Grab a fork and knife; San Diego Restaurant Week is back. From Sept. 13 through 18, diners can sample a $20, $30 or $40 three-course meal at one of more than 180 local restaurants as the gastronomic event marks its fifth year.
"It's one of the most successful restaurant weeks in the country," said Lehn Goetz, owner of Cafe Coyote and president of the California Restaurant Association San Diego Chapter. "San Diego is really becoming a culinary destination, and I think Restaurant Week has helped highlight that."
Held twice annually, this is the first year that the event has been scheduled for September, a time of year when business typically slows following the busy tourist season. More restaurants are participating, and value has become the catch phrase for success.
"We added the $20 price point to add more value," Goetz said. "The diner is the winner because everyone is offering more and more."
Adding new flavor to Restaurant Week is local TV personality Sam the Cooking Guy, who was named spokesman.
He will provide dining tips via video on the event Web site,
How it works
All of the participating restaurants are listed on the San Diego Restaurant Week Web site, and diners can search the list by location, cuisine and price. Each venue has a page on the site that provides the street address, contact information, links to directions and specific Web sites, information about the restaurant, special details and menu selections.
Diners are not required to prepurchase tickets, passes or coupons to take advantage of the prix fixe menus, but reservations are highly recommended.
Browsing the Web site is a great way to preview the three-course dinner menus, especially for those looking to try new restaurants, celebrate a special occasion or to create a unique evening out with friends or family.
What's on the menu
Whether you have a hankering for seafood or steaks, fusion or French, the lineup of Restaurant Week eateries is sure to offer something pleasing to the palate. It's worth doing a little research to discover additional features that some of the participating chefs and restaurateurs are offering such as vegetarian entrees or wine pairings.
Trattoria Acqua in La Jolla is extending its prix fixe menu for an additional week so guests can return a second - or third - time to sample the menu, which includes six appetizers, 10 entrees and four desserts.
"We tried to take the best of what we do at the restaurant and work it into a menu so people can really get the flavor of what we do here," owner Michael McGeath said.
One of the goals of Restaurant Week is to showcase the high-quality, locally grown and regionally available products that many chefs incorporate into their dishes.
Chef Michael Knowles of Delicias Restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe travels daily to Chino Farm to select seasonal produce which translates into a unique dining experience for guests since ingredients may vary according to what is available.
Carmelle Pina, director of sales and marketing for Delicias, said many new diners lured by Restaurant Week are delighted once they discover the restaurant's pet-friendly patio, fire pits, romantic setting and wine pairings.
"It's a brilliant local concept," Pina said. "You just can't go wrong because you know we're going to appeal to diners who think they might not be able to afford us or think we're a special occasion restaurant."
Tommy Golden, co-owner and executive chef at Iris Food and Spirits in Del Mar, agreed: "It's great exposure for us. It's good to get people who can't afford to go out often to give them the choice of a very nice evening for $40."
Patrons aren't the only ones who benefit from Restaurant Week. For Golden, it's a chance to highlight customer favorites, such as the crispy calamari, and new items from his fall menu, such as the island-rubbed prime port flatiron steak.
Restaurant Week was so successful last year for Amaya at The Grand Del Mar that the $40 three-course tasting menu is now offered year-round.
"It's a great way to showcase your restaurant to many diners that … otherwise might not visit your venue," chef Camron Woods said.
McGeath, a board member of the California Restaurant Association San Diego Chapter, said Restaurant Week is a bonus for diners and wait staff, and while the publicity is beneficial for restaurants, income from the event is modest.
"On a whole throughout San Diego, restaurants are probably down 20 (percent) to 25 percent from where we were a year ago," McGeath said. "This is a real critical week for us."