Restaurant Week, one of the most popular culinary events in New England, returns to New Haven this Sunday, Oct. 30, and runs through Friday, Nov. 4.
Twenty-eight New Haven restaurants will participate in the event, which is organized by Market New Haven, a nonprofit that aims to promote commerce and the arts, in partnership with Citizens Bank. Residents can eat three-course lunches for $20.16 and dinners for $34, and restaurants can showcase their menus and broadcast their images to both new and returning customers.
Most menus feature variations of their signature dishes, but Restaurant Week is also a chance for chefs to be playful and inventive and experiment with seasonal ingredients, said Ryan Howard, managing partner of Elm City Social.
“With the special prices and menus, we can expand beyond our core demographic of graduate students and young professionals,” Howard says. “We can attract different crowds — the elderly, undergraduates and people from outside New Haven.”
His eatery, American with a new-age twist, will feature such delicacies as roasted pumpkin salad, pan-seared grouper cheek, a strawberry rhubarb tart, and a foie gras push pop.
With a reduced parking rate, only $4 from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. in Temple and Crown street garages, and unparalleled dining discounts, Market New Haven anticipates that food aficionados everywhere will flock to Elm City next week.
“It’s a great opportunity for the restaurant community to showcase New Haven as a whole,” Howard said. “And, it’s great to give back to the customers — to give them a piece of what we do at a discounted price.”
He added that Restaurant Week is a gift to eateries and eaters alike.
The giving does not stop there. Last fall, Restaurant Week raised $14,742 for the Connecticut Food Bank, an organization that sources and delivers food to those in need nearby. The charitable effort will continue this year.
“Every dollar donated gives enough to prepare two meals for those in need,” said Paul Shipman, communications and marketing director at the Connecticut Food Bank. “It is a wonderful opportunity for the community to get together and support us — to turn dollars quickly into food. We love the enthusiasm and visibility that it generates. We all benefit, the local economy, too.”
When guests receive their checks, they are invited to make a $1 donation to support the Connecticut Food Bank and contribute to #buckforatruck, an initiative to stock a refrigerated food truck delivering food to pantries and soup kitchens in six Connecticut counties. Unlike other distributors, the food bank aims for 35 percent of its offerings to be fresh and local fruit, vegetables and meats.
Marina Gonzalez, who owns the Spanish and Mediterranean restaurant Olea, said she is proud that her restaurant is a part of the event even though she must serve food at a significantly lower price. A three-course dinner without drinks would typically cost about $60.
“It is important to get the community involved in supporting charities like the Connecticut Food Bank,” Gonzalez said. “A dollar goes a long way, especially during the holidays.”
This year, Restaurant Week’s prices have increased, which incentivizes more expensive restaurants to participate but excludes those with lower price points. For this reason, Prime 16, one of New Haven’s top-rated beer and burger destinations, will not be joining.
Though manager Larry Townsend said he respects Restaurant Week’s goals and charitable work, he explained that Prime 16’s involvement would not be fair to his customers.
“The simple fact is that we would have to raise the prices on our menu to meet Restaurant Week’s criteria,” he said. “We have our own events to draw in customers, like Happy Hour Monday through Friday.”
But Megan Bresnahan, general manager at the participating Caseus, a fromagerie and bistro, thinks the increase in prices is fair, adding that even though the price has increased, restaurants offer an enormous discount to students.
The normal prices at these New Haven eateries make Restaurant Week a deal for diners. Without beverages, an appetizer, entrée and dessert at Elm City Social or Caseus would cost about $44. At Harvest, a snack, starter and entree goes for about $55.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — Restaurant Week! In order to celebrate this glorious event, we’ve sent our intrepid reporters into four New Haven eateries to tell you what’s good and what’s not. Read on for the verdicts on Zinc, Geronimo’s, Bentara and Christopher Martin’s.
