TRAVERSE CITY — Foodies have some hair splitting to do when it comes to choosing which fine local eatery to patronize.
There is European food at Amical or small plates at Fire Fly or sustainable cuisine at The Cook's House. But few food lovers have a pocket book — or belt — big enough to hit them all in the same week.
Then there's the fourth annual Traverse City Restaurant Week and the 34 eateries who've signed on to offer a special three-course menu to diners for $25 per person during the seven-day festival of food. The week-long event begins Sunday and gives restaurants a shot in the arm during one of the slowest parts of the year.
And it gives customers a chance to eat at some of Traverse City's most exclusive eateries on a tab that compares best to your local franchise of the national value bistro.
Chef Guillaume Hazaël-Massieux says he can plan to fill the 70 seats in the dining room at his restaurant, Bistro FouFou. And he will probably also fill the 30 seats in the eatery's lounge.
"I think it's a very smart concept," he said sitting in the quiet front section of his lounge during a break from preparing for a dinner service. "It can be a pretty depressing time of year. Resturant week went nuts (last year). It was a zoo."
The prix fixe menus — most of them featuring a few selections in each of three courses — give restaurateurs a chance to offer a limited but inventive selection to customers.
Hazaël-Massieux says it's a chance to get people to try some foods they might not have otherwise ordered. It gives the veteran French chef a chance to change perceptions.
His menu will feature staples from his regular menu, like a beet salad, to salted cod gnocchi with mushrooms. Salted cod might not be the most popular dish on most menus, but there is no reason people shouldn't try it, Hazaël-Massieux said.
"It's perception," he said. "I can sell salted cod all night. I say 'what do you mean you don't like salted cod?'"
Trying different things is a theme Chef Chris Love wants to encourage. Love, who directs the kitchen at 7 Monks Taproom, says the taproom's menu will feature things most people wouldn't expect.
He too encourages diners to try something they might not otherwise order while eating out. His menu will feature tuna gravlax — salt-cured yellow tail tuna — in addition to a grilled bistro fillet and prawns.
"Rarely do we do a three-course special like this," said the gastropub's general manager Jason Kasdorf. "I think it gives us a chance to expand on the beer dinner we have throughout the year."
And Restaurant Week gives foodies a chance to try the dish less traveled without the risk to their pocketbook.
Basically diners will get an appetizer and a desert, a value of about $15, for free, Hazaël-Massieux said.
That's not to say any restaurant will cut corners during Restaurant Week, either. Any of the dishes offered at Bistro FouFou could be placed on it's regular menu during an ordinary week, he added.
"Do you really want people to leave the place hungry?" Hazaël-Massieux said. "It's hard to get them in and it's always easy to lose them."
People who want to take a seat in one of the restaurants during the week should call ahead for reservations. Many began taking appointments weeks ago and availability has begun to dwindle.