August Restaurant Week Preview

Choggers were pretty feisty on this week's Kliman Online for intel regarding the summer’s upcoming Restaurant Week (August 6-12). Well, good for you — it moved us to get going on our guide a couple of weeks early.

Who would serve the entire menu? Who would dumb it down to a couple of choices per course? We got on the horn.We were stunned to discover that prime time reservations at a number of reliably good RW performers are already gone. Booking a month out for Restaurant Week? Believe it.

The week is growing, and fast. A whopping 167 restaurants are participating this year—the highest summer record ever. Although that’s still lower than January’s 173 restaurants involved (2007 was also the highest winter), August is naturally a slower business month—time for restaurants to deal with renovation headaches. RAMW created Restaurant Week in the first place since August needed a dining-out boost and conveniently overlapped with the congressional calendar's slow period.

Feeling overwhelmed with 167 choices? Right off the bat, dining editor Todd Kliman says it's probably "best to bypass the small plates emporiums." Jaleo, Zaytinya and like-minded others don't offer the best bang for your buck. And as much as we love “ethnic” food, this isn’t the week to seek it out. Instead, train your sights on the big-ticket places — those restaurants recently voted in the top half of our 100 Best Restaurants issue, released back in January.

Kliman says to look to those restaurants that offer the “run of the menu" — places that don't limit the diner to just a couple of choices per course. (A call to Kinkead’s, for instance, reveals that the boisterous brasserie is offering six to seven choices per course. We like.) He cautions diners to beware of menus loaded up with the likes of chicken breast, Caesar salad and salmon entrées — sure signs of establishments that are "mailing it in." (Farrah Olivia is only offering three choices for each course — come on, Morou! — but the Stuffed Quail and Pork Loin with Braised Pork Belly options don’t feel bled of creativity. We like.) At steakhouses, second-tier meat options tend to be the rule — witness BLT Steak’s hanger steak entrée, many dollars and a lot of juiciness short of one of its more celebrated fancy-pants cuts. It's one reason, he says, to cast a dim eye on steakhouses during Restaurant Week.

Most restaurants have promised online menus later this week, but at least one — Equinox — is waiting for the very last second. A hostess over the phone yesterday said its ingredients are just too seasonal to predict this far in advance. (We don't like.)

Herewith, Kliman’s top picks, in alphabetical order (with January’s 100 Best rankings included): Bistro Bis (29), BLT Steak (53), Butterfield 9 (63), Café du Parc, Charlie Palmer Steak (12), Circle Bistro (31), Corduroy (14), Farrah Olivia (32),  Kinkead’s (17), Mendocino Grille (22), Poste Brasserie (37), The Prime Rib (43), Rasika (58), Restaurant Kolumbia (42), 1789 (44), Taberna del Alabardero (27) and Vidalia (11).

His honorable mentions: Acadiana (99), Belga Café, Café Atlantico (56), Equinox (60), Hook, Indigo Landing (64), Indique (98) and Indique Heights (77).