Restaurant weeks started as a way to promote an industry during typically slow periods, but they've turned into much larger events that many cities do twice a year -- and it's time to start making your reservations for this summer. Some events donate a portion of their proceeds to charitable organizations. In destinations such as New Orleans, some have even morphed into events that are somewhere between a special meal and a wine tasting in the form of its cocktail festival. To simplify and showcase its best, most restaurants create special menus for the occasion. Some tips to get the seating you what, when you want it and to avoid the crowds: book as soon as you can. Ask to see the menu ahead of time, so there are no surprises. Book lunches for earlier in the week and where possible, book dinners on evenings that aren't weekends. Remember that the price does not include tax, tip, or beverages.
If your favorite city isn't featured here, take heart. Many featured spring promotions and some of them are working on fall ones, such as Philadelphia (www.centercityphila.org/life/RestaurantWeek.php) Miami (www.ilovemiamispice.com), Arizona (www.arizonarestaurantweek.com), and San Diego (www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com), among others. In those cases, it's just too soon for more specific information.
What: Kids Restaurant Week
Where: Washington, D.C.
When: June 13-21
Price: Children 11 and under pay their age; adults and children over 12, $29
Information: www.kidsrestaurantweek.com; www.washington.org/restaurantwk
This summer you may have two new reasons to visit the nation's capital: a restaurant week in August and the first ever Kids Restaurant week in June in conjunction with Cookie and Gourmet magazines and tourism partner Destination D.C. We're told that the dates will be announced for the former in mid-July for sometime in August, but that both lunch and dinner will be included and will cost $20.09 and $30.09 respectively for a three-course meal. But for the children's event, there are cooking demonstrations and the peace of mind for parents that everyone, including children, are welcome at some of the cities best dining spots, from Art & Soul to Zola.
What: Taste of Chicago
Where: Grant Park, downtown Chicago
When: June 26-July 5
Price: Free admission, but tickets are required for food and beverages; $6 for 12 tickets ahead of time; $8 for 12 during the festival.
Information: tel. 877/CHICAGO; www.tasteofchicago.us
The annual fest Taste of Chicago is a democratic smorgasbord of what the Windy City has to offer up, from hot dogs and Junior's cheesecake to demonstration sessions from the city's elite chefs. It takes place over the course of several weeks at Grant Park and features food from more than 70 restaurants, entertainment in the form of live music on multiple stages and activities for the whole family. Emeril Lagasse will appear on the opening day; Counting Crows and the Wallflowers comprise some of the musical highlights.
What: Tales of the Cocktail
Where: New Orleans
When: July 8-12
Price: Tickets start at $30
Information: tel. 504/948-0511; www.talesofthecocktail.com
Since 2003, people have been heading toward New Orleans to imbibe in Tales of the Cocktail, a celebration of mixed drinks and good food. Demonstrations, tastings, seminars, tours, special events, book signings and more, including cocktail tours of the city, take place over the course of several days with Hotel Monteleone serving as the home base for the event.
What: Restaurant Week
Where: New York City
When: July 12-31 (except for Saturdays)
Price: Three-course lunch, $24.07; three-course dinner for $35
New York City's restaurant week promotion regularly features some of the best the city has offer among the boroughs. It's usually a fair sampling from among a couple hundred establishments -- there are 250 at press time -- from the newer and classic, bold face names and workaday culinary folk: think Tavern on the Green, Mesa Grill, Nobu, Smith and Wollensky, and more. New ones this year include Rouge Tomate, Elettaria, and the Harrison. Reservations open June 30; stay tuned to the New York City web site listed below for promos geared toward overnight stays,
What: Restaurant Week Madison
Where: Madison, Wisconsin
When: July 26-31
Price: Three-course dinner, $25; some offer two-course lunch, $15
Here's a bit of trivia that may surprise you: Madison boasts more restaurants per capita than any other city in the Midwest. Many of them are putting together three special menus of three courses each for this summer's celebration. Some participating restaurants, such as Frida Mexican Grill, Blue Spoon Café and Ocean Grill, are also offering a three-course lunch for just $15. The web site links you to all the restaurants and their contact information -- call each one individually to make reservations.
What: Atlanta Downtown Restaurant Week
Where: Downtown Atlanta
When: July 27-August 9
Price: Three-course dinner, $25 Information: tel. 404/658-1877; www.atlantadowntown.com/fun/restaurant-week
This summer, Atlanta's restaurant week runs for two weeks, not one. Dinner is exclusively featured, and there are many new restaurants signing on as the date approaches, so check the web site frequently. New adds to the list this time around include Legal Seafood, the first outpost of this chain in Atlanta, and Il Mulino, a southern outpost of New York City's Italian restaurant. Hotel packages will be added soon, we're promised, and as usual, a signature cocktail has been created in honor of the event and served across the city at participating restaurants. This year it's the Dragonberry Lemonade. Reservations can be made through the site listed below or through the individual restaurants.
What: Restaurant Week Boston
Where: Boston, Cambridge, and surrounding suburbs
When: August 9-14; 16-21
Price: Two-course lunch, $15.09; three-course lunch, $20.09; three-course dinner, $33.09
Boston's spring incarnation of restaurant week had a record-breaking 228 restaurants participating, and the summer has something different to offer in the form of a lighter, two-course lunch in addition to dinner. This year, diners can add other course offerings if desired -- for a charge, of course. Some restaurants may participate in Saturday lunches or dinner for the August 15 date; it's optional. Check the website in July for a list of restaurants and to make reservations.