Like it or not, L.I. Restaurant Week kicks off today

11/06/2011 1:00 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Downtown Riverhead's Dark Horse restaurant.

Many North Fork eateries have participated in Fall Long Island Restaurant Week since its inception in 2006, but whether the weeklong event is a boon for business may depend on the type of establishment you run — and the extent to which you embrace the event, local restaurateurs say.

Ettore Pennacchia said that during in the first few years of Restaurant Week he saw an uptick in customers at his Touch of Venice, a mainstay of Mattituck until he moved it to Cutchogue earlier this year.

About a dozen North Fork restaurants participated in the event at the beginning, according to Tara Berkoski of the Wordhampton public relations firm, which is organizing the sixth annual Fall Long Island Restaurant Week this year. That number has almost doubled in recent years, and Mr. Pennacchia said he’s seen a stymied flow of customers at Touch of Venice.

“Six years ago I did fabulously,” Mr. Pennacchia said. “But every year more restaurants are doing it so people have more choices and it’s cut down on the volume.”

As of Tuesday, 13 restaurants from Wading River to Greenport had signed up to be part of restaurant week, which is set for Nov. 6 to 13, but Ms. Berkoski expects that number to grow since there is no deadline and restaurant owners can sign up even after the event is under way.

To participate, a restaurant owner must pay a $395 fee and create a three-course prix fixe menu costing $24.95 that allows diners to choose from among three appetizers, three entrées and three desserts. The special price does not include beverages, but it must be available all night during Restaurant Week, except on Saturday, when restaurants can offer the deal only until 7 p.m.

Restaurant owners are creating menus with entrées like pecan-crusted, honey-glazed baked salmon with cranberry rice pilaf and roasted root vegetables — a dish to be offered at Claudio’s in Greenport — and desserts like flourless chocolate cake with espresso gelato, which Mr. Pennacchia will make at Touch of Venice.

About 230 restaurants across Long Island were signed up for Restaurant Week as of Tuesday, and five were chosen by Wordhampton to host charity “tweetups.” The tweetups — face-to-face gatherings of people who follow each other on Twitter — will be accompanied by a food drive to benefit Island Harvest, a hunger relief organization.

The nearest restaurant hosting a charity tweetup is Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton.

Though some North Fork restaurants may not be generating as much extra revenue as they once did, Ms. Berkoski said the timing of the Island-wide event — on the heels of harvest season, when the number of North Fork tourists takes a dip — benefits local businesses.

“People from across Long Island, New York City and elsewhere come and try restaurants out at a discount,” said Ms. Berkoski, adding that many also poke their heads into winery tasting rooms, clothing boutiques and other businesses.

“Because they’re getting a discount on their restaurant,” she asserted, “they’re more apt to spend more money on and wine and other things while they’re there.”

Local restaurateurs say the bottom line during restaurant week depends in part on the type of eating establishment. Restaurants that see steeper dinner bills usually fill up the fastest with customers looking to take advantage of the $24.95 price point.

Chef Noah Schwartz of Noah’s in Greenport said the average check at his restaurant is similar to Restaurant Week’s special so he doesn’t get an influx of customers looking for a bargain.

“We get some new customers who come in and want to try it, but we don’t all of a sudden get a tremendous amount more business than we normally do this time of year, unfortunately,” he said. “It’s not our best promotion of the year, but it’s a good way to appeal to a new audience and build a new clientele.”

Ed Tuccio, on the other hand, always sees more customers than usual at his eatery, Tweeds Restaurant and Buffalo Bar in downtown Riverhead.

“We do such an unusual menu,” said Mr. Tuccio, who is offering restaurant week specials like bison and elk hanger steak, “prime” prime rib — which he said is made with higher quality meat than most prime rib dishes — and Shinnecock striped bass.

“Most of those specials you would never get for that price,” he said.

Mr. Pennacchia said that although restaurant week hasn’t brought in the masses like it used to, he remains optimistic. He said he may find more success with the special in his new Cut-ch-ogue location.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

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