Today kicks off one of the most anticipated events on the calendar for area food-lovers: Atlantic City Restaurant Week.

Almost 80 restaurants are offering price fixe three-course menus at lunch and/or dinner for $15.13 and $33.13, respectively, now through Saturday. From well-known steakhouses such as The Palm inside The Quarter at Tropicana Casino and Resort to boutique establishments such as Girasole, where 17 of 24 employees are related to the owner, restaurants take the opportunity to show off the best of their best.

For example, The Palm is opening for lunch, even though it usually only offers dinner. And General Manager Paul Sandler and Executive Chef Ron Reid didn't skimp on choosing the specials, offering classics such as chicken Parmigiana (The Palm started as an Italian restaurant, after all) and a sirloin steakburger at lunch alongside their famous jumbo lump crab cake on a brioche bun. And despite the steep discounts, offering a 9-ounce filet at dinner was a no-brainer, Sandler says.

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"It's not about money, restaurant week, for me, is a marketing tool," he says. "I'm not trying to make money, I want to create a new customer. We want to show our best work and The Palm is a steakhouse, so we have our top steak (on the menu)."

Sandler knows some diners may be intimidated by the regularly high prices at The Palm, so he hopes to win them over by showing exemplary customer service in a friendly environment. "So next time you're driving into the city on a Saturday night and deciding where to go for dinner, you might say 'Hey remember The Palm was a great experience.'"

Girasole owner Gino Iovino says what makes his restaurant stand out from other Italian eateries is high-quality ingredients such as the Caputo flour used to make the bread and pizza on premises and the focaccia recipe left to his sister-in-law Rosalba only after a master baker from Bari, Italy, died.

To get a real taste of Girasole, Iovino is offering a menu packed with more than a dozen options for appetizers and entrees to choose from. He recommends starting off with the Carpaccio Girasole (warm filet mignon sliced paper-thin and garnished with artichokes, asparagus, shaved parmesan cheese and truffle oil) or brick-oven margarita pizza with fresh buffalo mozzarella made by his sister Maria. Most of the pasta at Girasole is made fresh on premises as well, and Iovino recommends the al-dente tagliatelle Bolognese or farfalle al salmon (bowtie pasta with salmon in a light pink sauce) as a main course, although options also include a filet of pork with rosemary potatoes and "of course, the American favorite, grilled jumbo shrimp."

Most restaurants offer reservations through Open Table or by calling ahead, but many, such as Girasole, are nearly sold out. In fact, Sandler says Sunday nights are one of the best nights to beat the crowds. Saturdays, the specials aren't even offered because "I have to take care of my regulars, too," he says.

Local residents also were foremost in Il Mulino general manager Bruce Shilder's mind when he planned the menu for both the gourmet restaurant and trattoria at Trump Taj Mahal. He hopes offerings such as the veal, pork and beef meatballs tempt area residents to sample the Italian cuisine there.

"(Being in a casino) we have a captive audience of people here for that reason, most of the time," he says. "So this is an opportunity to get more locals involved, a lot of people who probably don't think to go out to a casino to a restaurant otherwise."

Also aiming to get news out is Atlantic City Country Club, which hosted a preview last week called Taste of Restaurant Week. While it's actually located in Northfield, Executive Chef Ed Daggers said restaurant week is a good time to let people know the club - founded in 1897 - is open to the public now, while highlighting the scenic views, taproom and eclectic lunch menu. The club doesn't serve dinner in winter, so for the event Daggers served the dark rum-braised beef short ribs on a steamed Asian bun with cucumber slaw and hoisin glaze that is offered on his evening bar menu.

Chef Quincy Logan, who works for Iron Chef Mark Forgione at American Cut inside Revel, also hopes to expand the public's perception of his restaurant. Alongside the regular steak and beef offerings, he is most excited about "chicken under a brick," a deboned 1/2 chicken grilled under a brick which he says "tastes like love and goodness."

"We want not to always be considered just a great steakhouse, but a great restaurant with a great steak," he said.

How the public perceives the value of a venue also is important for casual eateries.

Restaurant Chef Pravesh Patel says he relies on the simple, bold flavors of his blackberry-barbecue "Saint Louis" ribs or a marinated skirt steak with truffle mashed potatoes, saut�ed spinach and broccoli rabe to draw guests to 6ix A Bistro at Bally's Atlantic City. He says while the temporary discounts on higher-end restaurants may draw some, his offerings are representative of a meal one could get for the price any time of year, "a good quality steak without the gourmet prices," he says.

The party atmosphere at Dos Caminos Modern Mexican Cuisine and Tequila Lounge is one of Restaurant Chef Paul Hoetler's biggest sellers, alongside papas bravas con chorizo (crispy russet potatoes with poblano peppers, Spanish onion, Mexican sausage and smoked chiles) and beer and chipotle braised brisket street tacos with cabbage, radish and cotija cheese. Coupled with great music and a guacamole station amid the guest tables, the party never stops at this patio bar-style eatery inside Harrah's Resort.

"Especially on the weekends, we really pump up the atmosphere like a club with the music going, it's very lively and festive," Hoetler says. "It's not only great food, it's a great atmosphere. We get a lot of bachelorette parties and groups before they go out and the service is quick and on point."

Another advantage for casino flagship restaurants such as FIN - A Seafood Experience and Il Verdi at Tropicana is the parent company can help absorb the cost of promotional events, says executive Chef Demetrious Haronis. So FIN can offer luxurious items such as lobster bisque and lobster stuffed salmon at the promotional price while Il Verdi has veal medallions with imported cheeses and a pinot grigio cream sauce.

Caesars Executive Chef Keith Mitchell said he will wait to see what other venues do before deciding whether or not to extend the specials for a second week from March 10 to 15, as some have done in years past. But Sandler at The Palm isn't hesitating, his specials menus already are printed with "March 3 to 8 & March 10 to 15" boldly announced underneath the logo.

For list of participating restaurants, see:

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