I love New
York Restaurant Week: just last week I had an absolutely stunning lunch
at Aureole, with fantastic wines and great service, for a fraction of what such
an experience would normally cost me. Unfortunately, NYRW has spoiled me somewhat:
if a restaurant is offering a special deal, I now expect something special.
And when things go wrong, I get angry.
Take, for instance, the latest attempt to bring some of NYRW’s buzz to the
Financial District. The Downtown Alliance, along with various downtown corporate
and quasi-statal sponsors, has come up with something called the River
to River Festival: lots of fun for all the family this summer, with everything
happening south of Chambers. You should check out the website, especially if
you live nearby: there’s an enormous number of free events, some of them extremely
Downtown restaurants, of course, want in on the action as well, so they’ve
copied NYRW’s pricing and implemented something called Meals to Music (PDF here), running
from July 9-23. There are 28 restaurants involved, and they will each serve
you a $20 prix-fixe lunch or $30 prix-fixe dinner if you pay with your American
It seems quite impressive, until you realise that at some of the participating
restaurants, like Seaport tourist traps Sequoia and Red, you’d be hard-pressed
to spend $30 on the food at dinner at the best of times. Still, there are some
pretty high-end restaurants on the list, like Battery Gardens (great views of
the Statue of Liberty) and 14 Wall Street (great views of, well, pretty much
I’d heard some good things about Cassis on Stone, another restaurant on the
list, and decided to check it out. Better yet, its listing
on the River to River website said that if I went on a Saturday, I’d get an
even better deal:
Saturdays prix-fixe dinner for $22.50. Three courses, menus change weekly.
Saturdays, from June 5 through August 30, 5–10pm.
We had guests in town, and the guests had friends, and in the end six of us
ended up schlepping down to Stone Street to take advantage of this offer. But
when we got there, not only was there no $22.50 prix-fixe in sight: there wasn’t
even the standard Meals to Music $30 prix-fixe, either. It was a la carte or
nothing, we were informed in a none-too-friendly manner by our waiter. Oh, and
this was the first Saturday that the restaurant had even been open this summer:
if you’d turned up any time in June, say, for this special offer, you’d have
found Cassis on Stone shuttered.
Eventually, after an extremely long absence, our waiter returned with good
news – there was a $22.50 prix fixe, after all! Just order one of the
two cheapest starters on the menu (normally $6.50), and one of the two cheapest
mains (normally $16), and they’d charge us only $22.50 in total. Hell, they’d
even throw in a sorbet for dessert.
Needless to say, the prospect of getting $22.50-worth of food for the special
bargain price of just $22.50 excited me enormously, so I ordered a green salad
and a chicken ravioli. The former was small and tasteless; the latter was stolid
and gelatinous. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that service was
painfully slow: despite the fact that only a handful tables – all outdoors
– were occupied, our waiter was usually nowhere to be seen. It’s conceivable that the
ravioli was wonderful when it left the kitchen, and simply congealed on its
long journey to my table. I doubt it, though: I think that the very idea of
chicken ravioli is just fundamentally misconceived.
After the main courses were cleared away, there was a very long wait, and eventually
our waiter appeared just long enough for us to ask him where the sorbets were.
Another long wait, and they did eventually appear; some of them were even eaten.
By this point, we basically just wanted to pay and leave; the total, between
six of us, came to $330 including tax and an absurdly generous 16% tip. Not
a hugely expensive dinner, to be sure, but none of us felt we’d got anywhere
near our money’s worth. The night before, I’d had a wonderful meal for two at
Danube which cost more or less the same amount, and was one of the greatest
dining experiences of my life. There’s simply no way that three meals at Cassis
on Stone could ever approach the fabulousness of just one at Danube.
Maybe that’s an invidious comparison. But the broader point still stands: in
an attempt to bring some kind of life to Wall Street at weekends and after dark,
the restaurants there – Cassis on Stone, at least – are essentially
engaging in false advertising and bait-and-switch promotional tactics. After
all, if you turn up there at 8:00 on a Saturday night, there’s not much in the
way of local alternatives for you to go to once you’re told that the special
offers you went for don’t exist.
More generally, I think it’s worth taking all restaurant "special offers"
with a large pinch of the salt which Cassis on Stone never even saw fit to provide
on our table. If you know the restaurant and are taking part in NYRW specifically,
you can get a genuine bargain. Otherwise, you’re just as likely to get a rip-off
masquerading as a promotion.