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Restaurant week fast approaching

The fifth annual San Diego Restaurant Week kicks off Jan. 11, giving San Diegans a chance to sample a fixed-price, three-course meal at more than 140 area restaurants. The six-day event, which concludes Jan. 16, has earned the city the unofficial title of Restaurant Week Central for the southwestern U.S.

“I’ve been trying to put together an event for San Diego for over a dozen years,” said event organizer Ingrid Croce, owner of Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar in the Gaslamp Quarter. “It was our hope … to be able to bring our city up to the level of recognition as a dining destination.”

Having just returned from Hawaii where Croce shared her expertise with island restaurateurs, she said San Diego’s success is culling interest from other U.S. and European cities wanting to develop similar culinary experiences.

While local patrons are encouraged to take advantage of Restaurant Week offerings, part of the event’s purpose is to draw visitors.

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“We try to build (Restaurant Week) around a time when it isn’t too busy within the city,” Croce said. “We try to encourage people to come and stay at hotels and make a week of it.”

Last year more than 250,000 dinners were served during Restaurant Week. Croce expects that number to climb this year, especially when diners learn the fixed-price menus have been expanded to include a $20 option.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Croce, referencing the money crunch many are feeling. “Even in this economy, when people are questioning if they should go out or not, they should treat themselves to Restaurant Week. It’s a week-long chance for diners to experience what San Diego has to offer.”

Restaurants are encouraged to create a three-course meal from dishes already on the menu at a price point that reflects a 20 percent discount.

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Given the fact that the number of participating restaurants has doubled since year one, this strategy seems to be working for both proprietors and diners.

Lisa Redwine, general manager at The Shores, said Restaurant Week gives them a chance to showcase recent changes to the wine collection while marketing one of the area’s most affordable, family-friendly, ocean-front eateries.

The $30 menu will include “neighborhood comfort food,” Redwine said. “What you see on our Restaurant Week menu is what we have on our regular menu.”

Jai by Wolfgang Puck at the La Jolla Playhouse, which opened in August, is also planning to participate in the event in hopes of introducing their contemporary Asian menu to a wider audience. Each item on the three-course, $40 menu was chosen to showcase the layering of flavors and complex composition of chefs Wolfgang Puck and Yoshi Kojima.

Organized by the California Restaurant Association in partnership with the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau and San Diego Magazine, Restaurant Week will be held twice in 2009: Jan. 11-16 and Sept. 13-18. For more information visit

sandiegorestaurantweek.com

.