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Downtown Dining Week

Like many Memphians I have come to look forward every year to a mid November tradition known as downtown dining week. This event is designed to showcase the variety and high quality of restaurants in our downtown area (a note for you non Memphians, unlike most cities our downtown in on one end of town vs the center and most people in the eastern suburbs will only go if the have concert, theater or sporting event tickets). This year between diner with friends and the bf I got to experience more of downtown dining week than I have in the past. The premise is that each participating restaurant will offer a three course meal for $20.13 - most restaurants are the type of establishments where your typical dinner will cost more than $20. With a few years under my belt and a variety of restaurants  visited at this point I fell confident in saying that some restaurants really nail the spirit of the week while others fail miserably. Because I'm lazy most of you are not my yelp friends, most of these are a pasting of my yelp reviewsHere's the breakdown of this weeks adventurers. 

Felicia Suzanne's 
Despite numerous people telling me how great this place is it took me years to give it a try. I'm so glad I did and will go again for sure. My boyfriend and I went for downtown dining week 2013. We loved the BLFGT salad and the deviled eggs starters as well as the braised short ribs and pecan crusted fish entrees. The Mac and cheese side was delicious and very rich, get one and share it. The ice cream dessert was also rather tasty and I appreciate that it came in a chilled bowl. Service was very good and I enjoy the interior. I am not giving 5 stars because although the prices are good, wine is only by the bottle and I really just wanted a glass. I believe there is a daily offering of by the glass but it was only one red and one white, a little disappointing. They did however offer a full bar and my BF loved the cocktail special - something blueberry with kettle one. My other star deduction factor is the music choice is a little odd - would be better in a hipster lounge vs a fine dining establishment. I like the dim lighting and wide windows looking onto Main Street.  I also really appreciate the table spacing, we did not overhear anyone's conversation - which was very nice. Felicia is very active in the community and I'm always happy to support a business that gives back. Overall a nice place.

Bleu 
This place has had a reputation as not being good but capitalizing on their location across from the forum since it opened. However, I heard from a friend that they had a new menu and it was very good so when downtown dining week rolled around I figured this to be the perfect time to give them a try before committing to a $100 for two night out. Bleu failed miserably and I will not go back. 

First off the interior is more generic chain than pricey hotspot. Also, the service was terrible and awkward. We had two different waitresses come over, introduce themselves and tell us the drink specials; when we told the 2nd one someone had already been by her response was "we'll that was wrong and we're starting over" - how rude to talk like that to a customer as if we had someone made the wrong person come over. Our real server - the 2nd told us she didn't usually work nights and therefore didn't know about the wine list - she had to leave twice to answer of questions. So we order our wine and food and both arrive pretty quickly. The entrees came right after our appetizers , busy night so I'm willing to let this go but I don't expect to be rushed at a fine dining establishment. We get our food and were all a few bites in and a different waiter come with desserts asking who has what, unacceptable!  My friend tells him we're still eating and he looks down, sees our full plates and then goes away. A few minutes later our waitress comes back and asks if we're ready for desserts - one of my friends had finished but another and myself still have 1/2 the food on our plates! So again my friend has to point out that there are people eating their meal at the table. My friend decides she's done (we'll get to that in a minute) but I tell the waitress I'm not finished, which seems to piss her off. So I finish and the desserts come back, my two friends got a lemon cake and I got bananas foster and despite the fact that I remind her I have the bananas the waitress tries to give that to my friend, who can't stand bananas. It was pretty obvious these are the same desserts brought right after our food came because they are cold and my ice cream is completely melted. The waitress then asks how we want our check - no asking if we want more drinks. I should also note that none of our water glasses were refilled at any point. The entire time we felt like we were being pushed out and a burden for being there. 

So now the food. The deal with downtown dining week is its a three course meal for $20.13. The idea is to showcase how good downtown restaurants our to get people to come downtown more often. For the first course we all had the seafood beignets and all enjoyed them. For entrees I had the downtown chicken and my friends has the mahi mahi - all of the options offered are not regular menu offerings. All entrees sounded great from their description and listed several flavors and sauces, my chicken did not come with a sauce and my friends fish did not come with the mango salsa as described, they also said they couldn't taste any of the flavors listed on the menu. We all agreed out food was very bland. The desserts were very meh. 

Dispute our waitresses best attempt to push us out we stayed at the table after we got our checks to visit since we were so rushed in our eating (we had our checks 35 minutes after sitting down). At no point did the waitress come back to our table despite the fact we all had empty wine and water glasses. She didn't even come get our signed checks and was obviously avoiding us. I totally would have gotten more wine or a cocktail if she has bothered to come over. There was another group of girls who was seated at the same time as us and they were not being rushed like we were so our service was not a reflection of it being a busy night, it was just rude and awful. 

I don't care if this doesn't represent a "typical" night for bleu or the waitress usually works days, I will NEVER return. Participation in downtown dining week is completely optional yet clearly Bleu does not like it. Dinner at The Peabody is easily over $100 / person while afternoon tea is $27, but the tea customer still gets the level of service and food quality one would expect. Bleu is a joke and clearly designed for people with more money then sense , if they knew what good food and service was then it would always be reflected regardless of the time of day or specials being run.

