Chinatown to host its first restaurant week

NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (left) with Mika Japanese Cuisine & Bar Executive Chef John Ren (center) and Peking Duck House Owner Wun Yin Wu (right) at last week’s press conference announcing Chinatown’s first-ever restaurant week. Photo by Aline Reynolds

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  | Deep down inside, we all speak the language of food.

That’s the motto Chinatown advocates are using to promote the neighborhood’s first Restaurant Week. Close to 20 neighborhood restaurants have signed to participate in the program, which will offer a special selection of three-course dinners priced at $18.88 per person from Fri., March 9 to Sun., March 18.

Restaurant weeks have proven successful in the city and elsewhere by promoting local eateries and bringing additional foot traffic to communities during a struggling economy.

“This is the first time Chinatown has mobilized to do this,” said Lower East Side resident and public relations consultant Julie Huang at a press briefing last week. “Chinatown has gone through a lot, and it’s making history by coming together to do this as a community.”

There is significance behind the pre-fixe price, Huang noted.

“The number eight is a lucky number in the Chinese culture,” said Huang.

Andy Ha, co-owner of Nha Trang One, a Vietnamese restaurant at 87 Baxter St. that his family has run for 18 years, hopes to rake in 15-to-20 percent more in revenue during the week.

“We want to bring people to enjoy the Vietnamese cuisine that came from where I came from,” said Ha, who is originally from Nha Trang, a coastal city in southern Vietnam.

Benny Chen, owner of Pho Grand, a Vietnamese restaurant at 277 Grand St., is hoping to attract an older crowd during restaurant week, since his business typically caters to young people. “We’re having a little bit of a hard time — that’s why the prices aren’t high,” said Chen. “We hope more people will come [to experience] all of Chinatown.”

It’s particularly important that Chinatown Restaurant Week begin this year, since Taste of Chinatown, a once- or twice-a-year tradition dating back to 2004 that brought more than 150,000 people to the area on a single day, will not take place in 2012, according to Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation.

“There’s no budget for it at the moment,” said Chen. “The last time we did the Taste of Chinatown we had to utilize 100-plus volunteers.”

Asked about restaurant week, Chen said, “Chinatown needs all the help it can get. Any effort that can bring even one more customer is well worth it.”

NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver touted Chinatown’s diverse array of cuisines and was surprised this is the first-ever restaurant week in the neighborhood.

“There are so may outstanding and unique places to eat here that you can come here literally every day of restaurant week and have a completely new experience each time,” said Silver. “I know we’re going to have this over and over again, cause it’s going to be a great success.”

Silver struck up a conversation with Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez about personal preferences of the featured restaurants. The Assembly Speaker said he has limited options as an Orthodox Jew who adheres to a kosher diet.  Velasquez said she planned to dine at Peking Duck House.

“I love duck,” Velasquez said, smiling. “I could eat it every day.”

Restaurant Week can help the city as a whole maintain its status as one of the restaurant capitals of the world, according to Andrew Rigie, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate neighborhood than Chinatown to have its own restaurant week,” said Rigie. “It’s going to help highlight all of the restaurants in the community, but it’s also going to bring people to the neighborhood shops.”

State Senator Daniel Squadron also noted the economic boost Restaurant Week could bring to the area and said he has a particular affinity for one of the participating restaurants, Delight 28. The restaurant happens to be where Squadron and his wife held their wedding rehearsal dinner. Squadron along with other elected officials crafted legislative proclamations honoring the program’s inauguration.

“Something like Chinatown Restaurant Week is a great thing for the private sector to come together and say, ‘We’re going to send a message loud and clear that we’re open for business and we want folks to come,’ ” said Squadron.

Area businesses other than restaurants are hoping to profit from the program. In order to attract restaurant-goers before dinner, Candy Teng, owner of “You and Her Spa,” has reduced the shop’s standard price for massage and facials by more than one-third during the entire month of March.

“We have 5,000 years of [Chinese] history in the culture,” said Teng. “This allows people to come down to support our culture and good food, and to try our services.”

Downtown Express apologizes for incorrectly attributing a statement to Ms. Huang that the “Chinatown Restaurant Week” participants were struggling, which appeared in the original version of this story. Ms. Huang did not make such a statement.