afterward.”

He also says dining during Restaurant Week is not always a true representation of what the establishment is really like. He says many of the restaurants will offer separate modified menus, and the service will be a bit slower because of the high volume of diners.

Haynes agrees that D.C.’s food scene has grown tremendously over the years, but despite the city’s growing passion for all things food, he says, “I really feel like it’s amateur hour sometimes. Some people just don’t know how to eat out.”

For those new to Restaurant Week, Haynes has these suggestions:
- Don’t expect the full menu; some may offer it, but don’t expect it
- Expect service and quality to be paired back a bit because of the high volume

While some suggests high-end restaurants as the best option for getting the most value for your money during Restaurant Week, Haynes says he would actually avoid most of the expensive and top-rated establishments in the city. He says the top restaurants that are participating will be packed, and you won’t get to experience the level of service and quality of food that make those restaurants superior to others.

“I mean, you can still get great deals and good food,” he says, “but it won’t be the same.”

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“When it comes down to it, you really just have to do the research on what the restaurants are offering,” says Alex McWilliams, former executive chef at Ardeo + Bardeo.

“Yes, some will offer a dumbed down menu,” he says. “But they might have to in order to offer a $35 menu that would normally be $200 a person. I think if you do your research, you can find some great deals. A place like Ardeo is a bargain because they offer the whole menu.”

McWilliams says Restaurant Week can be tough on the kitchen because of the unusually high volume. He says he also saw more substitutions for dishes during the event, which can be frustrating for chefs when they have 20 other orders to deal with at that moment.

“I think a lot of restaurants feel like they have to participate even though they don’t want to,” he says. “Some might feel that they’ll lose business if they don’t. But, for the best deal, it really all comes down to the type of restaurant.”

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So, are you still excited about Restaurant Week? You should be. Despite the grumbles that some servers and chefs have, most of them say it’s a good opportunity try new restaurants. It’s also worth noting that several eateries are extending the promotion, so if you’re looking to avoid the some of the crowds, you may want to consider reserving a table somewhere next week, instead of this week.

So how do you pick? Newer restaurants have more to gain from people giving them a shot, so if you've been itching to try a recently opened eatery, this is the time. And then there are places that always offer good value during Restaurant Week, like Ardour, DC Coast. The blogs below have more suggestions, but don't be afraid to take a chance on a restaurant not on any of the lists — during Restaurant week, flying blind is half the fun.

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• D.C. Restaurant Week menus and extensions (Dining in DC)
Making the most of Restaurant Week (We Love DC)
Is Restaurant Week worth it? (Girl Meets Food)
D.C. Restaurant Week... Love it or hate it (Borderstan)

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