During Arizona Restaurant Week, a 10-day celebration of food, eateries around the state offer preset menus for discounted prices. The event gives restaurants a much-needed boost in business and provides customers with an opportunity to savor their favorite dishes or try something new.
The event rolls around twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall, and many restaurants participate year after year. So how do they keep the menus fresh and interesting?
For some Valley chefs, Restaurant Week is an opportunity to show off their best-selling dishes. Others use it as a chance to debut new items that may make it onto the permanent menu. All hope that the event will bring in new customers who have never visited before — and who will soon become regulars.
What is Arizona Restaurant Week?
Arizona Restaurant Week is hosted by the Arizona Restaurant Association, an organization that advocates for and promotes local restaurant businesses.
“We’ve been presenting Arizona Restaurant Week to our dining community for more than 15 years, and each event proves better and more exciting — with new and returning restaurants that offer a comprehensive array of choices for diners,” Arizona Restaurant Association President and CEO Steve Chucri said in a press release.
Throughout the event, restaurants offer three- or four-course menus that are priced at $33, $44 or $55 per person. Some restaurants also offer pricing per couple. Drink pairings can be added for an additional price at many locations. Menus and prices for participating restaurants are posted on the event's website so customers can browse and pick their destination. Reservations are highly recommended.
Arizona Restaurant Week is so popular that many — including customers and chefs — eagerly await its return each year. The fall event runs from Sept. 8 through Sept. 17.
“There’s nothing better to me as a restaurateur and chef. Restaurant Week really enhances the business and brings in guests,” says Joey Maggiore, owner of Valley restaurants including Hash Kitchen, The Sicilian Butcher and The Mexicano.
“Let’s face it, we just went through a slow summer. Usually, September and the first couple weeks of October are very slow, so this will really give us a little push to get us ready for (the) season," he says. "We hope our doors stay wide open, and the seats are full."
Gearing up for fall
For the upcoming Restaurant Week, Maggiore and his team at The Sicilian Butcher created a menu to usher in the season by celebrating the flavors of fall.
“We want to feature what the times are now, and it gives us a good chance to show the guests what we can create and see how it moves and how people like it before it makes the regular menu, as well,” Maggiore says.
Some of the fall-inspired dishes getting a trial run during Restaurant Week include roasted delicata squash with whipped goat cheese and candied pumpkin seeds and butternut squash agnolotti with burnt sage.
“We want to showcase some new things, some really sexy, fun food,” he says.
The same is true for The Mexicano, Maggiore’s concept that opened roughly two years ago. Since customers are still experiencing the restaurant for the first time, its Restaurant Week menu is designed to provide a sample of its regular menu at a heavily discounted price. This includes an appetizer, salad, main course and dessert for $33.
“We’re mix-matching items on that menu to showcase a little bit of everything,” Maggiore says. “Trying to make it very fun. We’re at the $33 range, and we think it’s a heck of a deal to come in and have four courses and spectacular food.”
To ensure that quality, about two weeks ahead of the event, Maggiore and his team started practicing cooking each of the menu items with kitchen staff at the different Valley locations. While there are many benefits to Restaurant Week, it’s not a breeze for staff.
“Restaurant Week is high volume, so you cant have an 'oh crap' moment when you’re not ready. So we try to get everything out of the way before it launches," Maggiore says.
Celebrating the classics
At High Street in north Phoenix, Ocean Prime is also preparing for a busy Restaurant Week. General Manager Jagger Griffin is keeping a close eye on the weather, hoping he may be able to offer patio seating if temperatures dip below 100 degrees.
“We look forward to the fall restaurant week every year; we kind of think of it as the kick-off to our season,” Griffin says. “We’re just excited to get a bunch of new guests in here who maybe haven't experienced us before.”
Ocean Prime has participated in Restaurant Week since it opened in 2008. But even though the upscale steak and seafood eatery has been open for 15 years, many of its Restaurant Week guests are new customers, Griffin says. So the team takes the opportunity to show off their classics.
“Obviously we are a seafood steakhouse, and our steaks are amazing, so we always put one of our fillets on there,” he says, “and then we put some of our signature items on there, such as our scallops with our risotto and our roast chicken.”
Additional offerings include French onion soup with brandy and aged Swiss cheese, teriyaki salmon with shiitake sticky rice and soy butter sauce and a five-layer carrot cake with pineapple syrup. The three-course menu costs $55 per person. While many of the dishes are on the regular menu, Restaurant Week gives customers the chance to try them with a big discount.
“The price point of the restaurant week is phenomenal. It’s basically, you come in here and you’re going to get $2 off of your fillet, and you’re also going to get two additional courses on top of that, so it’s definitely a win," Griffin says.
After years of running Restaurant Week at Ocean Prime, Griffin knows what to expect. During the event, roughly 60% to 75% of guests are there to experience the set menu, he says. And he’s familiar with the flow.
“I always enjoy the last weekend. That's when we are busiest,” he says. “The first Friday, Saturday and Sunday are kind of like an intro to it. The beginning of the week starts to build, and then by that last Friday and Saturday, we really feel the energy in here.”
Trying something new
Sandra Lockard, owner and executive chef of Taza Bistro in Scottsdale, is looking forward to feeling the energy of Restaurant Week.
Her restaurant will celebrate two years in business in October, and this will be her second time participating in the culinary extravaganza.
“We had a really big boost in new people who didn’t know about our restaurant,” she says of the spring event. “Getting known by new people is great, and Arizona Restaurant Week has been really helpful in (promoting) our restaurant.”
Taza Bistro’s three-course affair for $55 per person represents different countries and regions throughout the Mediterranean. Next to each item on the menu is a description of where the dish originated. Customers will find fare from Spain, France, Morocco, Egypt, Greece and more.
“My goal is to let our guests experience flavors that they wouldn't get anywhere else,” Lockard says. “I always put my own twist on the dishes so they have a little bit of my own flavor and creation.”
One example is the Duck Breast a L’Orange, a traditional French dish that Lockard spices up with an ouzo sauce and fennel. The za'atar-herbed lamb chop with tzatziki is making a reappearance on the Restaurant Week menu after guests of a recent tasting event loved the dish.
While picking dishes from all over the world, it was important for Lockard to make sure the prix fixe menu works together, whichever courses customers select.
“It took me several weeks of really working hard to come up with the dishes and the combinations so (customers) can choose any of them, and they really will go well together,” she says. “That way, if two people or four come together, they can each get something different and be able to experience the flavors together."
Taza Bistro is a small restaurant and every dish is cooked to order, so Lockard strongly encourages diners to make reservations. That will also help her, a relative newbie to Restaurant Week, make the event the best for her customers.
“We want to grow, and we’re really excited to grow with Restaurant Week. We’re just excited to be part of this. It’s an honor to be among so many great restaurants,” she says.
“Restaurant Week is something where your regulars are always there, but Restaurant Week really drives in a new clientele for you, so you want to have your best foot forward,” Maggiore says.