Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reflections on Restaurant Week

My original intent was to write two separate posts for the two places I went to for Restaurant Week: Oval Room and Sushi-Ko. In all honesty, both restaurants deserve their own space, but the greater takeaway for me was how both approached RW, and what the greater meaning of the event is.

RW at its core of course is about making money. About getting people who might not ordinarily come to your restaurant to plop down $20 or $30 for a lunch or a dinner in hopes that they'll like it so much they'll come back for more. But there are two types of restaurants that do this, and I ate at both types over the past couple days.

Oval Room is very much the first type: a restaurant that knows you probably haven't been before because you can't afford it, and knows you probably won't be back, so lets see how quick we can get you in and out with as little effort as possible.

Now I'm not going to say I had a horrible, or even a bad experience at Oval Room. However, for a restaurant named the 13th best in the city by Washingtonian Magazine, I was really underwhelmed.

On the surface, it was a pretty decent meal. Meg (my dining partner for the evening and BFF) and I were both satisfied with our food, with the celery root soup and the buttermilk and meyer lemon cake being the highlight for me, and the short ribs being the highlight for Meg.

But when it came down to it, there were just as many things that didn't work as there were that did. The service was spotty, it took us twenty minutes just to get seated (not to mention that there's not even a host(ess) stand in the restaurant, so I had to search someone out) and the menu was fairly limited (only one vegetarian option for the main course). On top of that, and I don't know this for sure, but it seemed like they were putting all of the RW patrons in one dining room, and all of the others in another; I'm not sure if anyone else noticed, but if so, I'm somewhat offended.

Contrast that with Sushi-Ko last night. Yes, Oval Room and Sushi-Ko are two very different restaurants, but only really in genre. Sushi-Ko is the sushi restaurant in DC, and it's easy to see why.

It wasn't assumed that we were there for RW, the RW was well thought out in that there was no dessert, just fish. Koji (who Apples and I had the honor and pleasure of sitting across from at the sushi bar) knows that people come in to have the best raw fish in town, and that's what he provided.

It's hard to write this without any quantitative proof, without being able to show beyond what my gut told me, but you could just tell that Oval Room didn't get it, and Sushi-Ko did.

Oval Room got us in (once we actually sat down) and out quickly and efficiently. I can now say I've been there and done that.

Sushi-Ko really embodied what the second type of RW restaurant is, what RW was made for. To provide the diner an experience just like he/she was coming in on a regular night on a regular week, and was a regular customer (i.e. a RW menu wasn't assumed, but offered), thus making that diner want to come back again (going back to the real reason of RW, to get more people in chairs on a regular basis).

I'm going to assume that if Oval Room acted as if this was business as usual, that we were two regular customers, I'd be singing its praises. But I just didn't get that feeling. That's why I'll be craving Sushi-Ko and not Oval Room this weekend.


Anonymous said...

I ran across your blog a few weeks ago and realized we were kindreds. In fact, we had reservations at the Oval Room the same day evidently, and, unfortunately, a similar experience (which I've also noted on my blog!)
Really enjoy reading you!

Liza and Gary said...

We went to O'Connell's in Old Town for RW... also very underwhelming. There were only two options for each course for the RW menu, and no vegetarian options. WTH?