Center City District Restaurant Week is Jan. 18 to 23 before skipping the Saturday night and resuming from Jan. 25 to 30.
About 130 downtown restaurants will offer $35 fixed-price dinners; some will also offer $20 three-course lunches.
I offer 7 pieces of advice:
1. Be realistic. Busy restaurants set up menus that bear little resemblance to their regular menus. This helps the kitchen manage. If you're looking for certain dishes or the "typical" experience, restaurant week is not that time.
2. Be flexible. You probably won't get that 7:30 p.m. res. Aim early or late. Early is better, because the night's stress has not yet taken its toll on staff.
3. Seek out a deal.
This may be obvious, but choose a restaurant where you’re actually getting a value. Many of the 125 restaurants on the CCD's list will sell you an $8 appetizer and a $20 entree any day of the week. How is $35 a “deal?" Because it includes the $7 dessert? See the list below for restaurants where – on paper - $35 is indeed a deal.
4. Don't expect to spend $44.80 per person. (That is, $35 for dinner - accompanied by a glass of tap water with a lemon wedge, plus $2.80 for the 8-percent sales tax, plus a $7 tip). Of course you have a budget. So do the restaurants and the Departments of Revenue. Expect to pay extra for coffee, tea and other soft drinks. Alcohol and menu supplements, of course, are extra, and the restaurants hope you'll order some.
5. Bypass OpenTable. The online reservation service has a deal with the Center City District; click on the official site, make your res and CCD gets a commission. But not all restaurants' tables are locked in to OpenTable. You may be smart to call the restaurant and find seats.
6. Don't be a jerk. If you book two reservations at the same time – you know, because you are that important and/or indecisive – cancel the one you really don't want. Right away.
7. Tip lavishly. Staffs profess to loathe the extra work that comes from additional restaurant week business – ignoring the fact that extra volume means extra tips. (And also ignoring the truism that a busy night makes the shift go faster.) Best for you, dear patron, is to smile at your server and toss in an extra few bucks. They'll still whine. Kitchen workers, by the same token, are just plain slammed; buy a dishwasher a beer.
I will also add an eighth piece of advice: If it's civility you're after, dine at a restaurant that has chosen not to participate - whether it's because owners don't want to disrupt their way of doing business (e.g. Marc Vetri, Kevin Sbraga, Pierre and Charlotte Calmels, Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, and Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh) or because they don't want to pay the marketing fee.
These seem like the better Center City District Restaurant Week "deals" - primarily because of the value. They're the more expensive places in town; steakhouses, of course, have the advantage. This is not to say that they are the "best" or even the most interesting dinners out there:
Abe Fisher (modern Jewish soul food), where you get two app courses, an entree, and a dessert like the signature bacon and egg cream.
Aldine (progressive American), where the portions won't exactly blow you away but the taste of such adventurous plates as raw beef with mushroom, gribiche and quinoa will.
Alma de Cuba (Latin), where the duck ropa vieja alone is usually $28.
Amada (Spanish), where you're probably getting an extra dish.
Bank & Bourbon (American), where the "Taste of Ham" platter puts the value over the top.
Barbuzzo (Mediterranean), for the sheep's milk ricotta as a starter and salted caramel budino.
Bistro St. Tropez (French), because the truffle/wild mushroom soup and duck are gems.
Brauhaus Schmitz (German), where "Schweinshaxe" is as tasty as it is fun to say.
Buddakan (Asian) is borderline as a value, but dip sum donuts are a sentimental favorite.
Butcher & Singer (steakhouse) is offering an 8-ounce filet that usually sells for $42.
Capital Grille (steakhouse) is offering an 8-ounce filet that, as its usual 10-ounce size, sells for $44.
Chima (Brazilian steakhouse) usually charges $54.90 for its all-you-can-eat meal.
Chops (steakhouse) usually charges $34 for an 8-ounce filet; it's offering a 7-ouncer.
Del Frisco's (steakhouse) usually gets $41 for an 8-ounce filet.
Estia (Greek) usually sells its lamb chop entree for $39; note that the restaurant usually offers a $30 theater menu that is among the best values around.
Fitler Dining Room (American) has its signature short ribs on the regular menu for $31.
Garces Trading Co. (American) throws in an extra course.
High Street on Market (American), for the bread alone.
IndeBlue (Indian): three little words (kaju paneer mattar), plus a bonus course.
Jane G's (Chinese) includes its signature dan dan noodles as part of a large feast.
Le Castagne (Italian) has a surprisingly extensive menu, including braised lamb; elegant atmosphere alone makes it worth a look.
Morton's (steakhouse) is offering a 6-ounce filet that usually sells for $42.
Nineteen (American) offers diver scallops, a dish that ordinarily is $32.
Ocean Prime (steak/seafood), where the crabcakes alone are usually $37.
Petruce et al (American) for the black cod with brown butter.
The Prime Rib (steakhouse) - dinner is less than half-price.
Pumpkin (American) - special menu reflects a discount over the regular price (cash only)
R2L (American) usually sells the butcher's filet and short rib combo for $36.
Ruth's Chris (steakhouse) usually sells the 8-ounce filet for $38.
Smith & Wollensky (steakhouse) usually sells the 8-ounce filet for $41.
Supper (American) for the little extras, including deviled eggs.
Tashan (Indian) for the extras, and frankly the butter chicken.
Tinto (Spanish) for the variety - it's Amada lite.
Zahav (Israeli) for the diversity - it's like a feast.