Food Issue - A week of dining deals

Our critic eats around town to find the best value

All over town, restaurants are offering dining deals to lure customers, even when budgets are tight. It's hard to tell which of these deals offer true value, and which are just ploys to get you in the door. I spent a week eating upscale value menus all over town, and offer this report about getting the most – and best – grub for your buck.

Sunday: Sunday is the grand pooh-bah of days when it comes to dining deals. Serpas, the Farmhouse at Serenbe, Craftbar, Paces 88, and many other restaurants have Sunday night specials. We've given a lot of press over the past year to the $12 Sunday pasta night at Shaun's, which includes a salad, pasta dish and scoop of gelato. With that in mind I hit Ecco (40 Seventh St., 404-347-9555, www.ecco-atlanta.com), where you have a choice of either pizza or pasta and a glass of wine for $15. I have to say, it didn't seem like great value. You can get pizza and wine at many places for $15, and neither the pizza nor the pasta I had was exceptional. My order of angel hair tossed with a spicy tomato sauce and topped with slivers of Parmesan filled me up and was pleasant to eat, but felt rustic to the point of boring.

Monday: On Monday I hit Top Flr (674 Myrtle St., 404-685-3110, www.topflr.com) for its sounds-too-good-to-be-true $15 three-course deal. Well, believe it, kids: Top Flr delivered a flavorful, satisfying three-course meal for $15. Although, choosing right was part of the game – for instance, the entree of game hen in a buttery sauce felt like a more complete dish than the fried chunks of monkfish over cous cous, which was the other option. But servers are happy to direct you, as honest as they are friendly.

Tuesday: Tuesday is a mystifyingly sparse night for dining deals, but luckily downtown's vastly underrated Social (12 W. Peachtree Place, 404-525-2246, www.socialintown.com) offers a $15 meal deal on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Tuesday's special is steak frites and a glass of wine. A juicy skirt steak, piping hot fries and a nicely dressed salad hit the spot. With the glass of wine, it felt like a complete meal. Other deals throughout the week include pasta on Mondays, and mussels and beer on Wednesdays.

Wednesday: The deal of the week happens Wednesday nights, when the Shed does its $3 slider night. But my colleague Cliff Bostock is so obsessed with the Shed's sliders and has written about them so much, I decided to do something different. (Also, I wanted to check out the Shed's Thursday special; see below). So I went to Room at Twelve (400 W. Peachtree St., 404-418-1250, www.roomattwelve.com) for its all-you-can-eat sushi and sake night. Here's another deal that sounds too good to be true: $10 all-you-can-eat sushi rolls, and $5 all-you-can-drink sake. The place was packed with office workers stuffing themselves and getting blotto together for $15 each – in terms of bang for your buck, this deal is unbeatable. For me, though, it was kind of horrifying. The sushi was of the mushy-fish-and-too-much-rice variety, and the room-temp sake came from a huge bottle of Gekkeikan. There's no doubt this is an amazing deal, if quality isn't high on the priority list.

Thursday: While vastly outshone by Wednesday's sliders, the Shed's (475 Bill Kennedy Way, 404-835-4363, www.theshedatglenwood.com) Thursday veggie plate should not be overlooked: $10 for a choice of four vegetables. While it sounds simple, the deal made for a great, healthy meal. Standouts included the caramelized Brussels sprouts, and the ultra-fresh-tasting raw summer squash salad. Whether or not $10 is a true bargain for what amounts to four sides is another debate, but I was full and happy when I was done, and not much poorer for it.

Friday: Weekends are a challenge when it comes to finding specials. On Friday night, my only find was the ribs deal at One Midtown Kitchen (566 Dutch Valley Road, 404-892-4111, www.onemidtownkitchen.com). For $24, you get a full rack of ribs. What's that, you say? Not exactly a bargain? Honestly, I'm not sure even the restaurant would categorize this as a recession special. It's more a dish they only cook on Fridays. The ribs were smoky, juicy and delicious, and came over grits. They made me happy, but it wasn't really a bargain – just a $24 entree. But the restaurant could barely squeeze me in, so they don't really need it to be a bargain.

Saturday: Saturday night was in many ways more difficult than Friday, but in the end more rewarding. Buckhead Life had sent a press release saying its restaurants were all offering $25 or $35 menus every night of the week. So my friend and I arrived at Veni Vidi Vici looking for the promised $25 Italian special. "That deal doesn't start until later in the month," our waiter told us. We left. I called Pricci to see if its deal had started, but was told "next week." (You can currently get $25 menus any night at either of these restaurants, but I'd call ahead to make sure.) After a half hour of calling and Web searching, we came upon the pre-theater menu at Park 75 (75 14th St., 404-724-9626, www.fourseasons.com). Served every night until 8, the three-course meal was pitched to us on the phone as being $25. Once we sat and were served our first course of tomato-gin soup with an adorable cheese and bacon sandwich on the side, I said to my friend, "If this turns out to be $25 I'll eat my shoe." Sure enough, when the bill came it was $35 per person, but for the quality of food I would absolutely still call this a bargain. Delicate, beautifully cooked halibut over vibrant summer veggies, a peach tart with a crust so buttery and flaky it had us swooning. A meal for $35 isn't dining on a shoestring, but hey, it was Saturday night! A girl has to splurge every now and then.


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