Restaurant Week 2010, or, The week-long food coma (part 1)

I turned in this week’s column late because I was laying in my bed on Friday night, unable to move even my fingers to type, and contemplating never eating again. I thought the feeling of hunger was going to become a distant memory. I managed to drag myself out of bed this morning to go for a much, much-needed run and felt the last two weeks of food course through my arteries as my heart tried to pump blood through them. I’m recovering from Restaurant Week.

Every year for two weeks, Bostonians celebrate Restaurant Week, when restaurants all around the city offer fixed-price menus: two-course lunches for $15.10, three course lunches for $22.10, and three-course dinners for $32.10. This means that you get to try restaurants that you’d normally never walk into because their food looks more like art than something you want to ingest, or you can have a three-course meal (minus alcohol, and tip, of course) without falling into poverty for the following few weeks.

Being a new Bostonian and generally overzealous about food, I planned three different meals for Restaurant Week. One lunch, two dinners. And I accidentally ended up at another lunch, too. Salad, dinner, dessert, repeat, repeat, repeat. Seafood. Pasta. Tapas. Steak. Even writing this is making me feel a bit disgusted with myself.

Although I’m a little concerned about making rent, I don’t regret eating a single thing. I do regret the money, but I’m young enough to pretend the tiny percentage of my paycheck going into my 401k is less important than a $40 bottle of wine. I got to eat four meals at four- and five-star restaurants and learned some things about etiquette.

For example, when the heavy menus at the dimly-lit Italian restaurant light up with LEDs when you open them, do not squeal with delight. People will look at you. If you are being seated in a busy outdoor patio and a bird happens to shit on your head, do not yell “A fucking bird just shit on my head!” People will stare and your friend will slink to your table and cover her face. The hostess will apologize profusely, as if it’s her fault the bird released its bowels at that particular second. When the waiter pulls the chair out for you, do not try to pull it in yourself as you’re sitting down, even if you’re doing it out of habit. You will almost yank your shoulders out of your sockets and make him uncomfortable because your timing was off. Do not giggle when the waiter snaps the cloth napkin in the air and sets it on your lap, even if you can’t help but laugh at how absurd the idea is. They do not appreciate it.

Because my menu for the week was so extensive, I won’t recount all sixteen plates. I’ll stick with the most memorable. I took my friend Allison, who was visiting Boston for the first time, to Top of the Hub, a restaurant on the 52nd floor of the Prudential Center with a great view of the city. She and I both ordered a chicken and pasta dish with a creamy garlic sauce and peas. I can’t say why I chose this, because I hate peas. It must have sounded good enough to be worth picking around them.

(There is a family story about an incident when I was an 8-year-old, and my mother would not let me leave the table until I finished my peas. I was usually a well-behaved child and hated to displease my parents, especially my mother, but I did not want the peas. I did not see why I had to eat them. So I sat at there by myself while my family left the table. The peas got cold. Darkness fell. My little sister went to bed. And I was not going to eat those peas. Finally, it was my bedtime, and my mom decided to just put me to bed. The moral of this story: I won. Attention kids everywhere: You do not have to eat that.)

When the pasta dish arrived, it was shockingly similar to a dish I had had there a few weeks before. The chef had simply switched out the gnocchi for pasta. It had been three weeks. For such a top-tier restaurant, you would think they could have at least switched to a red sauce. I chose not to tell my friend, and picked around my peas and felt gypped.

We both ordered the strawberry shortcake for dessert, and while I was pleased that it was fresh strawberries and not that disgusting pie-filling slime, I’ve had better shortcake at the tiny ice cream parlor in my hometown. And at Cracker Barrel.

Restaurant week was not stepping up. But I was willing to give Restaurant Week one more chance to try and convince me. Would I have a battle with onions? Would I cry because a dessert was that delicious? Read next week and see.

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