While the road to Restaurant Week is paved with perfectly good intentions—eateries potentially attract a brand new customer base, patrons get to test drive numerous spots without going broke in the process—the cut-priced promotion often performs a disservice to all parties involved. Restaurants end up losing money, by serving budget-friendly prix fixes to diners who have no intention to ever return, while diners are subject to reproachful, turn-and-burn service, begrudgingly plied with cafeteria-style dishes like so many pigs at the trough (such an experience effectively colored our perception of Blue Ribbon for years to come).
That’s why TableHopping.NYC is spearheading Brooklyn’s very first Anti-Restaurant Week, starting today (March 2nd), and lasting through the 15th. Dubbed TasteMakers, the event eschews the traditional cost-focused format, by partnering with an exclusive roster of restaurants (Meadowsweet, Grindhaus, Colonie, El Born, The Gorbals, Mile End, 2 Duck Goose), bars (Donna, Whiskey Soda Lounge, The Richardson), and sweets shops (OddFellows, Canele By Celine, Du Jour, Baked, Fine & Raw), that pride themselves on being at the forefront of innovation within their industries, reflect the diversity of NYC’s dining scene, and represent up-and-coming neighborhoods, from which new trends are constantly emerging.
Instead of being limited to a price capstone, participants are encouraged to present their best work by pushing their imaginations to the limit, resulting in exclusive innovations and experiences for the two-week occasion. This includes three or four-course prix fixe meals, creative cocktails and novel desserts, that exemplify an establishment’s unique gastronomic voice. “The driving force behind Colonie is vegetables; last year alone we were able to help five farmers double their size and become certified organic just from the volume of product we’ve bought off them,” explains chef Andrew Whitcomb. “So for our three-course, $45 menu during TasteMakers, we’re presenting vegetables as the new meat, showcasing them in ways that are sexy and appealing.”
In addition to pork neck (one of Whitcomb’s favorite “off cuts”) served over 500-year-old heirloom beans, and chocolate semifreddo with freeze-dried raspberries and beets, expect a delectable play on fish chowder, made with very little actual fish and a whole lot of celery root. The dense, wintery tuber gets roasted in salt until it’s meaty in texture and concentrated in flavor, before being finished with a swirl of salt cod espuma and sprinkle of grated tuna bottarga. “By bridging the gap between delicious and healthy, it makes it easy for consumers to positively impact the environment, without feeling like they have to deny themselves in the process,” Whitcomb adds.
With a name like Du Jour (which emphasizes daily changing specials), it was a lock that the Park Slope bakery would be a part of TasteMakers as well, along with the fact that — for better or worse — the Cronut has paved the way for innovation within the pastry world. “Ever since Dominique came up with that hybrid, everyone’s pushing for the next Frankenstein mash-up,” admits co-owner TJ Obias. “But that’s not really us; we don’t want to be known as chefs that just jump on the bandwagon. We keep our heads down and do our thing, which is keeping product as fresh as possible every day, and maintaining a certain freedom, of not always having to offer the same thing.” For TasteMakers, Du Jour elected to spotlight their buttery brioche, which Obias describes as the primary workhorse of the bakery, along with their decadent donuts, for which they’ve quickly become known. The result is a special S’mores-inspired brioche donut, filled with rich chocolate pastry cream, topped with toasted marshmallow meringue, and crowned with a chocolate-dipped graham cracker. “If it becomes popular, it might show up on the menu again in the future, but for now, we’re just using this as a platform to play,” Obias says.
And keeping with TasteMaker’s anti-establishment ethos, it’s unlikely potential patrons will even hear about the promotion, unless they wander into participating establishments in the first place. Because the marketing plan is similarly guerilla-style in nature, limited to a bare bones website, a few fliers, and mention in a select handful of media outlets (including our own). “It’s exciting to be a part of a project that’s less about mass-market appeal and more about getting creative for your customer base,” Whitcomb affirms. “It’s like an art show in Bushwick, that you only discover by reading about it on a telephone pole.”