The phone rang with an invitation almost too good for a weeknight.
Could my dear wife Karen and I come out to play for dining week with her, David and Althea?
It is Syracuse Dining Week, a celebration of local restaurants that has grown to longer than two weeks this year.
The concept is gloriously simple. Participating restaurants open their doors and put out a special menu in addition to their regular fare. For a top price of $25, Dining Week patrons can get three courses. It’s a deal. In year No. 10, 25 restaurants are participating. They want to introduce people to their food and the city.
We picked a new restaurant, 317 at Montgomery Street. The name drew me in because I know that to be the address of the former Brick Alley restaurant, where the four of us — minus their very cool daughter, Althea — enjoyed a splendid Dining Week meal a half-decade ago. Our quartet also has taken advantage of the special at Prime steak house.
I told Theresa I’d all for reservations. I got a recording telling me the restaurant opened at 5 p.m., but welcoming requests on the recording. I left my name and number, requesting a table for five at 6 p.m. A bit to my surprise, my phone rang a bit after 4 p.m., and a pleasant gentleman confirmed my request.
The red brick decor at 317 at Montgomery was a welcome sight.
David, Theresa and Althea were already seated. I had gotten there before Karen, who was walking a few blocks right after work. I chatted with our friends. I’ve introduced Theresa in a post about how much I look forward to my regular trip to her stylist’s shop for a vanity appointment. When Karen arrived a few minutes later, in fact, Theresa told her how she’d discovered a glitch in my next appointment while looking through her book that morning to get our home phone number. Phew. Appointment fixed as well as dinner plans set.
All of the staff members at 317 at Montgomery were pleasant, bringing beverages and a basket of warm rolls as we chatted.
The four adults all ordered from the Dinner Week menu, while a child’s meal of pasta was pleasantly negotiated for Althea by altering the regular menu.
I wasn’t thrilled by any of the four special entree offerings. Each had an element that didn’t fit my regular dining habits. One was salmon; another was duck. The beef brisket, which I would normally order with a smile, was accompanied by Brussels Sprout and mushrooms. Nay. So I decided upon the Un-spaghetti and meatballs.
The waitress explained what that meant: vegetables cut to look like pasta accompanied by deep fried risotto and cheese shaped like meatballs. Winner, winner, non-meat dinner.
Soon after we’d ordered, the waitress brought a tray carrying chicken pate appetizers she said the chef wanted us to try. The four adults appreciatively split them. It reminded me of the short of finger food served from silver trays at toney parties.
The first course I ordered, Asian Beef tacos, arrived with two healthy-sized wontons stuffed with meat and veggies. A hot wasabi sauce was drizzled on top. It was my favorite course of the day. David liked is tacos, too, and Karen and Theresa enjoyed fried calamari. Althea watched, chatted, and said no thank you to all offers to share. Theresa asked that Althea be brought some crackers when we were served our second course.
Karen and I both liked our second-course salads, though my dear wife warned me that the dressing was very sweet. David savored his soup, which was stocked with duck.
The salmon and duck eaters liked their entrees, and Althea dug into her pasta.
My meal was OK. The faux meatballs reminded me somewhat of falafel. It was wonderfully cooked and seasoned. It was me, not them, really.
Full, we declined dessert and coffee. Lo and behold, before the check arrived, here came the dessert chef, placing another plate on our table. He’s been experimenting, he explained, and wondered what we’d think of his coconut macaroon drizzled with Nutella. He said he thought it tasted like the popular Girl Scout cookie, the Samoa.
It did, but warm, fresh and, well, better by far. All five of us used our forks. I took two very happy bites. Then they were gone.
We’d had a great time at this new downtown Syracuse eatery. For four adults and one child, $150 covered five meals, two beers, tax and tip.
May Dining Week serve up delicious deals like this for another decade.
Would a three-course meal with a $25 price ceiling draw you to locally owned city restaurants? Is there a collaborative dining extravaganza like this where you live? What do you look for in a locally owned and run restaurant?