For a restaurant critic, Restaurant Week is a no-fly zone: it's unfair to the restaurant even to set foot inside, unless of course you're writing about this year's economy menus.
But, as everyone who's dined out during Restaurant Week knows, those menus usually offer a fair sampling of what the kitchen is capable of and at a bargain price. As it happens, I've dined at a fair number of restaurants during RW, and have generally been impressed by the quality, if put off by the crowds, and sometimes by the difficulty of getting a table.
An experiment I remember scratching my head about when it started has turned into a huge, and national, success—just over the weekend, as I was returning from the dairy-and-farming-and-alternative capitol of Brattleboro, Vermont, I passed a sign advertising this year's exciting Restaurant Week in Worcester, Massachusetts' second-largest city. Worcester! Check it out yourself. Lowell too. The billboard made me realize, This is an idea whose time has really come, in places you don't expect.
I knew that Tim and Nina Zagat had been instrumental in the very first RW, and asked them why, when it seems like a time-taking loss leader for restaurants, so many of them extend RW for weeks at a time and so many cities have embraced the idea. I'm delighted to have Tim's common-sense explanations, including reasons I knew (once through the door, people willingly pay for extras and for wine) and ones should have thought of but didn't (that people on fixed incomes shy from going to restaurants at all). Most of all, I'm delighted to have him back.