The only part of modern food-and-beverage nomenclature that’s more of a misnomer than Happy Hour is Restaurant Week.
In New York City, the twice-annual event, which lasts for about a month every summer and every winter, means that for about one-sixth of the calendar year restaurant-goers can enjoy a prix fixe meal at a place they’d otherwise deem too pricey or too out of the way or about which they’d never even heard. It’s supposed to expand people’s eating-and-drinking horizons.
The event has its fair share of critics. Do chefs skimp on quality ingredients because they’re betting many eaters won’t notice? Are restaurants overcrowded with newbie diners who don’t tip overworked staffs as well as they should? Do many of those eaters, newbs or not, actually return to those same spots, or do they just view the process as a singular experience in the same light as cashing in an extravagant Groupon? And, in the end, regardless of the place, regardless of the price, are most three-course offerings even that great of a deal? Depending on where you go, absolutely – or absolutely not.
But regardless of how well one’s specific lunch or dinner service goes, there’s a much more significant, and much longer-lasting, takeaway for brew-loving attendees of Restaurant Week: discovering new beers that can be purchased and enjoyed whenever, wherever.
Or at Buttermilk Channel, a Carroll Gardens bistro named for a mile-long straight between Governor’s Island and the Brooklyn shoreline, some may discover a new favorite cider.
“I would shy away from calling myself a cider nerd,” says Jennifer Nelson, who’s been at Buttermilk Channel since it opened in 2008, “but I really love cider. I think it’s the ultimate food-pairing beverage.”
Nelson, the restaurant’s general manager, offers on draft an eight ounce pour of a dry, rosé cider that’s locally produced by Wölffer Estate Vineyard. It’s pink and sparkly and tastes good with much of her summer Restaurant Week menu, which includes a chicken-liver mousse, duck meatloaf and their famous fried chicken, she says. At least four other ciders are available in bottles.
“Cider is fun,” Nelson says, “and it’s such a fun talking point because it’s kind of been having a renaissance the last five years.” People who usually drink wine or beer are finally coming around, she says. “With cider, they’re getting something that’s maybe a little more gulpable because it’s lower in alcohol content, and it’s made with apples so it’s gluten free and easier to pair with a meal.”
Beer lovers, fear not. Buttermilk Channel also features five excellent offerings on tap, including a witbier from Folksbier and an IPA from Other Half, both of which are only a few blocks from the restaurant, which also offers a lovely saison from Bronx-based Gun Hill Brewing.
“The point of Restaurant Week is to expose what the restaurant is doing to as many people as possible,” Nelson says. Additionally, it’s exposing lots of people to Folksbier and Other Half, as people who eat at Buttermilk Channel will often head over to enjoy more brews at one of those two taprooms. “You can eat dinner here, and maybe go to one of those spots right after.”
Josh Nadel, the beverage director for NoHo Hospitality, a collection of mostly New York restaurants, including The Dutch, Lafayette and Little Park, has worked with Greenport Harbor Brewing to craft a bespoke IPA that can be very easily paired with several foods at several of his spots. But Nadel may be even more excited about Vermont-based Von Trapp’s latest pilsner offering, available on draft at Little Park in Tribeca.
“It’s one of my favorite pilsners in the country right now,” Nadel says. “It’s a true Bohemian pilsner, super crushable, just a really great summer beer. It’s exactly what a quality pilsner drinker should go for. It’s what everybody should be drinking this summer. Literally, a top three domestic pilsner for me.”
At Little Park, the Restaurant Week menu includes a charred corn and burrata appetizer as well as main dishes such as Atlantic salmon and a duck confit sandwich on black-pepper brioche with cherry mostarda. At The Dutch, featured menu offerings include a peach and snap pea salad, a wagyu steak tartare, grilled New York trout and a roasted chicken salad.
The diversity of beer on menus put out by the nearly 400 Restaurant Week participants will only continue to grow.”
Nadel’s favorite pairing at The Dutch – besides maybe Left Hand’s milk stout with oysters – is that salad with Ommegang’s Hennepin farmouse ale. Both beers are available on draft.
“To walk in at lunch and crush one of those along with the peach and snap pea salad, it’s a very substantial first course – actually my favorite first course there for Restaurant Week,” he says. “There’s a lot of flavor in that dish.”
At Lafayette, as just one example of many, Nadel notes how a dish of bluefish with romesco sauce would go really well with the on-draft saison, if not the IPA. A can of Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils may also do the trick. With seasonal beers and new breweries dreaming up new brews every year, the diversity of flavor on menus put out by the nearly 400 Restaurant Week participants will only continue to grow, he says.
“If you’re going to make a day of it,” whether for lunch or for dinner, Nadel says, “beer is a really great way to go.”
Restaurant Week runs through Aug. 18.