The news release from Howard County Tourism & Promotion, which sponsors the event, included a useful background paragraph about the origin of so-called "Restaurant Week" promotions: The first one was orchestrated for the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City and featured $19.92 fixed-price three-course lunches. It was a big hit, and helped introduce the pointless phrase "prix-fixe" to American ears.
The truth is that some restaurants do a very nice job with this promotion and manage to satisfy regular customers and first-time visitors. They're just good restaurants, and they have no interest in disappointing customers during Restaurant Week or any other time. It's equally true that more than a few places do a botch job of promoting themselves.
Restaurant Week is one of those times when I'm most happy about having Dining@Large as a forum for readers to share their positive and negative experiences. I encourage you to visit and to contribute your own dining stories.
Howard County's Winter Restaurant Weeks promotion (visithowardcounty.com) runs Jan. 17 through Jan. 31. Nearly 30 restaurants will be participating in the promotion, including newcomers like Stella Notte, an authentic Italian restaurant in Ellicott City, and Looney's Pub in Maple Lawn. The county has good geographic representation, stretching west from the Elkridge Furnace Inn to Bistro Blanc in Glenelg, and moving south from Alexandra's Restaurant in Ellicott City to Rams Head Tavern in Savage. There's a good representation of genres and price points, too.
Among the participating restaurants in between: the newly situated Aida Bistro & Wine Bar , Iron Bridge Wine Company, Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant , Venegas Prime Filet and Eggspectation.
"One of the things we like about Howard County's Restaurant Weeks is that it offers flexibility to the restaurants. They're not locked into a single fixed price," says Amanda Hof, special events and projects manager for the county's Office of Tourism & Promotion. The restaurants are free to fix the price for their menus anywhere from $10.11 to $40.11.
Howard County's promotion includes a "local-global" theme. Hof says that "restaurants are putting things like dishes inspired by countries of origin and family recipes on the menu to impress new diners. They're going above and beyond."
I know that's something I miss from the earlier editions of the city's seasonal promotions, the chef's specialties that made Restaurant Week as much a showcase for creative talent as bargain bonanza. I think it was customer preference that ultimately made restaurants shy about doing anything but roll out the bargains, but it has perhaps contributed to the city's promotion feeling less special. A contest, maybe, in which restaurants competed for dessert would jazz things up.
Love the new name On New Year's Day, new owners took over the Hollins Market property recently and briefly known as Cockey's Tavern. It was formerly Baltimore Pho and, years ago, Mencken's Cultured Pearl. The new name is Amour , and visitors will notice new lounge seating and some freshened-up decor.
Amour's principal owner, Damon Hawkins, a graduate of the Hotel & Restaurant Management program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, is a 15-year veteran of the restaurant business — "everything from fast food to casual and fine dining." Hawkins owned On the Roxx in Randallstown and continues to operate his own catering company, which will use Amour as a base for off-premise catering.
Hawkins told me he's excited about being part of the neighborhood's ongoing revitalization. He's brought in Hollis Albert, who owned and ran Flip's at Clipper Mill for a few years on Union Avenue, to be Amour's general manager.
Amour is sticking with a similar menu to that of Cockey's Tavern — crab cakes, jerk chicken and chicken and waffles. Amour is open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on weekdays, later on weekends. It's at 1116 Hollins St., and the phone number remains 410-752-4814; a new website will be showing up soon at amourbaltimore.com.
More promotions The Mt. Washington Tavern is celebrating 31 years in business in 2011, and to commemorate this milestone, it will be offering a $31 dining special through the end of March. Two guests can enjoy a shared appetizer, two entrees, and a glass of wine or beer each. The $31 promotion will be available every Sunday through Wednesday evening.
For a limited time, anyone who comes into Amicci's for dinner and says, "Happy Birthday Amicci's," will receive a free glass of sparkling wine and 20 percent off the dinner check. Reservations are recommended, and the offer is good for dine-in only.
And through Jan. 20, the Prime Rib is running a "15 for $15" special, 15 ounces of USDA Prime Rib for 15 U.S. dollars.