A Different Geronimo Experience
If you can’t sneak your way into Skull and Bones, 271 Crown St. is the closest you can get to Geronimo. The Southwestern restaurant serves cuisine described on Yelp as Tex-Mex and in the New York Times as “of Santa Fe, N.M., with Apache, Navajo, Mexican and Anglo-American influences.” I have never been to Texas, and my experiences with New Mexico are limited to Breaking Bad, so I cannot attest to the veracity of either claim. I can, however, state with certainty that my Monday night dinner at Geronimo was a successful Restaurant Week experience — reassurance, perhaps, that the tomb is no mightier than the tequila bar.
This was my first time at Geronimo, and so too for my suitemate joining me, Rebecca. But the ambiance of the restaurant is comfortable and familiar, if not a bit dimly lit; its walls are lined with Native American art, and the shelves of the bar are stocked with tequila. Geronimo’s got over 300 varieties of the stuff, supposedly the largest selection on the east coast. (#Protip: use the money you’ll save via the Restaurant Week menu to justify dropping the cash on a margarita.)
The clear perk of this particular prix fixe menu is the number of options. Most participating New Haven restaurants offer three appetizers and three entrées from which to choose — but Geronimo ups the ante to four on both counts. For my first course, I ordered a chili dish known as Frito pie, which consists of not a pie but an actual bag of Frito chips, sliced open and topped with sour cream, tomato, jalapeno and your choice of vegetable or buffalo chili. At the time I did not realize that “buffalo” implied the majestic prairie mammal instead of the wild wings preparation method. Still, the chili was flavorful, and the novelty of putting knife and fork to a bag of Fritos was not lost on me. Rebecca ordered the hanger steak skewers — delicious, but the ghost pepper glaze overwhelmed even my Sriracha-addict palette.
For my main course, I picked the grilled New York strip steak, which comes with Brussels sprouts, fries and an orange Chipotle butter. Let me be clear: This was a large piece of meat. Beyond my meal on Monday the steak became a study break that night, a dinner the next day and a snack late that evening for a friend. For her part Rebecca chose the shrimp and cheddar grits, whose proportions were not as triumphant. Still, both proved equally tasty, but that the former necessitated so much more time to consume would have required some uncomfortable mealtime pacing had I hope to clear my plate.
For dessert there were two options: I chose the chocolate polenta and my suitemate opted for the tiramisu. The polenta was rich, dense and topped with a single blackberry; that I did not consume the entire thing is among my first major regrets of this calendar year. I’m not a huge tiramisu fan, but Rebecca seemed satisfied with her choice.
Alas, I cannot compare my Restaurant Week experience at Geronimo to a regular meal in the dining room or night out at the bar. But my Monday dinner endeared me to the restaurant and for that alone this was a successful Restaurant Week — not just for me, but also Geronimo.
Contact marissa medansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We Don’t Know Who Christopher Martin Is, But We Sure Loved His Restaurant
Nick Defiesta: Hey, Maddie, where are we going again?
Maddie McMahon: Christopher Martin’s, it’s over by Modern.
N: Oh yeah, that place. Isn’t it a bar or something? I only really know it as “that place I pass on the way to Modern,” so I guess this restaurant week deal is a chance to change that.
M: I think it’s a combination bar and restaurant, but I guess we’re about to find out. We’re here!
N: Wow, this place is pretty empty for a restaurant-week lunch … although I guess we did arrive right when it opened.
M: No you’re right, last year when I went to Caseus’ restaurant-week lunch it was packed. But I don’t mind, this place has a much more laid-back vibe.
N: Yeah totally, I dig it. Hey, here comes our appetizer! It’s almost like we completely ejected from this dialogue the part of the meal where we ordered and got our ice teas.
M: That is weird … oh well. Did you order the lobster bisque too?
N: Yep, this looks great. [slurp] Oh wow.
N: That was creamy but not TOO creamy, yum.
M: And just the right level of lobster, too — not too overwhelming.
