Looking at the Ann Arbor Restaurant Week website, it doesn’t really seem like there are many choices. But then you realize there are 56 participating restaurants this January, and you do some math — in order to attend all 56, you’d have to eat out 11.2 times every day, and probably spend somewhere in the field of $1,300.
Okay, so you can probably get rid of some of them — there’s never a reason to go to bd’s Mongolian Grill; I have never walked by Ama Bistro and seen more than one person in the restaurant; Neopapalis, what?; and if you don’t have a car (or friends with cars) that takes off Bigalora, Carlyle Grill, Carson’s American Bistro, Guy Hollerin’s, Mediterrano, Metzger’s German Restaurant, Old Carolina Barbeque, Seva (although, if you’re vegan, I would highly recommend checking out Seva when you get the chance), Weber’s Restaurant and Zola Bistro.
So, what’s left, then? Only 38 restaurants. That takes it down to a manageable 7.6 meals out per day. Doable, I’d say.
In all seriousness, I have developed three main strategies to getting the most out of your restaurant week: high-end, dabbling and procrastinator-ender.
The most obvious, but also probably the most intelligent and the best way to really get a good value is to use RW to dine out at all the notoriously super-pricey Ann Arbor restaurants that you would normally only go to for a super special occasion, or when your parents come into town.
The Earle (classified under “T” on the RW website), is one such place. Normally their entrees by themselves run anywhere from $26 to $28, but during RW, you can get a three course meal for $28. (This is the standard pricing for all restaurants during the week. $15 for lunch and $28 for dinner across the board, although some restaurants have a two-for-one deal on this — two for $15 or two for $28.)
“We will give you exactly the same food,” said Dennis Webster, owner of The Earle. “We don’t cut down on the quality of the food. We don’t reduce the portion size. We try to be very honest about what it is.”
The same goes for Logan, practically next door to The Earle. Thad Gillies, chef and owner, touted his restaurant’s dedication to providing both quality food and the same dining experience one would get outside of RW.
Another reason to go high-end is to experience what the food culture has to offer.
“What you’re getting here is a chef driven restaurant — a partner driven restaurant,” Gillies said. “There’s a lot of passion behind what we do. This is our little baby. You’re going to get a different experience.”
James Wilhelm, Black Pearl executive chef, echoed these sentiments.
“This place is a lot more attainable or inviting than people think it is … they get in and they realize it’s actually worth it,” Wilhelm said. “This is the place I can come to and know that I’m going to get the bang for my buck. I feel like that’s what a lot of people worry about, that they’re going to go to a restaurant, have a bad meal and spend a fortune. Nobody wants that.”
However, while The Earle and Logan keep their dishes the same, Black Pearl does alter its portion sizes to make up for the cost difference. Instead of the normal eight-ounce piece of meat, Wilhelm said it’s about six ounces during RW.
“We’re not changing anything because of Restaurant Week,” he said. “Maybe the portion size a little bit, but other than that, it’s still the same piece of fish.”
Pros: You get to try something you might not have been able to afford otherwise, you get a cool experience at a high-end, one-of-a-kind restaurant and you get to dress up.
Cons: You might not be getting exactly what you would be during a non-RW visit, you’ll still probably spend a fortune on alcohol and you might have to dress up.
Other high-end restaurants to try: Aventura, Blue Nile, Gratzi, The Chop House (also under “T”) and Vinology.
Very different from dabbing, the dabbling concept involves going to the cheaper RW restaurants and trying a bunch of them. The best way to do this is the two-for-one deals, leaning toward lunch if you can to get the highest value. This way, you get to try a bunch of new restaurants without breaking the bank.
Conor O’Neill’s, for example, offers two-for-one pricing on both lunch and dinner, but their dinner spread includes appetizer and dessert samplers, where you get three smaller portions of each to try. Plus, as long as both guests are 21, you also get a beer sampler. Thank you, Conor’s.
“If you’re hungry, it’s the place to come. You get a lot of food,” said Micheal Dineen, manager and chef at Conor O’Neill’s.
With this method, you might not get to try the greatest, most original Ann Arbor restaurants, but there’s still a wide variety of Ann Arbor-only restaurants to choose from.
While not every RW restaurant offers lunch, the RW website has a nifty button that sorts all the restaurants by lunch or two-for-one. So, if you don’t want to limit yourself to the 24 places that offer two-for-one deals, you can limit yourself to the 40 that offer lunch.
Pros: You get to try a lot of places; you can hang out with a lot of different friends (or Tinder dates) and you’ll spend relatively little money.
Cons: It takes a pretty moderate amount of effort, friends (or Tinder dates) can be annoying and if you go out enough, you can actually end up still spending quite a bit.
Other dabbling restaurants to try: Blue Tractor, Grizzly Peak, Marnee Thai, Sava’s and Slurping Turtle.
Have you always wanted to venture to Main Street but were too lazy and ended up eating at BTB instead? Have you always thought it would be cool to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant but couldn’t find someone to go with you to Blue Nile? Have you always been curious if you could actually get into Heidelberg without getting carded but it was just too far away? Have you heard about the exotic truffle fries at Jolly Pumpkin but never wanted to pay the extra two dollars for them? Hey, it’s RW! Here’s your chance.
The most obscure RW strategy, procrastinator-ender involves using RW as your excuse to actually go eat at places.
In creating his menu for RW, Matthew Morrison, executive chef at Jolly Pumpkin, said while he did put special items on the menu for the occasion, Jolly’s menu changes seasonally and he wanted to showcase that. He also made sure to choose some things that are on the regular menu and highly popular, like truffle fries.
“The most popular things on our menu are stuff that people already know about … truffle fries are like the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he said.
Pros: You get out of the house, you get to eat something besides Jimmy John’s and you get a new experience.
Other procrastinator-ender restaurants to try: BD’s Mongolian Grill (just kidding), Sava’s (if you’ve never been there), The Original Cottage Inn and The Ravens Club.
The point is, try RW. There’s awesome food, and it doesn’t shut down half the streets in downtown like Art Fair.
For a full list of restaurants participating in Restaurant Week and their menus, visit annarborrestaurantweek.com.