Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Great Plates: Great deals?

Great Plates Downtown is an annual event in Fort Collins, along the lines of Restaurant Week in other cities. For a two-week duration participating restaurants offer a dinner special for $18.68, which is quite cheap compared to the three-course lunch for $24.07 and the three-course dinner for $35 offered only during weekdays for typical Restaurant Week promotions in New York City. Plus, depending on the restaurant, $18.68 can be the total cost of two entrees, a three-course meal for one, a three-course meal for two, or a full family dinner. Quite a bargain!
"Beef Tenderloin Diavolo," Rustic Oven
But in the end, is Great Plates really a "deal"? I'm not so sure. I went with three friends to The Rustic Oven, where they were offering two entrees for $18.68. We were given a list of about nine or ten options, but in the interest of getting the best bang for the buck three of us opted to go with the "Baked Tenderloin Diavolo" that you see above, which normally costs $17.95. I would have been mighty grumpy had I paid full price for this one. The pasta was bland and overcooked, the gorgonzola and chipotle sauce tasted muddled, and the tenderloin—which I had expected in big pieces from the menu description—arrived instead as itty bitty chunklets scattered ungenerously throughout the pasta. It was every bit worth paying nine bucks for, but not much more.
Similarly, I would have been grumpy paying full price for this prime rib from Austin's American Grill, which is normally $18-$20. Here the Great Plates promotion was also two entrees for $18.68 so my steak was only nine bucks. Unfortunately, while it was a hefty slab of meat, its flavor was tiresome and bland, and I would up taking most of it home in order to transform it into something else. In terms of quantity this was surely a deal, but in terms of quality, I found the deal wanting. I liked the meal I'd had at Austin's several months ago much better.
Finally, at Taj Mahal, where again the promotion was two entrees for $18.68, we were given a choice of entrees whose prices barely hovered above nine bucks to begin with. The food was good, but the price we paid was only a dollar or so cheaper than what we would have paid without the promotion.

For all three restaurants the choice of entrees came from their regular menu. So what's the problem here? Are restaurants not putting out their best efforts with this promotion, or is the food just not great? Maybe they were just so slammed during the promotion that less care was taken with each dish. Or maybe it's simply a matter of taste, and of picking the right entree.

I'll continue to check out Great Plates as it comes up, but I'm a bit less excited about it than I was at first. Perhaps I just have to figure out which restaurants offer the best experience, like I started to do with Restaurant Week in NYC.

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