When we lined up the eateries participating in the first Vermont Restaurant Week, which runs from May 14 to 20, we offered basic guidelines. Each restaurant should offer three courses with choices that would entice everybody. Each owner needed to choose a price point of $15, $25 or $35 to give diners a great deal. Beyond that, they had free rein.
What they concocted surpassed our expectations. While all 55 restaurants had appetizing offerings, a few were a tad out of the ordinary. Some offered Resto Week diners more than three courses; others promised dishes not usually on the menu, and a couple had entirely novel bills of fare.
For instance, 3 Squares Café in Vergennes usually sticks to classic breakfasts and sandwiches prepared with local ingredients. Chef Matt Birong’s $25 Restaurant Week menu heads south of the border for its dishes. Appetizers include Gulf Shrimp and Grouper Ceviche with plantain chips and pork chili verde. Also among the 11 offerings are homemade wild-mushroom tamales and cinnamon-tinged Mexican chocolate torte.
A Single Pebble didn’t stop at just three courses for its $35 menu. Owner Chiuho Duval designed two different seven-course banquets — one for meat eaters, the other for vegetarians. The nonveggie menu includes Plum-Wine Fish, oysters and Peking Duck, while the veggie one has Single Pebble classics such as Buddha’s Sesame Beef and Mock Prawn.
Not to be outdone in sheer volume, two restaurants are letting diners create their own three-course meals from anything on the menu. At the Lake-View Restaurant in South Burlington, diners can order Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly, Beer- Braised Yankee Pot Roast and Cardamom Crème Brûlée for $35. At Montpelier’s Positive Pie 2, you can get everything but the pies. Its $35 menu includes entrées far fancier than pizza — think pan-roasted duck over potato gnocchi with baby arugula and port-wine gastrique, or grilled salmon with saffron risotto, caper berries, tomatoes and sherry butter.
Other restaurants stand out for the value of their menus. Bistro Sauce only asks $25 for its three courses. One appetizer, risotto with pickled ramps, housemade guanciale, fresh herbs and Vermont Ayr cheese, usually retails for $14. Add a $25 steak, and the savings are stellar.
One participating restaurant hasn’t even opened yet: Check out www.VermontRestaurantWeek.com for your first glimpse of the menu of Our House on Main Street in Winooski. Potential patrons can drool over thoughts of pit-smoked pork ribs with apple-cabbage slaw and Deep-Fried PB&J — at a $15 price point.