Dining With Miss Lil: “Restaurant Week”

By Lil Nickelson

“Restaurant Week” is held at different times and locations throughout the U.S. It showcases and promotes the finest food in eateries in each geographic region. You can enjoy creative, fresh three course meals from the area’s best restaurants for a fixed price. It’s a culinary celebration honoring the best chefs in our communities who have created special menus just for this exciting event. NYC’s Restaurant Week this winter was looking a whole lot like our Harlem Week; it was extended and lasted for an entire month from late January through the end of February.

Dining out during these events is a good way to be adventurous and try new foods and dining experiences at affordable prices. In NYC, lunch is $24.07 and dinner is $35.00 for a three course meal (appetizer, entrée and dessert). You have to pre plan and make reservations to ensure you will be served. Prices vary from one region to another.

So this year me and one of my foodie sisters, Cherlyn Davis, sampled four restaurants: two we had never eaten out before: LeCirque and Atlantic Grill at Lincoln Center, and once the event was extended we went to two of our favorites: Nobu and Mr. K’s.

It took 3 years to get a reservation at LeCirque during restaurant week because they are snapped up quickly by other foodies like us. Even with a reservation we waited over 30 minutes to be seated. Appetizers on their regular menu cost more than what we paid for our restaurant week dinner price of $35.00. LeCirque is East Side fine dining at its best.

Atlantic Grill at Lincoln Center is Upper West Side fine dining on fresh & raw seafood (sushi, oysters & clams) and grilled meats under the direction of Executive Chef Juan Carlos Ortega. The fresh baked rolls they served were heavenly. I don’t normally eat bread at home because I haven’t mastered bread baking, and most store bought breads have too many additives to taste the same; they are added to maintain a shelf life.

Nobu is sushi central or ground zero, and mugs of hot green tea are served for free. The sashimi salad I had was memorable because the raw tuna was as smooth as butter, and the Asian vinaigrette that dressed the salad was so flavorful but light. If you love salads as I do and you need to move away from the heavy, mayonnaise based dressings than try Asian inspired vinaigrettes.
Mr. K’s is Chinese fine dining at its best. The seafood spring rolls and won ton soup use freshly made, not prepackaged wonton wrappers. The single orchard given to female diners and the lemon sorbet served to clean your palate after the appetizer are memorable touches. I savored the moment and did not order any spring rolls or wonton soup to take home.

Now over the course of a year I eat in Harlem restaurants more than I eat in other parts of the city. However, fine dining is just coming to Harlem, and it hasn’t fully arrived yet either. Our restaurants don’t employ pastry chefs on a fulltime basis to make their breads and desserts, and it shows. In addition, our diners seemed more concerned with getting big portions, enough for two or more meals. The thing that they over serve us seem are the carbohydrates, which are detrimental to those of us they have health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.

So I pack up half of my food from Harlem restaurants when I first get it to control the portion size that I eat at one meal. Even for things like breakfast I improvise. I will order a toasted bagel at Dunkin Donuts and take it to work for breakfast over the next two days. I add unsalted butter and peach jam that I bring from my home. Most eateries do not serve real butter, and the peach jam I bought at the farmer’s market and contains only two items: peaches, and sugar. I’m concerned about the quality of the fats and sweets I do choose to consume. I bring fresh fruit and nuts to work to snack on during the day.

So write back to share about the last place you ate out at, and would you recommend it? You can also write in to ask any questions as well. I want to open up the dialogue between us in 2011, so input your comments at the end of the article on the web site or send them to: hwcontact@yahoo.com.

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