It Was the Best of Times
CHARLES DICKENS LIKELY NEVER EXPERIENCED a hurricane, but the opening lines in A Tale of Two Cities would be apropos to what the Northeast went through a month ago. Compared to the devastation of the New Jersey coast or Long Island, most of us in the mid- to upper-Hudson Valley were relatively unscathed by the storms of late October and early November. Wind and flooding, of course, took a toll almost everywhere, but the loss of power that in some places stretched into weeks seems to have had a most disturbing effect. Flood or no flood, without power almost nothing moves, and that includes restaurants.
The fall version of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week was scheduled to begin a scant week after Sandy left for Canada. While individuals and businesses began to regroup, rebuild and rehabilitate, the question of whether to continue on to the two-week event or pull the plug was raised. A few of the 160+ restaurants participating in the event were damaged beyond a quick recovery; most of the others cleaned themselves up, brushed themselves off and got back to the business at hand.
As you know, Restaurant Week went on as scheduled. We took CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan's remarks at the kickoff of the March 2012 Restaurant Week as an imprimatur. "Restaurants are cornerstones of our communities," he told nearly 200 chefs at the kickoff event. "Restaurants are where we go to gain nourishment. not just physical nourishment, but psychological nourishment. We frequent restaurants to socialize, to celebrate. Sometime we go to restaurants to help us mourn, as well." What surprised us was the enthusiasm with which November's Restaurant Week was embraced, not just by restaurateurs and diners, but in at least one case by an entire village where one merchant sponsored a food art exhibit and a food movie festival, an independent bookstore did likewise with food—and cookbooks, and a framing gallery spotlighted its food-related holdings. Restaurant Week diner surveys told a sometimes—emotional tale and added to our appreciation of what Restaurant Week's ultimate goals are to stimulate the business environment, to bring new patrons to restaurants they might not otherwise patronize, and to stress the importance of sourcing local—meats, produce, dairy, wine, beer and spirits.
But who are we to talk? No one can get the point across better than the participants--the ones who prepare the food and the ones who eat it. "I just want to say thank you for having Restaurant Week," wrote a young diner in New Paltz. "I have wanted to try A Tavola for quite some time, but being a broke twenty-something, I didn't have the resources. Hearing that the menu price was fixed made me jump at the chance—and I was not disappointed. Thank you again for allowing people like me to enjoy amazing food without breaking the bank!" Or this from a mother who introduced her teenagers to the experience in Poughkeepsie: "I took a 13- and a 14-year-old with me—they both thought it was 'awesome,' 'swag.' I am a single mom and money is tight but I wanted so much to be able to experience Artist's Palate at a great price. Meghan came to the table to ask us how we were enjoying everything; her staff was so impressed that my young teenagers were eating foie gras and duck. Thanks for offering this great deal of being able to try three courses for the price of just one of their entrees. We got to sample almost every offering on the menu."
But we couldn't define the purpose and value of Restaurant Week any better than Leslie Lampert of Cafe of Love in Mt. Kisco does. Quite simply, she gets it. "Thank you to our thousands of guests who, over the past two weeks, have sought shelter, shared stories of loss and given us the opportunity to provide sustenance during this challenging time," she wrote. "In our continued efforts to nourish the community as we recover from hardships and loss, please know that we are here for you—for refuge, companionship, comfort and, of course, a hand-crafted culinary experience." To which we can only add, Amen.