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Center City Restaurant Week 2004 is upon us. As those of you who participated last year – or attempted to participate – may recall, the weather did not exactly cooperate. Restaurant Week 2003 coincided with the kind of weather that conjures up images of warm baths and thick socks, not dressing up for a night on the town. Heavy rains and chilly temperatures made keeping reservations impossible for some, disappointing both restaurateurs and would-be diners. This year, conditions have improved dramatically. Though hurricane season is in full swing in other parts of the world, it looks as though next week will be pleasant here in Philadelphia. The Weather Channel is predicting only a few showers sprinkled in between “Mostly Sunny” and “Partly Cloudy” conditions for most of the week, so there is no excuse not to take advantage of this culinary opportunity. For those unfamiliar with Restaurant Week, it is an annual, six-day event during which many of Philadelphia’s Center City restaurants offer three-course menus at a fixed price of $30 per person. Some restaurants create special set menus, while others simply allow patrons to select from their regular menu. The beauty of this citywide prix fixe is that it allows diners to expand their gastronomic horizons without expanding their wallets accordingly. While at some restaurants you would be hard-pressed to spend $30 per person any night of the year, at others, the price fix represents a true bargain. For many diners, it is simply an excuse to try someplace new. Participating restaurants attempt, more than ever, to make a good impression, hoping that new customers will spread the word – or better yet, return. The set-up is especially enticing to those of limited means, who might otherwise never set foot inside Brasserie Perrier or Toto. This year, 80 Center City restaurants are taking part, which is almost twice as many as last year. The official Web site of Restaurant Week features a complete list of the participating restaurants, which range from Audrey Claire and Bleu to McCormick & Schmick’s and Zanzibar Blue. Italian eateries appear most often on the list, including Ava, Bistro Romano, Sotto Varalli, Davio’s, chain Bucca di Beppo, La Famiglia, Spasso Italian Grill and Le Castagne. French flavors come in at a close second, with Caribou Caf�, Bleu, La Boheme and Loie among the saucy selections. Those longing to sink their teeth into a good burger or steak will want to try Black Sheep Pub, Friday Saturday Sunday, Twenty 21, Rouge or The Prime Rib. If you’re in the mood for Asian flare, try Susanna Foo, Roy’s or Genji II. There are, of course, old favorites like City Tavern, which is offering, among its five entr�e choices, a salmon crab cake, and veal and herb sausage. Il Portico, also offering five entr�e choices, is featuring gnocchi pomodoro and a chicken breast with Chianti and porcini mushrooms. Another option is to try one of the hotel restaurants like The Grill at the Ritz-Carlton, The Founders at the Bellevue Park Hyatt, Allie’s American Grill at the Marriot, Chez Colette at the Sofitel or Sole Food at Loews. If one of the old favorites seems tired to you, spice it up a little with a taste of Cuba, Africa or Mexico. Well-known stomping grounds of the trendy set such as Alma de Cuba and Cuba Libre are on the list, which is rounded out by Cibucan, Pasion!, Mixto, Tangerine, Bluezette and El Vez. As far as what kind of food to expect, it depends on where you go. Many restaurants choose to keep it basic for Restaurant Week, sticking to standards like a choice between roasted chicken, some kind of red meat and a fish selection. Some eateries make it even easier on their kitchen staff, allowing patrons to select any appetizer, entr�e and dessert from their usual menu for the $30-per-person price. The Plough and the Stars, Cibucan, Philadelphia Fish & Co., Dolce, Bistro St. Tropez and Bellini Grill are among those who are sticking to their regular selections. Several of the city’s newest restaurants are appearing on the list for the first time. Patou, the sister restaurant of Bistro St. Tropez, is among those making their Restaurant Week debut. Matyson, a New American eatery, joins that group, along with Stephen Starr newbies El Vez and Washington Square. Patou and Matyson are letting guests select from their set menu, while the Starr restaurants have special selections, which include pan-seared Atlantic salmon and orange vanilla flan for El Vez, and steak frites and black currant sorbet at Washington Square. If you head to the official Web site of Restaurant Week, you’ll see that sponsors – among them publications like Philadelphia Weekly and the Courier Post, Lincoln Mercury, and Vox Vodka – have made it almost impossible to find an excuse not to take advantage of such opportunity. Patrons during Restaurant Week will receive discounted parking and the chance to win gift certificates to other city restaurants. A full list of participating parking facilities is even included on the Web site, along with links to the offered menus from each restaurant. Many of them also allow you to make reservations online using OpenTable.com. So before the weather turns truly frightful, venture out for Restaurant Week. Whether you try someplace new or revisit an old haunt for a bargain price, get out, enjoy the city and make your reservations soon. Because this deal will soon disappear with the first frost.

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