NYC Restaurant Week kicks off Monday. But if you’re dining in Brooklyn, you can count on just two hands the number of restaurants participating in the borough.
“It’s crazy, right?” said Ryan Angulo, the chef and co-owner of French Louie in Boerum Hill.
Out of 380 restaurants participating in the summer edition of the twice-yearly dining deal, the four-year-old restaurant is one of 10 in Kings County.
Restaurant Week, which began in 1992 with nearly 100 restaurants, has always been Manhattan-centric, even since expanding to four weeks and tripling the number of restaurants. But despite Brooklyn’s dwarfed presence, local restaurateurs see the deal as a way to bring more customers to the borough — a dining destination in its own right.
“You get a whole new set of clients that may not venture out to Brooklyn, and that’s a driving force,” Angulo said.
Greenhouse Café, which first opened in Bay Ridge in 1979, has seen its Restaurant Week numbers go up every year, co-owner John Keegan said. He attributes that, in part, to the slow summer season. But he also credits the menu, which offers 18 entrees including everything from lobster tail to roasted Long Island duck to penne a la vodka.
“Some places will offer you soup and salad, then they’ll offer you a chicken dish, a salmon dish and a vegetarian dish — those are your choices,” he said. “I don’t necessarily find that appealing.”
Others might take a more curated approach. Angulo likes to use the opportunity to show off French Louie’s French and American influences, and will often update the restaurant’s menu just before the week kicks off.
In South Williamsburg, two-year-old Barano is offering the best of its Italian fare — even if it comes at an extra cost to patrons.
“I get from Heritage Farms this amazing pork,” said chef and co-owner Albert Di Meglio. “So I’ll put that on the menu but it’s at a really high cost to me. The pork tomahawk is like $35. So, I’m like, OK, I’ll put on the menu with a supplement. If you want to try it you get to have it still at a cheaper price, and we’re not losing as a restaurant.”
Di Meglio, who has worked at such Manhattan staples as Le Cirque, sees Restaurant Week as a critical way to attract first-time customers who may not otherwise make the trip to Williamsburg. He also intentionally includes safer, more recognizable options on the prix-fixe menu to ensure an enjoyable experience for the less-adventurous and entice them to return for something bolder, he said.
As for why Restaurant Week’s outer-borough offerings are limited, some, like Angulo, imagine the set price is too high. A restaurant’s standard menu must be priced high enough that Restaurant Week’s mandated prix fixe — $42 for three-course dinner, $26 for two-course lunch — equates to a deal.
For example, when Angulo opened Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens almost a decade ago, it wouldn’t have made sense for the restaurant to join.
“Back then you could come in to Buttermilk Channel and get three courses for the cost of the Restaurant Week deal,” said Angulo (whose menu today is high enough to justify participating in Restaurant Week). “A lot of the Brooklyn restaurants were priced a lot lower than in Manhattan. You could get a similar meal without needing the prix-fixe option.”
(That price difference helped inspire the launch of Dine in Brooklyn, the borough’s own, more budget-friendly, take on Restaurant Week, in 2004.)
Keegan wonders if it’s simply a matter of money.
“It’s not for free — you have to pay a fee to be involved in it, and I think that’s what scares a lot of other restaurants in Brooklyn from joining,” he said. “But it’s definitely worth it because it brings new traffic to your place.”
Di Meglio, whose restaurant is participating in Restaurant Week for the first time, thinks it will be worth the fee.
“I use it as a marketing tool,” Di Meglio said. “Am I gonna make [the money] back and still make money on the restaurant? It’s a gamble, yeah, but restaurants are all about marketing.
“Dollar-for-dollar it’s worth it, I think,” he added, then laughed. “Well, we’ll find out.”