When recessionistas indulge
THE CHICONOMIST - Celine Novenario () - February 8, 2009 - 12:00am

NEW YORK — For a foodie looking to explore New York’s gastronomic delights, no two words bring more joy than Restaurant Week.

Held twice a year for two weeks at a time, Restaurant Week offers an opportunity to sample three-course meals at Manhattan’s finest establishments for just $24.07 for lunch and $35 for dinner.

That means enjoying a decadent lunch at a posh place like Eleven Madison Park for less than what you’d pay for a glass of their good Chardonnay.

It’s no surprise then that in our winter of financial discontent, restaurants were packed with food enthusiasts looking to get more bang for their buck — myself included.

On a Monday night, Asia de Cuba’s sexy Philippe Starck-designed space teemed with customers craving eclectic Asian-Cuban fusion cuisine.

We shared two fantastic appetizers. The signature salad proffered scrumptious bites of crisp calamari, bananas, hearts of palm, chayote, radicchio and cashews. The lemongrass-skewered chicken coated in coconut chili marinade and served with grilled lychees and pineapples was a delightful mélange of sweet, savory and spicy.

We were disappointed by the extremely gamy lamb entrée, but an addictive coconut layer cake for dessert sweetened our memories of the meal.

Next up: Butter, where Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf was famously stood up by her evil posse. Though Butter is known for celebrities dancing on banquettes, tonight, food was the star.

The best starter was cavatappi pasta lightly coated in cheesy tomato sauce and dotted with piquant lamb sausage. The calamari came a close second—encrusted in a light batter and served with chickpeas and silky brown butter sauce.

My boyfriend and I switched entrees incessantly because both were excellent. The salmon was perfectly seared with a crisp crust and rare center. The braised beef short ribs were tender and soaked with flavor. For dessert, the best bet was a peanut butter and apricot jam tart topped with peanut brittle.

Expectations were high for Convivio, recently named one of the Best New Restaurants by New York Magazine.

Formerly L’Impero, the newly revamped Southern Italian restaurant was equal to the task.

I started with Salciccia d’Anatra, a smoky duck sausage on a bed of braised green lentils, wine-marinated onions and vin cotto.

Convivio is famed for pasta but on this bitterly cold winter day, I sought comfort in the Brasati di Maiale, a robust dish of tomato-braised pork shoulder fused with smooth, deceptively light polenta. Lunch was capped off with Affogato al Caffé, an intoxicating scoop of amaro gelato brazenly poured with freshly brewed espresso.

It was the perfect ending to a meal that’s so far the highlight of my Restaurant Week.

Three restaurants down, 250 to go! Can’t wait for July.

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New York Restaurant Week takes place in the months of January and July. Visit http://nycgo.com/RestaurantWeek for more information.

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Asia de Cuba is located at 237 Madison Avenue, New York

Butter is located at 415 Lafayette Street, New York

Convivio is located at 45 Tudor Place, New York

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