YOU’VE HEARD OF GREAT RESTAURANT cities: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. They’ve got nothing on us, except population density (which they can have). We’ve got a whole big, beautiful, delicious valley.
In the spirit of chef Deborah Madison’s “Food links us to the place where we live and to those with whom we share a landscape, a culture and a history,” 12 years ago we created The Valley Table, a consumer publication that would connect the people who grow food, sell food, prepare food and love food in the Hudson Valley. It would celebrate the valley’s agricultural roots and richness, help to elevate its culinary reputation and destinations, encourage people to eat locally and support the local food economy.
After eight years of sharing our explorations of food, covering the valley in these pages, it struck us: There is another way to feed our appetite for good food and stimulate our local economy (the way the big food destinations had done). And so Hudson Valley Restaurant Week was hatched.
That first year (2006) 70 brave restaurateurs took a chance on doing something new, almost unheard of, across county lines. Something collaborative. Something delicious. Guests would decide what was the “best value,” the “hottest destination,” the “must-be- returned-to-old favorite,” and restaurants filled up. Some got very full. Reporters called, blogs buzzed and the Hudson Valley stepped up in the dining-destination ranks.
This year, March 15-28, more than 125 participating restaurants throughout the mid- and lower-Hudson Valley are getting ready to do it again: collectively offering special, three-course dinners for $28 (lunches for just $20). The value is unbeatable and people feel good about doing something collectively.
The chefs feel good: It’s their chance to shine.
The farms feel good: Even in March, the list of what’s available from local farms and artisanal producers is impressive. From meats, greens, roots and fruits to farmstead cheeses, world-class wines, craft beers and spirits, we’ve encouraged restaurants to highlight local Hudson Valley products, and many will.
The suppliers feel good: In a normally slow period of business for restaurants, suppliers from linen companies to distributors, florists to valets will have orders to fill. Hotels will have guests to woo.
And most importantly (as Peter Kelly reminds us in this issue), the guests feel good: One night, we can dine on handmade empanadas, paella and flan at a hip Latino eatery; the next, sample heirloom beet salad, braised short ribs and apple crisp at a farm-to-table restaurant and still have time (and appetite) to take in classic onion soup, a porterhouse pork chop and molten chocolate dessert at a jazzy steakhouse. (And for some that’s just a warm up. The record we’ve received from one dining fan is 10 restaurants in 12 days–now, that’s the spirit.)
So, I was recently asked, what were my hopes for Restaurant Week?
Aside from another good meal with great friends and (for my movie-loving husband) world peace, I’d say—
If one more chef gets hooked on just one new Hudson Valley product.
If one more waiter goes home with an extra big tip for gracious, good service under the extra (good) stress of a packed dining room.
If one more diner—let’s say, you, go out and have a great meal at a great price and can say what a pleasure that was. Then that’s my hope for Restaurant Week.
And, if it’s not too much to ask, World Peace, too.
P.S. For the Record Watchers: There are 14 days in Restaurant Week this year (go figure), and if you top the current record of 10 restaurants, I’ll be willing to buy you dinner. That is, if you send us your receipts for dining at participating restaurants during Restaurant Week (March 15-28, 2010) by April 15, 2010, you’ll be entered to win a drawing for an overnight at the Olde Rhinebeck Inn and dinner at a nearby restaurant.