Hurry, hurry, Downtown Dining Week ends at the close of business this coming Sunday. If you don’t get a reservation as soon as possible, you may find yourself shut out.

The event – superbly organized by the Downtown Business Association – is the Boxing Day sale of our better downtown restaurants. Pre-set two-course lunches can be had for $15 per person, three-course dinners for $28, executive dinners for $45.

Rarely can you dine so well for so little. The last time I paid $15 for a lunch at most of these places was for a starter salad with water!

Downtown Dining Week is a public-relations exercise that helps fill these downtown restaurants during a slow time of the year.

In the tight margins of the food & beverage game, nobody makes money at these prices. But the exposure works, otherwise 33 (out of a possible 47 restaurants by my reckoning) would not participate – and most have come back for years and years.

There’s discernment at work here.

Within their own customer groups, this is an A-list of downtown eateries.

Most of the participating restaurants have had favourable reviews in this column and elsewhere.

Ten of the restaurants offered samples at Downtown Dining Week’s opening reception, hosted by Zinc in the Art Gallery of Alberta last week.

Some highlights: The short rib ravioli (with shaved truffle) from The Parlour, piri piri prawns from SABOR, home-smoked prosciutto by chef Alberto Alboreggia at Sorrentino’s Downtown, the steaks from Ruth’s Chris and Atlas, The Harvest Room/Confederation Lounge’s duck stew, the cheese and meat charcuterie from the charming Cavern.

Zinc’s ever inventive executive chef David Omar is offering stuffed, panko-breaded and deep-fried baloney, as intriguing a dish as I’ve ever heard of!

What’s surprising is the lack of uptake by other restaurant zones in the city – you’d think by now the 124th Street, Old Strathcona and 118 Avenue restaurant clusters would take note of the downtown’s marketing success and come up with something similar. (The Alberta Avenue Business Association offers occasional tours of 118 Avenue eateries, but only for small groups.)

Three cheers for Downtown Dining Week – allowing those with champagne tastes but beer budgets (i.e. most Edmontonians) to enjoy fine dining for at least one week of the year!

Downtown Dining Week’s participating restaurants

Allegro Italian Kitchen, Atlas Steak + Fish (Grand Villa Casino), Bellamy’s Lounge and La Ronde (Chateau Lacombe), Blue Plate Diner, Cavern, Central Social Hall, CHOP Steakhouse & Bar (Sutton Place Hotel), Cocoa’s (Delta Centre Suite Hotel),The Common, Confederation Lounge and The Harvest Room (Hotel Macdonald), CRASH Lobby Bar, De Dutch, The Free Press Bistro, Hardware Grill, The Hat Resto Pub, Hoang Long Casual Fare, Kelly’s Pub, Madison’s Grill (Union Bank Inn), The Marc, Normand’s Bistro (Citadel Theatre), The Parlour Italian Kitchen, RIZ Asian Kitchen, Rostizado, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, SABOR Restaurant, Select Restaurant, Share (Westin Hotel), Sofra, Sorrentino’s Downtown, TZiN Wine & Tapas, Wildflower Grill, ZINC Restaurant (Art Gallery of Alberta)

Food Notes

* Announced at the opening of Downtown Dining Week was the Chef Gail Fund to honour the memory of culinary leader and enthusiast Gail Hall, who passed away last November. Its primary focus is encouraging youth to become health-conscious cooks. Donations can be made through the Edmonton Community Foundation.

* Sponsoring Downtown Dining Week’s “Dine Out to Win” draw is the Chateau Lacombe, celebrating its 50th anniversary. La Ronde – the hotel’s revolving restaurant – is offering a “Retro Thursday” menu on Thursdays, with the likes of Steak Diane, escargots and Cherries Jubilee. The menu is six months old and demand keeps growing!

* Atlas Steak + Fish proved its class with a fine complimentary spread, including carved roast beef, for the Art of Conversation CXXVI on Feb. 28, the monthly gathering hosted by myself and Capital FM’s Rob Christie. Atlas Executive Chef Shelley Robinson’s Edmonton reputation is fast growing.

* The most popular food booth at the Chamber of Commerce’s Taste of The Chamber last week was Avila Arepa Urban Venezuelan Kitchen, soon to open at the 109 Street end of Whyte Avenue. Guests lined up for 20 minutes to sample Avila’s cornbread with spicy toppings.