Saturday, September 8, 2012

Is Restaurant Week worth it?!

This is the big question - it comes around twice a year, and inevitably I ask myself and my friends the same question every time. I'm still very torn but I would say that overall I've had more mediocre experiences than fantastic ones when it comes to Restaurant Week here in Boston. Maybe I'm just picking the wrong places? I've had a number of friends recommend that steak houses are the best places to get a great meal at a nice restaurant they wouldn't usually go to - but I wonder how much of that is coming from their boyfriends vs. them :-) .... This year I tried out two places with my girlfriends - one for lunch and one for dinner.

Restaurant Week - Summer 2012
Marliave - Downtown Crossing, Boston
Harvest - Harvard Square, Cambridge
Marliave was up first - my friends and I had perused a number of menus on the lookout for the best deal. The key to picking a good restaurant week menu is to find a high end restaurant that doesn't usually offer a pre-fixe deal on a slower night during the week. A lot of restaurants will offer the same deal as during restaurant week all year round, so those are the places to avoid in my mind. The other way to help decide where to go is to look at the actual restaurant week menus at particular restaurants. Because they offer just two or three options for each course, you want to make sure you'll actually be able to find something you like! This was how we came to pick Marliave - it seemed like a deal compared to usual prices, they had a really extensive menu with lots of options and the location was in the middle for everyone involved. I hadn't been here before - we were seated at their upper level dining room and it was very traditionally decorated. The lighting was quite dim so the pictures aren't great.

I opted for the French Onion Soup as my starter - they call it 'Henry's Soup' - french onion, gruyere, short ribs and a crouton (usually $10). The other girls got a variety: Caprese Salad (usually $13), Macaroni and Cheese w/ black truffle (usually $14) and a cheese plate. They also brought a nice bread basket to the table with our drinks. It's sort of impossible for french onion soup to be light, but that's okay - it was good, not too salty and the addition of the short rib was a unique addition. Portions were pretty generous across the board.

The main dish was much more difficult for me to pick out. There were almost too many options with everything ranging from Gnocchi or Risotto, to Chicken under a Brick or Beef Wellington. Scallops are something I like to order out because they're usually too expensive to just buy for myself and I don't really know too many ways to prepare them. Two of us ended up going with the Diver Scallops - jumbo scallops, wild mushrooms, pea ravioli (usually $28). I'm still getting used to funky mushrooms as I like to refer to them, so I didn't eat all of them and it was almost too mushroomy for me but I think my friend like that about the dish. I loved the pea ravioli and wanted a whole plate of just those! The other two ladies got the Wild Mushroom Risotto ($18) and the 'Sunday Gravy' ($19 - gnocchi, san marzano tomatoes, lamb, pork, beef. Even before dessert I think we all had gotten our money's worth out of the $33 deal! Dessert provided us with delicious options as well - I got their hot chocolate cake that came with ice cream and I was very happy with my selection, though I couldn't even finish it because I was so full from my earlier courses. I though the Box of Truffles was an interesting option they provided and I heard only good things from my friends about the trio of ice creams and the Butterscotch Pudding. Overall, what mattered more than the good deal and delicious food, was the lovely company! Thanks for a great evening girls!

Harvest was up next - and with all of the high end restaurant options in the Cambridge area, this decision was a tough one. I found that a lot of the options didn't list their menus and that lack of options always makes me a little nervous to make a reservation there. I went here with an old coworker and they had both the lunch and light lunch options so you didn't have to get all 3 courses if you decided around dessert that you were full already. In our case, I wasn't quite full and would've gotten dessert but slow service caused us to have a super leisurely lunch and we ran out of time so 2 courses it was! To make it even easier, we both got the same two dishes for our starter and entree.

The lunch was full of ups and downs. First, we were seated (not outside on the patio, but it wasn't the end of the world) and brought a lovely bread basket with a variety of options - like corn bread! But then we didn't have a server and we waited for more than ten minutes until I finally got someone's attention and told them no one had even asked us for our drink order. He profusely apologized and took our drink and food orders immediately - bringing our diet cokes right away.

Unlike Marliave, Harvest had just 2 options in each category - though I had seen the menu in advance and liked the options enough to purposefully select this restaurant! Interestingly, none of their options are on their usual lunch menu. The zucchini fritters had caught my eye earlier so I stuck with my gut and ordered these as my starter. You could tell they were made to order and crunchy out of the fryer - yet they were nice and soft on the inside, and not super heavy surprisingly. I wish it had come with a small side of greens, but then again - it was a starter, not an entree.

For our entrees we both selected the chicken lasagna, another item not typically on their lunch menu. I could've eaten another slice of this - it was delicious, full of flavor, not super heavy like a lot of lasagnas and we both commented on how our lasagna's don't come out like theirs did! After craving a little salad with my starter I was pleasantly surprised to see a side of mixed greens with the lasagna. I didn't have the time to try out dessert, but from what I observed of the many dishes going past our table, they looked just as delicious as our other courses!

So what are your thoughts? Yay or nay to restaurant week? I think it's a bit like cilantro - people either love it or hate, there's not much gray space in between.


  1. I agree...I've had good and bad restaurant week experiences...but overall I think it's fun! I've actually had better experiences at less high end restaurants. Some of the really high end places I've been to have had tiny portions and bad service. Like oh, you're only here for restaurant week, we're not going to treat you as well as our regular clientele! However, it seems like you got some delicious food this time around!

    And speaking of high end...where is the post on our seafood feast in Maine ;)!?

  2. I'll leave the vote on Restaurant Week up to those who've experienced it but, good choice on the Diver Scallops; they are the best of the best. However, you didn't comment on them ... They should have been melt-in-your-mouth amazing. Mom and I are going to Galo Nero this evening; will let you know how it is ...