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Surprise Steals 

Side Dishes: Some Vermont Restaurant Week menus offer unexpected tastes

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When we lined up the eateries participating in the first Vermont Restaurant Week, which runs from May 14 to 20, we offered basic guidelines. Each restaurant should offer three courses with choices that would entice everybody. Each owner needed to choose a price point of $15, $25 or $35 to give diners a great deal. Beyond that, they had free rein.

What they concocted surpassed our expectations. While all 55 restaurants had appetizing offerings, a few were a tad out of the ordinary. Some offered Resto Week diners more than three courses; others promised dishes not usually on the menu, and a couple had entirely novel bills of fare.

For instance, 3 Squares Café in Vergennes usually sticks to classic breakfasts and sandwiches prepared with local ingredients. Chef Matt Birong’s $25 Restaurant Week menu heads south of the border for its dishes. Appetizers include Gulf Shrimp and Grouper Ceviche with plantain chips and pork chili verde. Also among the 11 offerings are homemade wild-mushroom tamales and cinnamon-tinged Mexican chocolate torte.

A Single Pebble didn’t stop at just three courses for its $35 menu. Owner Chiuho Duval designed two different seven-course banquets — one for meat eaters, the other for vegetarians. The nonveggie menu includes Plum-Wine Fish, oysters and Peking Duck, while the veggie one has Single Pebble classics such as Buddha’s Sesame Beef and Mock Prawn.

Not to be outdone in sheer volume, two restaurants are letting diners create their own three-course meals from anything on the menu. At the Lake-View Restaurant in South Burlington, diners can order Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly, Beer- Braised Yankee Pot Roast and Cardamom Crème Brûlée for $35. At Montpelier’s Positive Pie 2, you can get everything but the pies. Its $35 menu includes entrées far fancier than pizza — think pan-roasted duck over potato gnocchi with baby arugula and port-wine gastrique, or grilled salmon with saffron risotto, caper berries, tomatoes and sherry butter.

Other restaurants stand out for the value of their menus. Bistro Sauce only asks $25 for its three courses. One appetizer, risotto with pickled ramps, housemade guanciale, fresh herbs and Vermont Ayr cheese, usually retails for $14. Add a $25 steak, and the savings are stellar.

One participating restaurant hasn’t even opened yet: Check out www.VermontRestaurantWeek.com for your first glimpse of the menu of Our House on Main Street in Winooski. Potential patrons can drool over thoughts of pit-smoked pork ribs with apple-cabbage slaw and Deep-Fried PB&J — at a $15 price point.

Come and Get It!

One day it’s snowing; the next day half the population of Burlington is dining al fresco on Church Street. What better time to call attention to Vermont restaurants? This week, Seven Days publishes its annual dining guide, 7 Nights. Next week, from May 14 to 20, the paper presides over the state’s first Vermont Restaurant Week. More than 50 area restaurants — from St. Johnsbury to St. Albans — are offering prix-fixe deals in an effort to make dining an affordable adventure for everyone.

The concept has taken off in hip food cities such as Seattle and New York City. We couldn’t let the land of artisan cheese, microbreweries and community-supported agriculture be last to the table.

What does Vermont Restaurant Week mean for diners? At Junior’s Italian in Colchester, 15 bucks could buy you a salad, spaghetti and meatballs, and cannoli. At Café Shelburne, $35 could get you mussels in puff pastry, duck confit with potato gratin and chocolate fondant with pistachio crème anglaise.

But there’s more to it than gorging on delicious dishes. At The Essex: Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa, a panel discussion of local and imported luminaries digs into what makes Vermont products and restaurants special — and what opportunities we’re missing.

What’s dinner without a movie? The Food & Wine Film Festival at Merrill’s Roxy Cinema should give diners plenty to chew on with showings of the documentaries Fresh and Food, Inc., as well as foodie-friendly fiction films.

Other events help food lovers expand their tastes along with their perspectives: a wine dinner at 156 Bistro in Burlington, a spread of craft beer and gastropub fare at Montpelier’s Three Penny Taproom, and a pairing of artisan cheeses with unique condiments at The Essex.

To whet your appetite, this issue of Seven Days digs into the subject of food. More and more, local eaters are going public about their palates. Alice Levitt sought out seven “citizen reviewers” who post critiques on our 7 Nights website and discovered what drives them to praise — or knock — an eatery. For advice on what makes a useful online review, we turned to Lara Dickson, owner of graphic- and web-design biz Deep Dish Creative.

Suzanne Podhaizer spoke with two out-of-state gourmets visiting for Restaurant Week: Chef Rob Evans, who will appear on Saturday’s panel, and fromager Tia Keenan, the artist behind what promises to be the most unusual cheese pairing the state has ever seen. Both are big fans of Vermont’s culinary culture.

Want more? Andy Bromage commandeered a table at “Vermont restaurant central” — Leunig’s Bistro — so he could interview the maître d’.

A meaty insert provides detailed menus for each participating restaurant, as well as a full calendar of Restaurant Week events.

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About The Author

Alice Levitt

Alice Levitt

Bio:
AAN award-winning food writer Alice Levitt is a fan of the exotic, the excellent and automats. She wrote for Seven Days 2007-2015.

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