Being in New York during the last week of Restaurant Week meant one thing. There were loads of restaurants about town offering special prix fixe lunches and dinners for $25 and $38. Some may scoff at the concept as it can make restaurants "dumb down" the food they ordinarily serve, or reduce the portion size. I reckon if you play your cards right by doing a little research, you can come out on top. Even if drinks, taxes and tips need to be added to the initial cost.
Down in the West Village is Perry Street, first cab-off-the-rank for our $38 three-course dinner. With prix fixe menu's such as these you have a couple of choices when it comes down to starters, entrée's and desserts. The roasted beet salad looked like the better option for both of us. A variety of coloured beets served with ricotta, arugula, crystallised wasabi and shiso.
For him, a hunk of slow-cooked hake with potato fondant, some yuzu vinaigrette and obligatory micro herbs as garnish. The fish was perfection. For me, the house signature of Perry Street fried chicken. It's a tad fancier than the fried chicken you get at a diner or Southern eatery, and smaller in size. Roasted goldbar squash is arranged over a rather fiery scotch bonnet sauce. The chicken is juicy and tasty, but didn't rock my world.
The chocolate lover opposite me gravitated towards a molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Pretty standard, but tasty nonetheless. Mine is a lavender pound cake with blueberry compote and corn ice cream. Interesting combination with a hint of lavender that didn't make it taste "soapy".
All in all a great $38 meal.Perry Street176 Perry StreetWest Village 10014212 352 1900website
New York's French Culinary Institute may be a learning centre for budding students keen to get into the hospitality industry, but its L'Ecole restaurant is somewhere anyone can visit for an inexpensive meal. It was the $25 three course lunch we were there for, starting off with a couple of sautéed stuffed calamari. A little on the small side, but no major gripes as it was only a $25 deal after all. The squid tubes are stuffed with pork and rice, garnished with radish, tomatoes and a parsley sauce. Strangely, the tentacles between the squid tubes were either raw or possibly ceviche-style without the ceviche flavour or texture.
The other starter is a country paté, textured-up with pistachio's, black truffles and duck liver. Rustic in flavours and appearance.
Things stepped up a notch with some beautifully pan-seared braised duck leg, slumped against some greens. A splash of cherry-orange sauce moistened things up with a few seriously boozy brandy-soaked cherries.
It may have been a little over-cooked but the braised North Atlantic cod was delicious. It sat raft-like on a light broth that was kicking with flavours of chorizo, kale, saffron potatoes and a clam.
Thyme poached apricot tiramisu is next, theatrically plate with a spoon-shaped coffee tuile, apricot sauce and towering sprig of crystallised thyme. My favourite part was crunching into the thyme.
A not-so-theatrical cherry goat cheese turnover didn't appear all that special but its innards hit the spot. Loved the brown butter ice cream and toffee-dipped cherry.L'Ecole462 BroadwaySoHo 10013212 219 3300website
It was good to see one of Manhattan's dining institutions like Gotham Bar & Grill put on a three course $25 lunch menu. These guys were packed with locals and visitors alike, eating and instagramming at its white clothed tables.
The portions were scaled down somewhat but you couldn't scoff at the quality of the dishes. Gotham chopped salad with beefsteak tomato, sugar snaps, corn, plums, blue cheese and buttermilk dressing. Really good, even if it was just a light salad.
Equally good was the striped bass ceviche. Prettily plated with honeydew, watermelon, red onion, jicama and the usual suspects of coriander, chilli and lime.
Pan-seared Chatham cod is next, with eggplant, squash, ratatouille and lemon emulsion. Apparently there was chilli in there, but my tongue didn't detect it.
The grilled beef strip loin went down well; medium-rare and juicy as it should be. Sweet corn polenta and swiss chard add a vegetable touch, with some rich bordelaise sauce for even more flavour.
A dessert that still pops up in conversation is this. The Gotham chocolate cake. It looks heavy and rich but it's the complete opposite. This cake is flourless, but not the almond meal variety many of us are used to. It's warm and turns into a delicate powder when it gets past your lips, its dark chocolate melting as it hits the tongue. The salted almond ice cream wasn't too shabby either.
Then there's the raspberry cremeux; a tumble of brownie crumbs, mixed berries and buttermilk ice cream.
There you have it. A trio of places well-worth checking out for some bargain eating.Gotham Bar & Grill12 E 12th StreetGreenwich Village 10003212 620 4020website