Automatic Slims 
 
This year was a return DDW visit. Last year I went with some wine club girls and we had a great time. Since Thursdays are ladies night (which means $5 drinks) we went on a Thursday. Cocktails are usually $8 to $12 and they have quite the variety to choose from. Word must have caught on because this year it was PACKED!  Service was a little slow but I'll give the benefit of the doubt this is not a usual thing. Food was good but desserts were tiny and very unimaginative - and they ran out of one by 8pm. This may seem very nit picky but the cocktails we got were not rimmed or garnished - not sure if this was due to the crowd but interestedly a male at the next table got a drink and his was nicely presented - so then we felt a little bit like we weren't getting as nice drinks because of the discount. And yes - t's less than usual but a $5 small drink itsn't like a give away either. If I was judging AS by this night I would not have been very impressed, but because I have been other times and last year's DDW was so good I am still including them on my list of downtown restaurants to consider. I like the open layout but the wood features give it warmth, if they were going for southern metropolitan chic they succeeded.

Eighty3 
I will not be back, went for downtown week and was not impressed. The thought behind downtown dining week is to offer 3 course meals for $20.13 to showcase the menu offerings. It started off on a bad note when I arrived and no hostess was to be found not did any of the other employees greet or acknowledge me. I stood there for at least 5 minutes before the hostesses appeared explaining that she had to set up some tables and that she would seat us as soon as the group in front of us was seated. We sat down 20 minutes after our arrival. The hostess is super sweet but what else do the have her doing, setting a table is not that complicated. 

Our waitress was quick to greet us and took our drink orders. Unlike other places the DDW menu only allowed you to choose from 2 entrees vs having selections for each course. Our "appetizer" was the skillet cornbread served in a tiny skillet pan, it was good but small - about the width and depth of a cookie. For entrees I got the pot roast and the bf got the pasta. My pot roast was good but a little small portion wise, the asparagus was good but the mashed potatoes just didn't work. The bfs pasta was very bland. For dessert we received a friend strawberry - just one - really, why bother? When we got our check, which was only half an hour after we sat down I was surprised to see they charge $3 for a soda. With tax and tip I spent $60 and instead of feeling like I got a deal I felt cheated - I would up looking up the menu and it turns out the bfs pasta is usually $15  and the pot roast $21 so DDW offers no discount ( quite frankly two tiny pieces of bread and two fried strawberries are worth no more than $4.26 - which is how much more the DDW prices combined were over the entree prices). On the ride home the bf and I discussed all the places we could have gone and had a better meal for half we spent. 

I'm not a cheap person but I do expect to enjoy something when I pay for it. I really was using DDW to check out places that needed to be added to my dining out list and this was not it. 

Chez Philppe 

Since tea had peaked our interest in dinner but we're not the type to spend $175 per person on a meal we decided to go during downtown dining week. Wow, what a night! The room was dimly lit and had candles on each table - there was enough lighting to see across the room but was dim enough to create a romantic tone, soft music was playing but I cannot recall specifically what typle of classical. Matt placed us in his section and was wonderful to us. Since we asked, he did share a few things as to how the DDW experience was different from the traditional dinner. Typically, they do not turn over a table during the night, you are the only one to sit there for the evening - no rushing. The 7 course meal takes 3 hours! For DDW we were still there for and hour and a half. Also, they typically only have 20 people a night, so don't be alarmed when you go and there are not a lot of people there.Not only was the food an amazing price but the wine list was deeply discounted - we were also told if the cork was pulled out slightly we could buy wine to take home - they must use DDW to clear our wine inventory as the seasons change. Our bottle was $19 and is ually $65 (retails for $25). It was very good, an excellent recommendation by Matt. Were we brought out amuse bouche (an appitizer served complimentary to prepare the guest for the meal and give a glimpse into the chef's culinary approach - so basically the food version of taking a sip of wine to try it before it it served) and then placed our orders. I had the salad which had a very light but sweet vinaigrette and the bf had the soup, he let me try a few spoonfuls and it was wonderful. For dinner I got a seafood croquette and he got the entrecote (steak) both were very good - we each like the other one's better but still liked what we had ordered. For dessert was a espresso opera cake and ice cream - yum! I also ordered coffee with was served in a silver french press and came with rock candy as the sugar - the french press had two cups worth so it is destined for sharing. With our check came two muffins to take home and enjoy the next morning, a sweet touch. we could have used valet parking but did not, our self parking was validated - which was good for 2 hours of parking time.

At no point in time did I ever feel treated like a 2nd class diner or that I was given subpar food although I understand that fancier ingredients are used during regular dinner. The experience was a great showcase as to what the dining experience is a Chez Philippe and was enough to convince me this is worthy of visiting for a special occasion.

For the regular menu a couple could get the 3 course meal and spend $207 with tax and tip, no wine or $452 for the 7 course menu with wine parings including tax and tip - quite the range of experiences.
 
Clearly, Chez Philippe takes the gold medal here, but considering it's not even close to the "regular" restaurants around town I think it would be fair to call that evening an exception luxurious value and Felicia Suzzanes the winner of the week. It may seem really unfair to judge a place on DDW but then again, that is the purpose. And quite frankly Memphis has to many great places. Other places downtown I didn't visist this year but always recommends are:
 
The Majestic Grille
Itta Bena
Rizzos Diner
Belle Diner
Aerpa and Sala
Monseiur Demacus
Paulettes
Texas De Brazil
Rendezvous
McEwen's
 
 . . . see, too many places to choose from to be giving out 2nd chances.

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