Our picks for Local Restaurant Week - Spring 2012
Christa Glennie Seychew
Local Restaurant Week, as one of my dinner companions put it the other night, really does just two things, but does them reliably. It lowers people’s guard about eating out, and it raises the bar in regards to what type of meal you can get for an Andrew Jackson or two.
As members of the press we were invited to a preview dinner. Last year they were kind enough to tote us all around, nibbling at a variety of participating restaurants. This year, organizers allowed us to luxuriate in the private room at Sea Bar while seven of the area's chefs fed us options from their upcoming Local Restaurant Week menus. Tough job, right?
Some were preview portions, others were larger, but all in all it was a very satisfying meal. They all represented parts of the multi-course meals you can eat from March 26 to April 1 for $20 and 12 cents. I would say I felt a bit precious and privileged to be treated to soy-ginger marinated calamari in a sesame and soba noodle salad, with edible seaweed (wakame), shaved frozen coconut sorbet, and Sriracha aioli. I would say that, except you can probably still get reservations at Oliver’s, maybe at an off hour, and eat those noodles and another dish you’ll likely never make at home for, again, $20 and 12 cents.
Back to those two things for a bit. Knowing almost exactly how much your meal will cost frees you to think more about the exact food you want to eat, and it might also free you to buy a nice bottle of wine or a craft beer or two. And while you probably have a good stash of memories involving disappointing, disheartening meals that were prix fixe, all-you-can-eat, or some other kind of seat-filling salesmanship, you should know that a good number of Buffalo’s chefs seem to relish the challenge of Restaurant Week. They get to stretch out a bit with dishes they’d normally never plate, and they get to show off higher-end dishes at lower price points.
What kind of dishes? At the preview dinner, we sampled slider versions of Soho’s burger menu, including the “Red Hot Chili Burger.” Tabree, just settling into its new Snyder location, showed off a piece of braised beef shoulder, mounted on a bacon and potato rosti (like a latke without the egg, and popping up on menus all over town these days), and served with carrots vichy. The Roycroft Inn made a “Derbyshire Meatloaf” from locally sourced beef and pork, wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon. Other restaurants showed off courses that won’t be on their Restaurant Week menus, but might come up in the future: house-cured duck from Curly’s, homemade gnocchi from Encore, and a Rhode Island scallop whipped up by hosting restaurant Seabar.
So what should you order, from where? Here is a selection of good bets, gathered by myself, my preview dinner companion (actually Christa Glennie Seychew, Spree’s food editor), and what I’ll call a weighted average of friends I would rely on to pick dinner.
Amaretto Italian Bistro in Williamsville, which serves heartwarming Italian fare in an unexpected location.
Tabree, particularly the wild Scottish salmon preparation which is cooked en papilotte with a lemon and herb nage, and served on a bed of French lentils—though the braised beef was soft as all get out at preview night.
Seabar, toward which we have a goodwill bias, but which is also filling small wooden surfboards with flown-in fresh sushi and rolls this week.
Oliver’s has, in addition to the calamari, a duck leg confit risotto that seems like a good bet for long-lasting richness.
Dick and Jenny’s, particularly if you’ve never been to this Grand Island Creole spot, and especially if you’d like to try a variety of wines with dishes like “Savory Warm Crawfish Tasso Cheesecake with Marinated Smoked Shrimp & Lobster Tarragon Butter.”
Ristorante Lombardo, even though you might want to eat two Primi dishes for a menu, or two Secondi, or just order two meals for yourself to ensure you’re getting tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and aged Pecorino Romano in a white wine sauce.