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Holiday spending and eating takes a toll on our wallets and waistlines, so the first few weeks of the new year can be a slow time for restaurants. Still, it's hard to resist a special prix-fixe menu, even more so if dinner or lunch features a fabulous new dish.
So much for tightening our belts, literally or otherwise.
Organizers of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week hope you'll go out to eat when the weeklong event kicks off Monday, Jan. 14, at more than 50 local restaurants. The promotion runs through Sunday, Jan. 20.
Cooked up in 2007 as part of the Pittsburgh Celebrates Glass! festivities, the seven-day celebration encourages diners to visit their favorite eateries during the lull before Valentine's Day -- and maybe also discover some new ones -- by offering discounted prices and/or new menu items. No tickets or passes are needed; food lovers just need to show up with their appetites and credit cards at a participating restaurant, which as in years past includes destinations both large (McCormick & Schmick's, Willow) and small (Bar Marco, Root 174).
Many of the meals come with a $20.13 (tied to the new year) price tag, which depending on the restaurant, may or may not be a particularly great deal. But hey, even a few bucks off is something. And it's not just about dinner.
At Habitat, for example, diners can choose between a $15 executive express lunch and a $40 three-course meal; at Evolution Grille in Sarver, most items on chef Michael Barbiaux's seasonal menu will be priced either $20 or $13. (For a complete list, visit pittsburghrestaurantweek.com.)
Some of the featured food definitely is not for the timid: At 1810 Tavern in Bridgewater, one of nine restaurants that have come up with specific dishes for the week, the "New Dish, New Year" special includes White Ivory Salmon, Wild Boar, Beer Braised Red Cabbage and Basil Funnel Cake.
"Yes, it's kind of playful," says executive chef Phil Miller, whose Beaver County kitchen is known for its twists on the classics. "But we wanted to introduce customers to something they've never seen before."
That's the point of the week, says event director Brian McCollum, a software engineer who co-writes the Pittsburgh TasteBuds blog (thepittsburghtastebuds.com) -- to get people excited about eating out by offering them something new.
"We want to keep it fresh and vibrant and the restaurant scene evolving."
There are more choices than ever this year, with 54 restaurants from Monaca to Monroeville and beyond already signed up. That's more than double the number of participants from last year, Mr. McCollum says.
Hungry for a preview? A Kickoff Party will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight in MINI of Pittsburgh's showroom at 4900 Baum Blvd., Bloomfield. Tickets to the cocktail party-style event cost $50, and include samplings from participating restaurants from the East End, along with cocktails. There also will be charity raffles (proceeds benefit Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Garfield Community Farms) and chances to win City Dining Cards and gift certificates to participating restaurants. Purchase tickets at www.showclix.com/event/3735722.
To help spread the story of Pittsburgh's food scene, there also will be a special dinner on Tuesday, Jan. 15, for Pittsburgh's food-blogging community at Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen, 7600 Forbes Ave. in Regent Square. (PG Plate, the Post-Gazette's new food platform, is sponsoring a cocktail party beforehand; invite only; register at pittsburghrestaurantweek.com/local-food-bloggers-signup/.)
Despite a tight economy, Mr. McCollum predicts 2013 is going to be a great year for local restaurants.
"As more and more people visit and explore Pittsburgh, they see our restaurants on a national level," he said. "Pittsburgh food competes."
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.