Rally of appetites

This August, a complete dining experience for $25 reduces the risk of exploring new restaurants — and greatly promotes chances of uncovering new favorites — during Restaurant Week GR.
Fresh Picked Vegetables on the Counter

If your zest for indulging in great new tastes is limited each month by what it would cost to fund that endless appetite for culinary discovery, plan now to be plenty hungry Aug. 15-25, 2012. These dates mark Restaurant Week Grand Rapids, the third consecutive year more than 50 greater GR-area venues have simultaneously offered creative three-course menu options priced at $25 (with some offering 2-for-$25, as well).

About 40,000 diners savored these meals and deals in 2011, which benefitted the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College. This year, like last, $1 from every Restaurant Week meal sold will be donated to the school in support of future chefs.

“The culinary school at GRCC attracts, trains and infuses the area with an enormous amount of culinary talent,” said Janet Korn, vice-president of marketing for Experience Grand Rapids (experiencegr.com), noting this as one of three key reasons food offerings in Grand Rapids warrant a road trip. Many students who come to Secchia from around the nation and outside of it choose to stay in GR once they’ve earned their diplomas.

Green Well Experience Grand Rapids“There’s not a restaurant in town that doesn’t have one of our grads or students on staff,” noted Chef/Professor Angus Campbell.

A second reason is the region’s rich agricultural terrain. Michigan’s second-largest city is surrounded by hundreds of family farms, and many local chefs have been purchasing fresh produce from these farms for years. 

While Grand Rapids served as an early model for the sustainable, farm-to-table movement sweeping the nation, some venues have brought the concept even closer to home: JW Marriott Grand Rapids’ six.one.six, a fine-dining establishment, grows its own arugula, spinach, raspberries, elderberries, English peas, French breakfast radishes, thyme, lavender, rosemary, basil and more in a hotel-based “Chef’s Garden.” 

“Restaurant Week GR 2012 will focus on each venue’s unique creativity in producing three-course menus that utilize fresh produce, fruits and products grown and created locally and throughout Michigan,” said Sally Littlefair Zarafonetis, project manager. “Mid-to-late August will be peak harvest season, so this is a perfect time to showcase the best of Michigan products.”

San Chez Bistro La Bomba
San Chez – Photography By Sally Littlefair Zarafonetis

Bistro Bella Vita, Grove and The Green Well are among those venues regularly featuring earth-to-table menus. “During Restaurant Week Grand Rapids, we’ll offer several choices in our $25-per-person menu using, for example, organic beef and lamb from S&S Farms, Michigan-raised pork belly, Earthkeeper organic greens and luscious heirloom tomatoes, and melon, sweet corn, mini carrots, and squash from Ingraberg Farms,” shared Brad Teachout, manager of Bistro Bella Vita.

Chefs from Restaurant Week Grand Rapids
Executive Chef Darin Wilbur and Chef Kent Gauthier, Noto’s Old World Italian Dining

“We’ll also feature an add-on cheese course with cheeses from Lakeview Cheddar Farm and Grassfield Farms cheeses,” he said, adding that regular fans of the venue’s fresh ingredients and creativity really take advantage of Restaurant Week.

Patrons who appreciate high-quality inventiveness overall are the third key reason Greater Grand Rapids makes a great culinary destination, Korn noted. “There are many community members who are well-traveled and experienced diners,” she said. “These well-traveled foodies keep area restaurants busy.”

“Busy” for venues like San Chez Bistro includes working hard to “wow” customers every time they arrive. “We strive to offer a distinctly unique menu, with suggested wine and beer pairings, so that the whole evening is memorable and one that they talk about afterwards as being an outstanding experience,” noted service manager Eli Harper. “We love Restaurant Week Grand Rapids because it brings new clientele to our door.”

Six One Six Experience Grand Rapids
Six.One.Six – Photography courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

While more vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free items will be featured on Restaurant Week menus than in the past, a fun spirits competition will also rally interest in the event this year. As part of the “Grand Cocktail 2012” contest, patrons will be able to try the unique drink concoctions made with local Michigan products and home-grown produce (i.e., herbs, fruits, etc.) and Bacardi rum and Grey Goose vodka. Voting takes place from Aug. 1-25, with winners being announced at the close of Restaurant Week GR.

“The friendly competition among all of the restaurants participating will definitely take the cocktail energy up a notch,” Harper said. “Everyone will be trying their hardest to create ‘the best drink’ in order to win!”

Learn more about Restaurant Week Grand Rapids at restaurantweekgr.com and experiencegr.com/things-to-do/hot-eats.

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