Saturday, January 14, 2006

Dine About Town 2006: Part One, Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

Dine About Town for San Francisco is here for 2006! For those of you who haven't heard of Dine About Town before, it is a perennial, city-wide promotional program, where upper-end restaurants offer prix-fixe, three-course meals for either lunch, dinner, or both. Lunch is $22.00, and dinner is $32.00. Plus tax and tip (but without drinks), it evens out to be around $29.00 for lunch and $41.00 for dinner--a fabulous deal if you select a restaurant that is otherwise exorbitant.

My colleagues from work and I made reservations for lunch this past Thursday at
Absinthe Brasserie and Bar. Before we were seated, one of my co-workers informed me, that the Los Angeles Times recently sent down a travel columnist to report back about her Dine About Town experience. The columnist actually had a "negative" Dine About Town experience, because of the "regular price" paying customers who complained about the wave of uncouth who swamped restaurants, and the supercilious restaurant staff who acted condescendingly towards Dine About Towners.

I wanted to test out these allegations, and make sure they were just isolated and deviant experiences. Unfortunately, they did have some truth--and I actually already knew that from my previous Dine About Town experiences.

I'd be a liar if I didn't tell you that I was a tad disappointed in Absinthe's Dine About Town menu. The three-course meal consisted of: 1) the "soup of the day" or the "salad of the day," 2) the "entrée of the day," and 3) a choice of three citrus sorbets. In my experience, sometimes when menu offerings are appended with the notorious "of the day" phrase, it means that the restaurant is serving the leftovers that it couldn't sell yesterday. However, I couldn't complain too much, because some restaurants don't even give Dine About Towners any options. At least we had that.

While we were placing our orders, my co-worker kindly asked if she could have the French onion soup as the "soup of the day," and our waitress's reaction was classic. She raised her arched brows (not quizzically, but with a look of profound haughtiness) and dryly replied, "Umm . . . No."

Okay Los Angeles Times, I agree.

Given our waitress's succinct answer, everyone at our table decided to start with the "salad of the day," (rather than the creamy mushroom "soup of the day"). The salad consisted of sliced fennel with blood orange which was drizzled with a light citrus vinaigrette. The flavor of crunchy, licorice-tinged fennel was heightened by the sweet and sour tang from the blood orange and the lovely bites of pitted and chopped dates.

Our choice for the entrée was limited to fettuccine pasta with rich cheese sauce, toasted bread crumbs, and chopped nuts, but I wouldn't have had any other entrée--the fettuccine was amazing. The pasta was perfectly cooked until al dente, and the crispy bread crumbs crackled like fireworks inside my mouth. The sauce was silken, and not too heavy.

Finally, our three-course meal concluded with a frosty sorbet, and the ladies at our table ordered every available flavor: blood orange, tangerine, and lemon. I ordered the tangerine sorbet, and it was artfully presented in a dainty martini glass. The sorbet was cool and refreshing, and it wasn't overpoweringly tart--even though it was ice-cold and had slightly sour kiss. However, I felt that the cinnamon dusted butter cookie that accompanied the sorbet was a little out of place. The taste of cinnamon reminds me of warmth and sweetness, so I was taken aback by it's presence next a chilly sorbet with a sour twang.

After the conclusion of our meal, my full belly and dazzled taste buds thanked me profusely for participating in the Dine About Town program. Okay, we did have a brief encounter with an "annoyed" waitress, but I'm not going to a restaurant to make friends with the waitstaff. Instead, I am pursuing an incredible meal at bank-breaking prices. I'm sure that other San Franciscans heartily agree with me. My co-workers and I are all trying at least two new restaurants through this 2006 session of Dine About Town, and many others will too. We count ourselves as being fortunate to be able to live in San Francisco and sample some of the cities best restaurants through the Dine About Town program. As long as they have the program, I know I'll be a repeat customer.

Post Note: After spending $31.00 for lunch, you may want to first give your lightened wallet a break before hitting the three-course meals again. Although our lunch selection was affordable when compared to Absinthe's $70.00 prix-fixe lunch offering of caviar and oysters, I had to let my wallet rejuvenate at a cheap pho restaurant, where I was able to pick up a two-course dinner for under $8.00. Nice!


  1. I want everyone to read this. You did a great job detailing the plusses and minuses of Dine About Town in SF.
    One of the reasons the program was invented (by the SF Convention and Visitors Bureau, I believe), was that January is a serious "down time" (to borrow your phrase) for restaurants. No way should a waiter or full-price diner get all haughty about that... You're bringing business to a place that needs it! (Or why else would the restaurant sign on to the program?)
    Also, kudos on your review. Well done.

  2. Awww, shucks Cookie Crumb. Thank you so much, that is sweet of you to say!

    I agree with you entirely--the restaurants need to keep focus on the goal of the program, which is to drum up business for themselves. One of my co-workers suggested that even though the Dine About Town program attracts people who are not regular patrons to those kinds of restaurants, if those "people" have positive experiences, they'll return as customers--maybe not on a systematic basis, but on definitely special occasions, when they can afford to splurge on themselves.

    Also too, I hope that you get the opportunity to read over the Los Angeles Times review of Dine About Town. The author writes about how she was "rushed" through the courses, so that she could not take the time to appreciate her meal. I haven't really noticed that as much, but I think that her article was getting at the "haughtiness" factor.

  3. I'd love to participate in Dine About Town! Too bad I'm way over here.

  4. What a lovely post! Since I only visit SF once in a great moon, I love to experience these top restaurants vicariously...heck, I don't even get up to LA often either.

    The one time I did was for a similar event called "LA Dine Out" where I tried Suzanne Goin's Lucques for the first time.

    Of course, my friend, who was a chef there at the time, made me go since it was to be her final week at Lucques.

    Had a great time...the waiter was nice (not haughty), but was even nicer when he figured out we knew one of the chefs.

    Here was my experience at


  5. Just keep your eye out The Food Pornographer. They've got many similar "Restaurant Week" programs in other U.S. cities (like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York), so there may be similar programs down under in Australia. If I find anything comparable for Australia online, I'll make sure to send over the link.

    Holy beans Elmo Monster! I just read your Lucques post, and I love it! I noticed that the "San Pellegrino Dine Out Prix Fixe" program also has participating San Francisco restaurants! I never met a prix-fixe program I didn't like. Thanks for the reference, and wonderful post!

  6. OK, the waitress may have left a little to be desired, but the pasta sure looks good!

  7. Hi Sweetnicks! I agree, the fettucine looked and tasted delicious!


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