Navigating Restaurant Week

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I have come to the sad realization there are so many restaurants in Portsmouth, I can’t possibly try them all. I’d love to dine at all of the city’s different eateries, but time – and more importantly money – are keeping me from the complete experience. Even when I do get to try someplace new, there are mixed emotions if I like it: I’m excited I found another place to add to my favorites list, but then there’s the sadness of knowing it may be some time before I can get back again.

Thankfully, the leaders of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce figured out years ago this is a problem and they need to help those of us who want to add another restaurant to the “tried it” list before the year ends. From Nov. 7-16, more than 40 restaurants in the Seacoast will be participating in Restaurant Week, a semi-annual event which offers special menus and discounted prices to diners. Lunch costs $16.95 and dinner is $29.95. (It does not include drinks, taxes and gratuity.)

The participating restaurants run from “jeans and T-shirt” to “make sure to wear a tie.” I usually go for the more high-end establishments, since many of the restaurants on that list will cost you far more than $29.95 for three courses on a regular night. But I’ve also found some delicious dining at the laid back venues as well. Checking the different restaurant menus on the Chamber website often reveals some can’t miss deals at these casual spots on the Seacoast.

Going to a restaurant you’ve never tried before during Restaurant Week offers a glimpse into the eateries regular fare. Sometimes, the chef will decide to go off-menu and offer some dishes you’d never find on the regular menu, while other spots transform customer favorites into Restaurant Week packages, giving you the best of what they have to offer. And the servers will always give you the regular menu, just in case you want that instead.

This year, I’ve put together a short list of places I’d like to try – or return to.

  • First is Cava, mainly because it’s so darn hard to get into during the summer months and according to the chef’s blog, will be taking reservations during Restaurant Week. I’ve been to this tapas eatery before, but mostly to have a glass or two of wine from their extensive list. Cava’s Restaurant Week menu consists of four courses of small plates. Diners have a choice of three options from each course and include exotic items like foraged mushrooms with snails and monk fish with ham hock in a saffron broth.
  • The District also made the list. This slick eatery has a reputation for serving delicious late night drinks and food, but I’ve yet to even venture in to have a cocktail, despite the restaurant being open for a few years now. When I first looked at The District’s Restaurant Week menu, I got a good feeling. Besides the fixed menu are three drink specials – including the B SAGE, a cocktail made with Hornitos Reposado Tequila, Art in the Age Sage, blood orange purée and fresh lime. Some of The District’s food offerings include meatballs in cranberry beer sauce, scallops three ways, balsamic marinated tofu and caramel-apple bread pudding.
  • On the more casual end, I’m torn between the newly revamped Rosa and the MoJo’s spin-off Tavola. For those who didn’t grow up on the Seacoast, the Rosa was a staple of family dining for many years. Located on State Street near Prescott Park, the Rosa once served old-school Italian and was known for its killer meatballs. But as people age and the restaurant scene in the Seacoast changed, the Rosa changed hands, got a renovation and is open again serving Italian favorites such as chicken picatta and seafood fra diavolo. The Rosa doesn’t have a Restaurant Week menu up yet, but I’m partial to any dish that offers fresh made pasta.
  • I put Tavola on the list for purely selfish reasons – it’s in my neighborhood. When you live more than a mile from downtown, walking to and from downtown for a night out gets pretty unappealing come December. If Tavola proves delicious, I’m more likely to stay in the neighborhood. This spot just opened and is also serving traditional Italian cuisine. No Restaurant Week menu yet, but I’m pretty sure they’ll offer something with pasta on it for me.
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