As promised, it’s August 1st and we’re back up and running. It’s been more than 90 degrees for the past week with no relief, and all I want to eat is gazpacho and sushi.
It’s Restaurant Week again in NYC, and this time I’m a modicum smarter when I comes to picking restaurants. Here are a few tips that will help make Restaurant Week (which is really four weeks) much more delicious and enjoyable, and help to avoid those restaurants that slap anything on the menu, whether they made it in-house or not.
1.) If your schedule allows, go for lunch. It’s only $25 for three courses versus the $38 for dinner, which usually are the same three dishes. This time around my lunch schedule is more flexible, and my wallet and I are relieved.
2.) Pick either a restaurant you already know and love or a renowned, five-star kind of place. If it’s already in your restaurant roundup (like Bar Primi is for me – they have a nice little menu going right now that I enjoyed last week), it’s likely they’ll have some tasty dishes lined up. Otherwise, go for a restaurant that has a stellar reputation. Even though you’re getting a cheap meal, an upscale restaurant still has a great deal of pride in anything they turn out.
3.) Skip the wine. Yes, you heard me – in fact skip all alcohol (you are going out to lunch, not dinner after all) unless the restaurant also has special Restaurant Week deals on cocktails, like Nobu does. Don’t let them pressure you – a good restaurant shouldn’t, anyway – or your thrifty meal suddenly skyrockets. Don’t forget there’s still tax and tip to contend with.
4.) Since you’re going to a popular restaurant, make reservations early, because slots fill up fast. If not, go anyway and sit at the bar. I may be in the minority, but I usually have a better time seated at the bar than a table. It’s more casual, so waiters are less likely to try to up-sell items to you, bartenders love talking to people, and at a place like Nobu, it’s free entertainment to watch all the sushi chefs lined up in a row with their starched white uniforms working in unison to make world-class sushi.
5.) Don’t get the chicken. It’s an entrée on almost all the menus because it’s cheap, but you’re better than that. Get something you wouldn’t make at home.
I followed all these rules and had a great experience at Nobu, a place which I normally would drool over the menu online but not actually be motivated enough to spend that kind of dough.
Lunch started off with this little salad with tart and tangy Matsuhisa dressing and two melt-in-your mouth slices of sashimi.
I was a little shocked when this board of sushi came next – I mean, a much lower quality version can be had at Whole Foods for $15, and the three courses altogether were only $25. Buttery white fishes, rich salmon, meaty tuna, fresh wasabi… so good. One of the sushi chefs caught me watching him work, and gave me a wide, toothy grin.
Another perk was that the woman next to me eschewed the third course, dessert (what a weirdo). I had chosen the coconut lychee panna cotta; exotic, cool, and refreshing, complemented by crunchy pistachios and raspberry sauce. The waiter also brought the other choice, the Earl Grey crème brûlée, saying since the other woman didn’t want it I could try it. It could have been a little colder and baked slightly more (better than overcooked, though), but it was decadently creamy and rich with a gentle tea flavor.
After an hour in the cool recesses of Nobu, you could almost forget about the heat wave outside.