Boxes of different foods are stacked up almost to the top of the freezer. There are four large 12-by-20-inch pans stacked on top. They are layered with three to four sets of freshly made coconut shrimp from the kitchen, left to freeze in bulk for the impending weekend rush.
The coconut shrimp, among many other new items, will be available to customers on the new menu at the River House in downtown Portsmouth for Spring 2019’s Restaurant Week. The event began on March 28 and runs through April 6, and involves over 40 restaurants on the Seacoast. During the 10 day “Restaurant Week,” participating establishments offer selective three-course meals for discounted prices. For those restaurants, the event provides an opportunity to generate more business and make new dishes, but also give customers the chance to eat at places they might not normally visit.
The River House is offering lots of new options for customers, such as pork belly and coconut shrimp appetizers, as well as grilled New York sirloin and barbeque ribs. Sous-chef Mike Borque has been at The River House for around eight to nine restaurant weeks now, and he said that Restaurant Week allows establishments to offer more affordable food so customers can come in, pay less than they would have and, “hopefully come back and give us their money again.” Even as a long time Portsmouth resident and long-time member of the restaurant community, Borque, said, “Maybe I’ll actually go out to restaurant week,” when talking about the different restaurants he could try with good deals.
Kitchen Manager Daud Sillueta said, “If you want to go on a date with your girlfriend, take her to Massimo on Restaurant Week,” because you can get a high-end dinner for a lower price.
Ristorante Massimo offers a “formal dining experience,” according to their website, but during Restaurant Week, it won’t solely be catering to a fancy crowd.
Conner Welch, a cook at Massimo, said he expects more people and bigger crowds during Restaurant Week. He said it’ll be more consistently busy at Massimo throughout the week with lots of people that don’t usually eat there. He said there is more kitchen prep, but the dishes aren’t any harder to make. Ristorante Massimo is offering new options like swordfish, which is cheaper for the kitchen to get than usual options according to Welch; but it will sell even more because it’s different from their usual options. While the “Salmone di Re,” or pan-seared salmon, is a $30 dish at Massimo normally, customers can enjoy a three-course meal for the same price during Restaurant Week.
This offer is available at all of the restaurants participating in the event. Customers can enjoy a three-course meal at lunch for $16.50, and at dinner for $30. With these deals available, general manager of The River House, Justin Rivlin, said Restaurant Week lets restaurants take a more creative approach to their menus. He said they still need to cover costs because they are offering the cheaper deal, but restaurants might use a discounted food, which they buy in bulk, to do so. For example, their kitchen got a good deal on the ribeye being offered due to their bulk purchase for Restaurant Week, he said.
For the River House, Rivlin said customer influx is moderate because customers generally fall into the middle class, and people tend to use Restaurant Week to take advantage of the cheaper prices at fancier restaurants. That didn’t stop the River House from filling up Saturday night; yellow tickets lined the board and the restaurant had a consistent 35-minute wait. The downstairs bar was packed with people chattering nonstop at an unusually high volume. It was so crowded with business that a family of three with a baby (that chose to remain anonymous) asked to move from their seats to a quieter spot on the balcony.
Miranda Dow, a server at Wentworth by the Sea in Newcastle, said Sunday night was busier than usual. Being a UNH student herself, Dow said she would encourage students to take the opportunity restaurant week offers and “explore the delicious and beautiful restaurants Portsmouth has to offer.”
There is one restaurant in Durham that participates in Restaurant Week, but according to restaurant manager of three years Katie MacManes of the Three Chimneys Inn, there doesn’t seem to be an increased number of college students coming into the restaurant. Despite this, MacManes said they are busier during Restaurant Week, and it is “definitely a time where you want to make a reservation.” Rather than college students, MacManes said more parents eat at the Inn during Restaurant Week. She said it gives them incentive to come to Durham to see their kids, as well as attracting people from neighboring towns like Exeter and Portsmouth who want to try something new.
In addition to the restaurant deals, several locations in Portsmouth are offering lodging discounts to encourage new people to stay and try the food. The Port Inn Portsmouth is offering 10 percent off their overnight rates, while The Hotel Portsmouth is offering 15 percent off; but Restaurant Week isn’t solely attracting visitors.
The “Go Portsmouth NH” website sums up Restaurant Week nicely when it states that the Seacoast restaurants participating are “inviting you to enjoy great meal values during lunch and dinner over these 10 days.”