N: Definitely. I think I’d come here just for this.
M: What’d you get for your main course?
N: I went for the pan-seared sea bass — it’s glazed with miso and sake, which sounds incredible, plus there’s a raspberry sauce. Oh yeah, and it sits on top of a coconut rice cake. How about you?
M: I picked the Chicken JD — sauteed chicken with a spinach and mushroom risotto, topped with Jack Daniels sauce.
N: There’s a Jack Daniels sauce? I really need to get better at cooking … oh here’s our food!
M: This chicken. Try some. Get a little bit of the risotto.
N: So savory, and the risotto’s great too; granted, it’s a little difficult to mess up risotto. Have a bite of the sea bass? Make sure you get some of the raspberry sauce.
M: Seared just right … I’m not used to having fish that’s cooked so well.
N: Me neither — thanks, Yale Dining! — and the glaze is perfect. Plus, the fresh raspberries sitting there on the plate balance this dish really nicely.
M: I’m so stuffed. Literally couldn’t eat another bite.
N: So … time for dessert?
M: Of course.
N: I’m definitely getting the white chocolate mousse — our server recommended it, and the menu says it’s award-winning so it’s obviously the right choice.
M: Since we’re going to have to share, I’m getting the chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Hope you’re not allergic to nuts!
N: Don’t worry, I go to Yale, I have to put up with nuts all the time.
M: … that was really bad.
N: Sue me. Here’s our dessert!
M: Wow, the mousse is worth the entire price of this meal. The top layer of chocolate ganache seals the deal.
N: Pecans. Chocolate. Ice cream. What a fantastic way to ruin my diet.
M: Is it weird that we tried each others’ dessert first?
N: Not at all. We’d better get ready to go, though, I have class in a few minutes. I’m impressed with how fast their service is … I was convinced I’d be late to lecture.
M: So what’s the final verdict on Christopher Martin’s? Are we coming back?
N: Oh for sure. Great food, relaxed atmosphere, friendly service — it’s a shame more Yale students don’t frequent this place.
M: That almost sounds like you’re writing a restaurant review of this place and needed a gimmick to hit your word minimum.
Contact Nick Defiesta, Maddie McMahon at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zinc: Numbers in Safety
I wasn’t exactly in a bad mood as I sat down to dinner at Zinc on Monday night. But the Red Sox had just been swept in their home opening series, I had a slight cold, and it was, as I’ve just said, Monday. So my mood wasn’t exactly bad, nor was it exactly good. By the time I left the restaurant roughly an hour later, though, my affect had been significantly elevated by an excellent meal that, if not for writing this review, I would have forgotten entirely by week’s end.
Zinc is a nice restaurant, one of many of these in New Haven. But Zinc is “nice” like another restaurant might be “Italian.” “Nice” permeates every aspect of Zinc to the degree that it replaces any other descriptor you might throw at the Chapel Street eatery. You could call it “modern American,” as the restaurant bills itself, but it’s more “nice” than it is modern; the same would be true if you called it “trendy.” And “fancy” has too many syllables to truly convey the sleek, minimal presentation of an establishment named after a non-precious metal. Zinc isn’t fancy, as an element or an eatery. It’s just nice.
There plenty of restaurants like this, and it’s difficult for one to set itself apart. Zinc doesn’t help its case with the “Modern American Kitchen” label, which to a Modern American doesn’t seem all that noteworthy; my kitchen at home is a Modern American Kitchen. But my kitchen at home is not operated by Zinc’s chefs (no offense, Mom), who make up for their establishment’s unremarkable theme with a menu spanning a variety of tastes, from “crostini” (that’s Italian for toast) to paella.
Ordering off of the Restaurant Week prix fix menu, I opted for the crostini as an appetizer, with white beans, pesto and feta cheese. I’m a sucker for feta, and it pulled the otherwise mellow appetizer together nicely. The salmon I ordered for an entrée needed something to do the same for it, as the promising “ginger-piquillo pepper emulsion” turned out to be a pleasant but underwhelming red pepper sauce.
