Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Modified February "Food Week"

Each year around this time, restaurants in Minneapolis and St. Paul prepare pre-fixed, coursed menus for lower prices, as part of a wonderful event called Food Week. Maybe it is a way for restaurants to strut their stuff a little, to lure in customers who are normally Applebee's-goers, or simply to provide one bright moment at the end of a claustrophic winter.

Chef Matt and I used to attend Food Week, pre-kids, but have dropped off somewhat in the past few years. Nevertheless, we still like to peruse the Food Week menus online and sigh at little at the amazing concoctions chefs present for this fantastic week of local cuisine.

Although we cannot attend the official event anymore, we managed to create a Food Week of our own. Last week, as I acknowledged the passing of another year of my life, we scheduled a series of delicious meals, both restaurant-made and homemade, and decided that Food Week on your own terms can be almost as fabulous as the real thing.

We started with Valentine's Day, a holiday we do not usually celebrate. But other people do, so coupons for cheap food abound. With the kids at daycare, we split a giant plate of barbecue and a steamy bread pudding over lunch, because nothing says romance like "Hey, you have barbecue sauce all over your face."

Two days later, we called in a grandma and went to a local swanky steakhouse that, luckily for our checkbook, is in the same family of restaurants as Matt's. The server wheeled out the cuts of meat on a cart, including one actually named a "Bludgeon of Beef," and I sensed a small twinge of something feral deep inside as I ordered 24 ounces of steak, just for myself. I felt a little like a rich man's wife that night; that is, until I packaged up half of the food we ordered and silently began to plan how I could use the leftovers in several meals at home.

On my actual birthday, my parents made a February-Thanksgiving feast, with turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and encouragement to eat more. And finally, in a culmination that is becoming tradition at our house, Matt made homemade gnocchi, a pillowy potato dumpling with a hint of the potato-graininess amidst an otherwise smooth, chewy texture. He tossed the gnocchi in a cream sauce with lobster and peas, and for that moment of bliss, February in Minnesota melted away and we were eating four-cheese gnocchi at a dusky restaurant in Rome.

It is certainly not plausible, or healthy, to eat this way every week. But once, or twice, a year, a personal Food Week is a welcome getaway from the drudgery of the usual ... especially if you can get it for cheap, or free at your parents' house.

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