Here in the DC area we have something called Restaurant Week. While I am not a fan of why it started, I am a huge fan of what it has become.
Restaurant Week started in DC in January 2002 as an experiment to try to get local residents to trust going back downtown after a very scary few months. The idea was to have high-end restaurants practically give food away for a week. Each meal was a fixed price menu and cost only $20.02 for a three course lunch and $30.02 for a four course dinner to match the year. I am not sure how many restaurants participated that first year but it was so popular the experiment was repeated in August of that year and now every January and August Restaurant Week reigns.
My manager at the time and I went to our first Restaurant Week together in 2003 or 2004 and we have tried to go to lunch every Restaurant Week possible since. Today was our August outing. WOW. We have been disappointed only once and today was not that time.
For those of you in the DC area - run, don't walk, to Coduroy at 12th and K when you have a chance. It is in a hotel, so while it doesn't look like it would be, it is kid friendly. If my 1 year old hadn't been so cranky he would have helped me dine on Cold Thai-Chili Tomato Soup, Roasted Rack of Lamb with amazing garlic mashed potatos and wonderful green beans. However I would have kept the chocolate hazelnut bars to myself.
What I love about Restaurant Week isn't just the wonderful food I get to try for extremely reasonable prices, but also what this experiment has done for DC. From September 2001 onward going into DC was difficult. Every time I passed the Pentagon on my way in, I saw the gaping hole and the huge American flag. I went in when I had to, not by choice.
Then in April 2002, I started working downtown. Those first few years were nerve wracking. Who am I kidding - it is still nerve wracking. I joined the First Response team at my office so I would have something to do if we were trapped in an attack. I kept a pair of sneakers on me at all times in case I had to walk back across the bridge to Virginia. This was not a time that I chose to be downtown except for work and the occasional social event. Restaurant Week helped change that do a degree.
At first I only went to lunch and only during the week. Then I started going to dinner. Now I go whenever I can get a reservation and I either meet my former manager or drag my poor husband with me. This Saturday, my son will go to his first Restaurant Week and I am very excited to introduce him to the tradition.
D.C. Restaurant Week started as an experiment in the city and has grown to include suburbs in VA and MD. I know there are now Restaurant Weeks across the country, a wonderful restaurant reservation site called Open Table (http://www.opentable.com) has helped expand the experiment to a full fledged tradition in many cities. If you don't have a Restaurant Week in your city, you may want to talk to your tourism board. This is a tradition that belongs in every city to celebrate the people who actually live, work and eat there.