January can be a slow month for dining out.
Restaurant Week, now in its seventh year, provides an opportunity for chefs to expose a new audience to their food at the start of a new year.
Derek Nacey is planning for his first go at Restaurant Week as chef at Blvd Tavern. The tavern, which opened early last year at 320 Southwest Blvd. in the Crossroads Arts District, joins 134 other restaurants offering special meal prices Friday through Jan. 24.
The drill: Each restaurant offers multiple-course fixed price menus for lunch ($15) and dinner ($33). A portion of the proceeds is donated to charities Boys Grow, Cultivate KC and the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired.
But Restaurant Week is not just a delicious deal; it is also a chance for diners to try a host of restaurants, new and old. As the event’s popularity has soared, it has become smart to plan ahead and make reservations, as many restaurants book up.
I recently spoke with Nacey, whose restaurant I reviewed in June, about how he is gearing up for the challenge of a very full restaurant. He told me he is relying on a menu of the tried-and-true items. “We don’t want to do anything too out of the ordinary,” he said. “We want to serve the dishes we are good at, that we can execute.”
The Restaurant Week website has menus from most of the participating restaurants, and you can browse the list by type of cuisine, location or specialty diets.
Study the menus and you’ll see recurring themes, including stout meats, like braised short ribs and hanger steak, and rich foods, like macaroni and cheese or other heavy starches. Some chefs create dishes especially for the week, while others stick with what they are known for.
The prix-fixe menu allows the chef to plan for the onslaught of customers while maintaining control of the quality and execution of the dishes.
Blvd Tavern’s lunch menu is a selection of sandwiches, including a Reuben, and salads or soup, while dinner has the same soups and salad but with a wider array of heartier entrees, including roasted chicken with root vegetables, and shrimp and grits. A dessert course is also served with dinner.
The Blvd Tavern’s popular poutine dish is available as a starter on the dinner menu. The popular Canadian dish — fries covered in gravy and cheese curds — is rib-sticking comfort food for the cold winter months, when there are fewer local vegetables and ingredients in season.
While cooking with winter ingredients might sound limiting, it can also provide an opportunity to bring new flavors and ingredients to the table.
“I don’t mind making food in winter,” Nacey said. “There are some things that lend themselves to cold weather, like dried beans and duck confit in a cassoulet.”
That sentiment can be seen in some of the ingredients he chose to feature, with root vegetables such as potatoes and beets, or apples and pears alongside preserved items like pickled cherries and raisins.
“You can definitely bring some winter flavors to the forefront,” Nacey said.
The week can be daunting for chef and staff, but it can also be an opportunity to turn one-time diners into regulars.
“You get a lot of people coming out during the slower month of January,” he said.
Tyler Fox is a personal chef and freelance restaurant critic: tfoxfood@gmail, @theshortandlong