Ever since the concept of Restaurant Week took off a decade ago as a way to promote New York City restaurants, participation has spread to cities and regions far beyond the Big Apple’s borders. Think London, Paris, even Hong Kong.
In 2006, Valley Table publisher Janet Crawshaw launched Hudson Valley Restaurant Week. Seventy restaurants joined in. Fast-forward six years to this month’s edition, which runs from March 18-31 and includes 180 local eateries, each of which will feature a special prix-fixe menu offering a three-course lunch for $20.95 and/or a three-course dinner for $29.95 (excluding beverage, tip, and tax). “Suddenly, 14 days just doesn’t seem like enough time,” Crawshaw says.
The explosive growth of this culinary celebration is easy to understand. First, it entices foodies and regular folks alike with the chance to sample some of the Valley’s best cuisine — often at places which might normally be out of reach due to price. Second, the Valley has emerged as a national dining destination. “In addition to our farms, we are home to the country’s foremost cooking school, celebrated artisanal cheese-makers, world-class wineries and distilleries, and some of the top chefs in America,” says Crawshaw.
This year, the event gains some serious street cred by partnering with the Culinary Institute of America, as CIA President Tim Ryan joins Chef Peter X. Kelly of Xaviars Restaurant Group to cochair the advisory board. “The prestige of the Culinary Institute raises the level of awareness of Restaurant Week” Crawshaw says. “It brings the whole thing together.”
Participating restaurants include perennial favorites as well as several newcomers (A Tavola in New Paltz and Brasserie 292 in Poughkeepsie are two). And, for the first time this year, there’s a recipe throw-down sponsored by Dover Plains’ Crown Maple Syrup. Eateries will develop their most creative recipes using the company’s syrup; diners will judge and vote for their favorites.
Last year, more than 200,000 diners sampled fantastic fare at restaurants in Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, and Columbia counties. Crawshaw recalls a memorable meal at Aroma Osteria in Wappingers Falls. While the food was top-notch, she says, “there was a real sense of community — people talking to one another across tables about food and neighborhoods.” Bloggers get busy during this time period too, so check the Internet to get the latest buzz. And make your reservations early! For more information and a list of participating restaurants, visit www.hudsonvalleyrestaurantweek.com.
The Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse is sponsoring its own Restaurant Week from March 12-18. Here’s the deal: There are no special menus, but if you eat at any of the participating Dutchess County restaurants during this time, the eatery will make a donation to this worthwhile organization. Check www.preventchildabusedutchess.org to find participating restaurants.