It's baaaaack: Seattle Restaurant Week brings $25 three-course dinners (and some $15 three-course lunches) at a monster list of Seattle's best restaurants. It started October 17 and runs through this Thursday ("Seattle Restaurant Week-and-a-Half" didn't sound as good).
Ethan Stowell used to be a conscientious objector, back when S.R.W. was known as Twenty-Five for $25, on the grounds that limiting the list to 25 places benefitted a select group of restaurants and essentially penalized others. (In 2006, Stowell sent out a list of things besides fine dining one ought not to buy on special—including a parachute, birth control, plumbing, a tattoo, a time machine, therapy, and brakes.)
But now that it's been opened up to all comers—with more than 100 restaurants participating—all of Stowell's restaurants are on sale: brand-new Staple & Fancy Mercantile in Ballard, Anchovies & Olives on Capitol Hill, How to Cook a Wolf on Queen Anne, and Tavolata in Belltown.
Cornichon makes the argument that S.R.W. and similar promotions are disastrous to the industry (calling them "assisted suicide"). He makes some good points, and it does seem clear now that if a restaurant doesn't join, it's looking at 10 days of tumbleweeds (as was the case last week at brand-new, really good Sushi Kappo Tamura, where the chef/owner said they'd just missed the cutoff for participating). Cornichon:
I have two more questions for restaurant owners: why in the world would you turn your back on your regulars, who support you and your elegant, high-priced dinners year-round, for the purpose of bringing in dozens of bargain-hunting cheapskates who would never pay your everyday prices?... Why, in other words, are you training your customers to pay half price?
One answer might be that regulars are just not as regular as they used to be back before the euphemistic economic downturn. And anyone being trained by S.R.W. has to watch and wait for the next promotion—which some people surely do. Just as surely, however, some lured in by promos do come back for their next special occasion, or when they win the lottery, or whatever.
Cornichon leaves open the possibility that Restaurant Week might actually be great for the eaters of the city (costs to the restaurant be damned)—you get to try out places that would normally cost a LOT more. Caveat emptor, though: Some of the places don't cost a lot more than $25 for three courses, so you're limiting yourself to a set menu in order to get a few bucks off, or a free dessert.
And some places bring it—they staff up appropriately to make sure service doesn't suffer, they take a loss on ingredients to make sure the special menus are really good, they do their damnedest to get you to come back and spend some real money (or just out of sheer pride). Others do an indifferent job at best—which would seem to defeat the purpose, but...
Some good bets from this year's list: Boat Street Cafe, Joule, Kisaku, Restaurant Zoe, and Spring Hill. Or test out newcomer Staple & Fancy, or new Seatown Snack Bar from Tom Douglas (a.k.a. T-Doug), or Boat Street's baby sister the Walrus and the Carpenter. (The one-word-restaurant-name trend seems kind of nice in retrospect, doesn't it?). Find out more about all the restaurants (or write your own reader-review) over here.