Dining Out: Dine Downtown Restaurant Week

I grew up in a town that looks like Sacramento in many ways. Columbia, S.C., is also a state capitol at the meeting of two rivers, a college town with steamy summers and an urban grid featuring numerous old buildings surrounded by a sprawling metro area of several hundred thousand, perched within 90 miles of a much larger megalopolis (in this case, Charlotte, N.C.).

But there was one big difference. Downtown Columbia was, and largely still is, completely dead on evenings and weekends. Desolate, kaput, a place where you could imagine tumbleweeds blowing past the occasional homeless person. Simply put, somewhere you just didn’t go.

Which is part of why I found Sacramento so refreshing. Downtown Sac on weekend evenings is alive with art galleries, movie theaters and lots and lots of restaurants.

Continuing this tradition is the idea behind the annual Dine Downtown Restaurant Week event. The fifth annual event is taking place from Jan. 8 through 17. Over this 10-day period, 35 different downtown area restaurants will be offering three-course prix fix showcase meals for $30 a person. The lineup includes longtime familiar spots like Mulvaney’s and Frank Fat’s to newer entries like Sapporo Grill and 3 Fires Lounge.

“It’s a good way to try out a restaurant,” said Jennifer Snyder, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento Downtown Partnership, which is sponsoring the event. “There are places I’ve never been before because they’re bit on the ‘spendy’ side.”

Dine Downtown happened the first time in October 2005 with 21 restaurants. The event skipped 2006, in order to move it’s timing from the fall to January, which is usually a slow time in the restaurant industry.

“January is the right time,” Snyder said. “It’s after New Year’s but before Valentine’s Day. It’s just kind of a dead time of year. Usually we try to do it near a Second Saturday, that helps restaurants as well.”

Over time, the event was stretched out from a week to this year’s 10 days, allowing it to cover two weekends—including the first Second Saturday art gallery walk of the new year.

The event dropped down to only 17 restaurants in 2007—some of the participants went out of business—but has grown double since. It logged 23 spots in 2008 and 25 last year.

So what should you expect? It depends on where you go. But each one will be trying to impress you in an increasingly competitive restaurant market.

“They come up with what they think will be the best way to show off,” Snyder said.

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