After a long, cold winter, people are ready to get out and shake up their routine a bit, Downtown Wheaton Association Executive Director Paula Barrington says.
That's one reason why the association is sponsoring its first Restaurant Week, featuring a kickoff event Thursday and specials at nearly a dozen restaurants from March 14 through 20.
"I'm very encouraged," Barrington said of the response she's already received. "I think people are looking for something new and different. People are really very excited."
Ivy owner Dick O'Gorman proposed the idea to the association after noticing how many surrounding communities have been offering restaurant weeks.
"I thought, you know what, we should do a restaurant week in the slower time of the year," he said, adding that he believes the event will build some camaraderie among the downtown eateries.
The week will begin with an "In Good Taste Toast," scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. March 13 in a vacant retail space at 124 N. Hale St., next to Ivy.
"You're half a block from a free parking garage and the space is large enough to handle the number of restaurants and businesses and people we're expecting," Barrington said.
General admission is $30, which includes unlimited tastings and one complimentary drink.
A VIP reception at 4:30 p.m. costs $50 and features sparking wine tastings and a selection of artisanal cheeses, along with the full evening of tastings.
Some of the menu items at the toast include caprese skewers and mini meatballs from Il Sogno; creatively designed sushi from Wok 'N Fire; bruschetta and polenta from The Cellar Bistro; fiesta lime chicken stir-fry from Genghis Grill; and more.
"It gives you an opportunity to sample some unique items that each restaurant features on their menu. It's one-stop dining, if you will," Barrington said.
The hope is that guests will enjoy some of the samplings so much that they'll plan to have a full meal at one of the eateries during Restaurant Week, Barrington said.
There also will be a cash bar, a sweets buffet and live jazz at the toast. Proceeds will go to the DuPage County Museum Historical Foundation, Outreach Community Ministries and the Downtown Wheaton Association.
During the week, nine restaurants will offer specials ranging from a four-course, $29.95 per person tasting menu at The Bank and a $59.95 for two Prix Fixe menu at Ivy to a $30 three-course meal at Suzette's Creperie and 10 percent off for mentioning Restaurant Week at Adelle's Fine American Fare.
Tickets for the "In Good Taste Toast" and a complete list of offerings during Restaurant Week are available at www.downtownwheaton.com.