Suburban chefs and restaurateurs are putting their best plates forward hoping to lure diners to their tables during a traditionally slow time of year.
For the second year in a row, eateries throughout the suburbs have signed on with Chicago Restaurant Week, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau's five-year-old winter dining promotion.
But a week just isn't enough time to eat your way from Angus strip steak with horseradish crust at Black Steer Charhouse in Elk Grove Village to the Cajun seafood chowder at Catch 35 in Naperville to the cider-braised pork belly at Atwater's in Geneva, so Restaurant Week actually stretches 10 days, from Friday, Feb. 17, to Sunday, Feb. 26. During that time, restaurants offer unique fixed-price lunch and/or dinner menus: $22 for two courses; $33 for three courses and $44 for four courses.
"This allows us to reach out to guests who have always wanted to try us," said John Santangelo, food and beverage director at Prairie River at Eaglewood Resort and Spa in Itasca.
Chef Jason Tsoris at Atwater's in Geneva said the value-priced menus entice people to dine out on nights they might otherwise stay home.
"It's hard enough to get people in the Western suburbs to get out during the week," Tsoris acknowledged. He's hoping his flavored-packed menu that includes hazelnut-crusted sea bass with saffron sauce will do the trick.
He also said the special menus benefit loyal customers by giving them a post-holiday price break and offering them slightly smaller portions of dishes they might not have tried.
Jeanie Morris, manager at Chicago Prime Steakhouse in Schaumburg, said 2011's Restaurant Week helped bring in new business, and she's seen some of the diners become repeat customers.
This year, entree options include filet medallions with stuffed shrimp and sliced sirloin in a Port wine sauce.
Santangelo said he expects suburban restaurant participation in the Chicago-bred event to expand in coming years. Some 200 restaurants in the Windy City participate compared to about two dozen in the suburbs.
"I think it's going to keep growing," he said. "It's a great way to get people aware of your menu."