Dine About Town, SF's answer to Restaurant Week, kicked off this week (it runs through January 31), and as usual, offerings are mixed. Though the $18.95 two-course lunches and $36.95 three-course dinners are designed to draw diners to spots they might not otherwise try, many restaurants use DAT as an excuse to push tired product and even make some extra bucks, in a few sneaky cases. Others rise to the occasion with solid deals and special offerings. Who's bringing the heat this year, and who's coasting? We crunched restaurants' regular offerings and their DAT menus to bring you four restaurants that are trying to shine—and four that have pretty much just given up.
Dosa on Fillmore: First of all, major snaps to Dosa for making all three courses of their DAT menu savory, instead of filling in one course with a cheaper sweet. The lineup is pretty nice, too, with options like scallops with fried lotus root, a white truffle masala dosa, and a choice of prawn masala or lamb curry, and the vegetarian options are strong (as is to be expected from an Indian restaurant). If you order correctly, you'll actually save a fair bit of cash; the most expensive combo here would cost $47.50 on the regular menu. Put the extra $10 towards one of those tasty cocktails.
Sociale: Most restaurants execute one of two strategies with DAT: throw a few regular menu items on the list and call it a day, or create a single dumbed-down menu with no options that's blandly appealing to as many people as possible. So we were pleased to see that many of the options on Tia Harrison's menu are sui generis, from the seared scallop appetizer to the pork sugo gemelli, grilled flank steak, and arctic char entrees. She even came up with a new profiterole dessert (with delicious-sounding Knob Creek butter pecan gelato), and the general price trend seems to be towards "deal," not "wash." This is what DAT is all about, people.
Nombe: This Mission Japanese has undergone a lot of chef changes, but they've had a general emphasis on value that translates to DAT. Their seven-course kaiseki menu is normally $44, so the discount is middling, but the food is an upgrade over the kaiseki offering on their website, with dishes like sashimi, chawanmushi, salmon, walu, bone marrow, a mini-ramen, and chocolate souffle. For an extra $25, they'll pair every course with wine, beer, and sake.
Rosa Mexicano: Chains have deep pockets, and the new Mexican spot in the FiDi is putting theirs towards bringing their prices down to earth for DAT. Ordering the most expensive options on the DAT menu (the much-vaunted tableside guacamole en molcajete, the shrimp brochettes, and espresso flan or cheesecake for dessert) would normally run you $50, so the $38 deal is a good chance to try out Rosa at a more realistic price point—good news, considering cost was the #1 complaint about the place in our Early Word roundup.
The Brixton: Though everyone should generally be leery of any restaurant that bills itself as a "rock 'n roll bistro and bar," the Brixton has actually managed to turn DAT into a money-losing proposition. The lunch menu of a cup of clam chowder or chicken-noodle soup and a French dip or open-faced tuna melt adds up to $16 for the tuna or $17 for the dip on the regular menu, $2 less than the $18.95 deal. (Plus, you're eating chicken soup and a tuna melt.) The same goes for dinner, where even the most expensive combo—a little gems Caesar salad, Niman Ranch pork chop, and brownie pretzel sundae—adds up to $34, $3 less than the $36.95 quoted price. It's even worse if you order the squash rotini as your main instead; you'll pay $37 for a meal that would normally cost $30.
Maverick: Comfort-food fanatics should dig Maverick's lineup of salad, fried chicken, and milk & cookies, but we're a bit bummed that the restaurant didn't take this opportunity to broaden anyone's horizons beyond the fried bird they're already (justly) famous for. Chef Emmanuel Eng has been racking up strong notices for his reinvention of Maverick's menu, but you wouldn't know it by eating the restaurant's DAT fare. And considering the same trio of dishes would only cost you $3 more a la carte, it might be preferable to skip the DAT lineup altogether.
Le Charm French Bistro: Le Charm is offering more or less the same stuff you'll find on their everyday $35 prix-fixe menu, like escargot, seared salmon, and tarte Tatin. There's probably no need to pay $2 more for the privilege.
LarkCreekSteak: The Lark Creek restaurant group (which also owns One Market and Cupola Pizzeria, not to mention a bajillion restaurants outside of SF) usually does a pretty good job with promotions; One Market's DAT menu this year is respectable. But whoever decided to repackage the $35 prix-fixe of a Caesar salad, pot roast, and dessert and charge $2 extra isn't thinking straight—or else they're just assuming everyone will upgrade to the special $44 "uptown" DAT combo of a beet salad, 8 oz. filet mignon, and dessert, which is something of a discount from the $49 that trio usually goes for (although it subs a 10 oz. New York strip for the filet).
Had a great DAT experience, or one that made you question the whole enterprise? We await your tips in the comments or over the wire.