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Downtown Dine O’ Rama

New event offers a taste of 33 eateries in S.L.

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You've driven past that certain restaurant, seen its ads, read the reviews. You're curious but hesitate to go. What if it's too pricey? What if you don't like it?

When finding time to go out, hiring a sitter for the kids, the cost of a meal with a tip, it seems "safer" to pick a tried-and-true restaurant that you know you'll enjoy.

For 10 days beginning this weekend, downtown Salt Lake restaurants are taking some of the risk from trying a new place. In the city's first Dine O' Round, 33 restaurants are cutting their dinner prices, offering special three-course dinners for $25. (You'll still have to pay extra for drinks, tax and tip.) Some of the lower-priced restaurants are offering dinners-for-two for $25. All of the restaurants will still offer their regular menus in addition to the special, so it's a good chance to browse through the menu and see what else you're missing.

There are no strings attached — no buy-one, get-one free deals with loopholes. No punch-cards or coupons that make you feel cheap. Just ask for the Dine O' Round special. As a sweet finale, all diners can enter a prize drawing for a dinner-for-two from each restaurant.

"We wanted to make it a celebration of downtown, so not only would people want to revisit their favorite restaurants, but also want to try new places," said Karen Olson, who is spearheading the event.

The idea is modeled after similar annual events in other cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Denver and Miami.

"After hearing about the enthusiasm and the solidarity that has occurred in other cities who have had a restaurant week, I started making some phone calls to chefs in Seattle, Miami and Denver about how theirs worked," Olson said. "It raises the spirits of the restaurants and the community, and year after year, it grows two-fold. Now Miami has extended theirs to six weeks, and New York City now does theirs twice a year."

She approached the Downtown Alliance, and with that support, invited restaurateurs to a brainstorming session.

"We wanted to find a time to hold it when it was still warm enough to walk around the city, and so the restaurants who have invested in outdoor dining could take advantage of it," Olson said. "We wanted to allow two weekends, but we didn't want to make it too long or too short."

Most cities simply call their event "Restaurant Week," but the Salt Lake group wanted a catchier name, so the term "Downtown Dine O' Round" was born. Each eatery will sport a Dine O' Round banner over its doors. Sponsors such as Muir Copper Canyon Farms, Squatters Brewery, Fetzer Vineyards, Broadway in Utah and KUTV 2 also signed on.

How did the group settle on $25? (In Philadelphia, it's $30; in New York City, it's $30.03) "That was a big conversation," said Olson. "We wanted to find an amount that would be considered a value in Salt Lake City but that the restaurants could do."

For instance, the three-course offering from her restaurant, the Metropolitan, would cost $45 if ordered separately on the regular menu. For the first course, diners can choose between Tomato Rum Bisque or Ragout of Wild Mushrooms with Pecorino Cheese. The second course is a choice of New Zealand Sea Trout with Arugula & Heirloom Tomatoes, Idaho Pork Tenderloin with Fingerling Potatoes and Spinach, or Beef Hanger Steak with Blue Cheese Butter and Lemon Thyme Mashed Potatoes. For dessert, it's either Apple Crisp with Ginger Ice Cream and Chocolate Ganache, or Chocolate Mousse with Oven-Roasted Bananas and Macadamia Nut Brittle.

The Oasis Cafe's $25 dinner for two is half-price from the regular menu, said owner Joel LaSalle. The choice of entrees includes Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Chicken, Baked Vegetable Spring Rolls, and Portobello Mushroom-

Stuffed Ravioli. When asked if the restaurant can afford to give that kind of a deal, he said, "It's an investment that we are making in the community. We believe that once they come in and try our fabulous food, they will be back."

The Italian chain Buca Di Beppo is also offering a dinner for two for $25: a choice of four different salads, six different entrees (Chicken with Lemon, Chicken Marsala, Eggplant Parmigiana, Shrimp Parmigiana, Pork Chops Siciliano or Chicken Parmigiana), and three kinds of pasta.

"As is our style, it's lots of food and fun," said Buca's managing partner Don Leader. "I'm excited to see all the involvement from the variety of restaurants in this event."

For new businesses, it's a chance to let diners know you exist. Brandon Howard, chef and partner of Panini, said the restaurant opened two months ahead of time to take part in the Dine O' Round event.

"People don't know we're here yet," he said of the eatery on the second floor of the Wells Fargo Building. "We were planning to open in October, but we pushed it to August so we'd be fully prepared for this promotion."

Panini is offering an appetizer (crab cakes or salmon bruschetta) soup or salad, any entree and any dessert on the menu, for $25. Normally, this could run you between $30-$38.

"This is a chance to show people there is a life downtown and to focus on the positive things going on here," he said. "There are so many quality restaurants in this area, but they can only exist when the sales volume is there. I think this will become an annual event that will be very exciting for this city for a long time to come."

Restaurants featuring a three-course meal for $25:

Absolute! 52 W. 200 South

359-0899 or www.absolute.citysearch.com

Baci Trattoria, 134 Pierpont Ave.

328-1500 or www.gastronomyinc.com

Bambara, 202 S. Main

363-5454 or bambara-slc.com

Caffe Molise, 55 W. 100 South

364-8833 or www.caffemolise.com

Christopher's Seafood & Steak, 110 W. Broadway (300 South)


Dijon Provencale Bistro, 54 W. 200 South

359-0899 or www.restaurant.com/dijon

Elevations, 75 S. West Temple


Lamb's Grill Cafe, 169 S. Main


Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine, 327 W. 200 South


Market Street Grill, 48 W. Market Street

322-4668 or www.gastronomyinc.com

Market Street Oyster Bar, 54 Market Street

531-6044 or www.gastronomyinc.com

Martine, 22 E. 100 South


McGrath's Fish House,190 S. 400 West

456-7890 or www.mcgrathsfishhouse.com

The Melting Pot, 340 S. Main Street

521-6358 or www.meltingpot.com

Metropolitan, 173 W. Broadway (300 South)

364-3472 or www.themetropolitan.com

Mikado, 67 West 100 South


The New Yorker, 60 W. Market Street

363-0166 or www.gastronomyinc.com

Olio Ristorante, 150 W. 500 South


Panini, 299 S. Main, Suite 250

535-4300 or www.panini.us

Piastra, 220 South State

366-8065 or www.marriott.com/slccc

Shula's Steakhouse, 215 W. Temple

521-7800 or www.donshula.com

Stoneground, 249 E. 400 South


Third and Main Bar & Grill

280 S. Main Street


Trofi, 255 S. West Temple


Restaurants featuring two three-course meals for $25:

Buca di Beppo, 202 W. 300 South

575-6262 or www.bucadibeppo.com

Cafe Pierpont, 122 Pierpont Ave.

364-1222 or www.gastronomyinc.com

Cedars of Lebanon,152 E. 200 South


Oasis Cafe, 151 S. 500 East


Red Rock Brewing Co.,254 S. 200 West

521-7446 or www.redrockbrewing.com

Samba Grill, 162 S. 400 West (The Gateway)

456-2200 or www.samba-grill.com

Squatters Pub Brewery

147 West Broadway (300 South)

363-2739 or www.squatters.com

Thaifoon, Taste of Asia, 7 N. 400 West

456-8424 or www.thaifoon.com

Xiao Li, 307 W. 200 South


Editor's note: Restaurants' reservations policies vary; call to find out if they're required, strongly advised or not necessary.

E-MAIL: vphillips@desnews.com