Most restaurant weeks work on a pretty simple pay-for-play basis. Not Italian Restaurant Week. Its existence owes to the Extraordinary Italian Taste campaign, an effort backed by both Italian government agencies and North American associations, such as Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas, to promote certified Italian food products. The campaign donated ingredients including artisan cheeses, balsamic vinegar and prosciutto di Parma, to name a few.
With a limited amount of product with which to work, the IACC chose eight Houston restaurants (four in Austin are participating as well) already working with the chamber to take part in the first Italian Restaurant Week from November 14 through 20. A portion of proceeds from every meal will be donated toward earthquake relief in Italy, more necessary now than ever after this week's latest spate of natural disasters.
Sherri Segari, culinary director at event organizer Food & Vine Time Productions, was tasked with pulling together the restaurants. "It's really a campaign to educate how to identify Italian products," she explains. Therefore, the participating restaurants weren't asked to adhere to a set menu style. Some will offer prix-fixe meals, while others will serve à la carte dishes utilizing the ingredients provided. Likewise, each restaurant was allowed to choose how much it would donate to earthquake help, as long as it was at least five percent of the price of dishes sold.
Some are going above and beyond. Segari lauds Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar for giving $5 to charity for each $35 four-course prix-fixe. Mascalzone Ristorante Italiano is also serving four courses for $35, though with only one choice per course. That shouldn't matter with appealing dishes like prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with Grana Padano shavings and balsamic pearls or risotto with pears and Pecorino Romano. Damian's Cucina Italiana is also serving a set menu at a steeper three courses for $45 rate, but that includes high-cost choices such as filet mignon Marsala.
Other participating restaurants are sharing the Italian ingredients by the dish. At Arcodoro, for example, Gasparotto rice is prepared in two applications, each to highlight a featured ingredient. One pairs scampi and saffron broth with Cerignola olives. Another, local beets and Parmigiano-Reggiano fonduta. Others will let the Italian foods stand on their own, such as a simple plate of Bora prosciutto with melon and Modena balsamic at Quattro. But whichever restaurant you choose, there's no better excuse for dining out on luxury ingredients than a good cause.