We’re at the midpoint of Saratoga Restaurant Week 2016, and I’ve made an earnest effort to review the meals that are on offer at $5 or $10 for lunch, $10, $20 or $30 for dinner. Some restauranteurs complain about restaurant weeks because they feel they draw the bargain hunters who are unlikely to return. But it’s also an opportunity to be creative and show what you can do at a price point. Diners who might not have tried you previously get a good taste of what to expect and may come back at full price.
That’s what is happening at Salt and Char, an extremely expensive steak house that opened last year on Broadway. The $10 lunch special is a meatloaf sandwich on focaccia, accompanied by a bowl of cardamon-scented butternut squash soup. Brilliant idea to grind the scraps from those expensive cuts (the cheapest steak on the regular menu is $68) and serve with a rich tomato jam. I didn’t like the soup as much and in any case it didn’t go well with the meatloaf: heavy complemented by heavy. A salad (maybe the impressive iceberg wedge I saw on other tables) would have been better. That told me something about the new crew in the kitchen, the original world-renowned chef (Gary Kunz) having stepped back from daily operations. But my wife had the $24 prix fixe which delivered a bowl of French onion soup under a puff of cheese accented pastry, followed by a nicely sautéed chicken breast. The hanger steak is available for a $8 upcharge, allowing diners to sample a signature dish at less than half the usual price. (That’s an ongoing lunch special, not just for restaurant week.) Now I know what the restaurant is like (plusses and minuses to the decor, all minus to the blaring soundtrack which is unfortunately way too common in local places) and what the kitchen can do. I’ll return for that hanger steak.
At the other end of the spectrum are any number of establishments which are serving burgers, sandwiches or other entrées that come close to the price point on the regular menu, and tossing in a cookie or a beverage. That’s not trying hard at all, but better than some folks that can’t be troubled to post their menus: we’ve got something for Restaurant Week, but you’ll have to come in to see what it is. If they don’t bother to plan ahead, one expects that they will not try very hard when you get there.
Tonight I’m headed for the Barrelhouse, a place in the “Arts District” which I tried and didn’t like when it first opened. A $20 special with that lettuce wedge and a mixed grill has caught my eye. With a modest price cut and some creativity, they’ve got me back for a second chance. That’s what Saratoga Restaurant Week is all about, or should be.