Don’t get me wrong, the salmon was good, but nothing set it apart from any other good salmon one might order at any other “nice” restaurant. A Restaurant Week prix fix menu, like the one from which I chose the salmon, is a chance for chefs to try something new and showcase a restaurant’s strengths to new customers. The salmon did not seem to do that. But better than the salmon was the chocolate mousse cake I had for dessert. The mousse used for the cake was excellent, especially its featherweight consistency.
Consistency might be Zinc’s defining feature. The menu is well rounded and, from what I could taste and guess, uniformly satisfying. The décor restrained, and the waiters come around roughly every 6 minutes and 24 seconds to refresh your water and ask how everything is.
A common pairing with consistency is risk aversion, and Zinc’s menu plays it exceedingly safe. But the restaurant business is still a business, and given the packed seating area I witnessed on a Monday night, it appears there are numbers in safety.
Contact David Whipple at email@example.com.
Nice and Niche
The first time I heard of Bentara, a Malaysian restaurant located at 76 Orange St., was in my “Writing About Food” seminar. As someone of Asian background and a lover of all foods spicy and flavorful, I put the restaurant on my definite to-dine list. However, until this assignment, I still had not made it past the boundaries of the New Haven Green to visit the establishment. On a pleasant yet windy evening, my friend (who was taking photographs for the piece) and I arrived at a tastefully decorated South-Asian restaurant complete with bamboo space dividers.
We took our seats by one of the many windows that offered wonderful natural lighting and began perusing the Restaurant Week menu. This was also my first physical experience with Restaurant Week, but I had pored over enough menus online to know the offerings at Bentara were more than decent. My friend and I quickly decided that we would share the appetizers, so we ordered the chicken satay and tofu sumbat.
Often when I eat out at a nicer restaurant, I am disappointed by the portion sizes, but that was not the case here. The comforting smells tickled my nose, and the presentation was pleasing to the eye: the lightly deep-fried thick pieces of tofu were stuffed with bean sprouts and carrots, and arranged over a spicy, red sauce bursting with chopped peanuts. When the ratio of sauce to tofu was properly arranged, the spice level attained the “hot” that we had specified. We chose the chicken satay because it is a mainstay of South Asian cuisine, and this one was decent. I couldn’t get enough of the peanut satay sauce, and the sliced cucumbers and cubes of sticky rice on the side were a nice palate cleanser.
My friend was unfamiliar with Malaysian cuisine but informed me of her love for spices, so I steered her towards the selections that were more authentic (hanger steak and blackened salmon don’t really meet that standard, but I suppose they needed some “normal” dishes). She ordered the chicken rendang, which was chicken spiked with lemongrass and turmeric, all simmered together in coconut milk. The chicken was tender and thoroughly infused with flavor; paired with white rice, it was very soothing. I ordered one of my favorites: mee kari, or curry laksa, which is tilapia, shrimp, calamari, and mussels with egg noodles and vegetables in a coconut curry soup. Once again, points for the presentation — although that of the chicken rendang was a little lacking. My portion was more than enough; in fact, I had to ask for almost half of it in a doggie bag. This is rare for me because I am a renowned eater, but I knew if I was going to continue, I had to swallow my pride to leave space for dessert.
The best part about dining with a friend is the sharing. Even if it only adds up to a few bites here or there, I am a firm proponent of trying as many dishes as you can. Blame it on my Chinese heritage — we share everything at the table. So, pistachio cheesecake and fudge cake it was! These were pleasant, as was the entire meal, but not overwhelming in any sense.
For the price and the niche cuisine, I heartily recommend Bentara. But if all you want is something spicy and flavorful, I suggest the Chapel St. Thai restaurants (in particular Pad Thai), because while we ordered “hot” for every dish, it wasn’t quite as “hot” as we were used to.