For a quick recap of the meal, check out the slide show at the bottom of the post.
Typical Boulud-style interior - sophisticated and posh.
* indicates a proxy rating, meaning that the meal being reviewed was part of a special event or promotion.
Twice a year in winter and summer, NYC sponsors a city-wide Restaurant Week. During this time, diners can enjoy pre-fixe 3-course meals in many high-end restaurant for only a fraction of the normal price.
Sounds awesome, right?
Well, yes and no.
On the surface, Restaurant Week’s appeal is pretty obvious. The promotion provides interested eaters with an opportunity to sample elevated cuisine and lavish service without worrying about the bill. Especially for those of us who are price sensitive or budget constrained, Restaurant Week is the perfect time to enjoy a special meal with friends and loved ones.
Packed on a Tuesday night!But by another perspective, Restaurant Week can be kind of gimmicky. Restaurants will often create condensed menus with low-cost, fast-to-cook ingredients that don’t accurately represent the kitchen’s style of cuisine or true talent. In addition, high diner volume and quick table-turn mentality likely means that the lavish service will not be so lavish after all. In some of my worst experiences, I've walked away from 4-5 star restaurants hugely disappointed and never wanting to come back.
Personally, I’m not a fan of Restaurant Week (as if you couldn’t tell from the mini-rant above). But for one reason or another, I usually end up having one or two RW meals a year. This time, A.’s dad came to NYC on business and we were looking to have an opportune dinner around Grand Central. We ultimately decided on DB Bistro Moderne.
With pre-fixe menus, A. and I like to “divide and conquer” by ordering different items to maximize variety. Therefore, I picked foie gras torchon, grilled dorade and a chocolate tart as my 3 courses whereas A. went with salmon tartar, cassoulet and a creamsicle cheesecake as his. We also ordered a escargot with chicken oysters which was not included in the Restaurant Week promotion.
I’ll start with a few highlights of the meal:
Escargot?First up, I quite enjoyed the escargot. Served without shells in a little Le Cruset casserole dish, the combination of snails, poultry and herbs epitomized the concept of earthy. The chicken oysters, in particular, had a lovely springy texture and a savory, crunchy char.
However, the dish did seem a little busy – there were so many components that any focus on the escargot was completely lost. The overall flavors were rather muddled and truthfully, I’m not even sure I could identify some of ingredients I ate.
Beautiful presentation.I also liked my foie gras torchon with gingerbread. Creamy and slightly sweet, the liver medallion was a rich bite that paired well with the brioche toast and fruit jam that accompanied it. The gingerbread crumbs and cubes were also an interesting touch that intensified the fruit and nut notes. And despite the fancy presentation, the flavor of the foie was actually rather homey and reminded me a lot of the bistro food I had in France.
But for all the good, there were also a lot of bad.
Poorly executed confusion.For one, I really didn't like A.’s salmon tartare. Paired with an apple gelee that looked like ravaged Jell-O, the fish was gummy and one-note. Attention to detail and nuance was practically non-existent. It was obvious that the kitchen had been turning these plates out like a factory.
Reminds me of a sad clown.Nothing was as sad as A.’s creamsicle cheesecake dessert, though. The texture was strangely gooey, like the cake hadn’t quite cooked all the way through before it was chilled. The macerated citrus on top of the cake lacked ripeness and didn’t provide the dish with any of the much needed acidity.
More than anything, I was just really disappointed with the execution of the cheesecake. Conceptually, this dish had the most potential for greatness. Tangy orange and smooth vanilla is a classic combination that balances acid with sugar and fruit with cream. But instead of getting a dessert which elevates this beloved marriage, we got a mediocre dish attempted to hide its flaws behind a nostalgic novelty.
At least there were free macarons! Meyer lemon flavored to celebrate the winter season.As expected, Restaurant Week 2013 was a bit of a bust. Out of all the lackluster dishes we had, every single one had some sort of execution error. I haven’t had the fortune (no pun intended) to eat at Daniel yet, but I imagine Chef Boulud would be somewhat embarrassed by the quality of the food at DB Bistro Moderne that evening. There was a noticable lack of attention to the RW items and in my opinion, this carelessness even affected some of the items we ordered from the regular menu.
One thing I will say however is that cost-wise, choosing the RW pre-fixe over regular dishes is a no-brainer. Comparing the two options, the 3-course RW meal totaled $38, whereas a single entrée from the regular menu would have set me back $42.
Therefore, if you’re dying to go to a place that you can’t afford normally, I say take the plunge next Restaurant Week and treat yourself. You might be taking a risk in terms of food and service but it’s better than missing out on something you’ve been dying to try.
On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a good meal with a ~$40 per person check, my recommendation is to skip the promotion and try a modestly priced restaurant with a reputation for delicious eats.
Slide Show (Click the “i” for More Info on the Pictures):
DB Bistro Moderne
55 W 44th St #1
New York, NY
A great budget dining resource: Serious Eats’ list of great restaurants with RW prices