Colleen Rush, a Chicago magazine writer, just has published a helpful manual to give people more confidence when they eat out, "The Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining" (Broadway Books, $12.95, 205 pages).
Because of an increase in the number of local restaurants offering several courses for a fixed price, variously called chef’s tasting menu, table d’hôte or prix fixe, I first wanted to see what advice she gives diners considering this option. Most of it is sound, but she urges patrons not to order a prix-fixe dinner unless everyone in the party also plans to request the same meal. "Restaurants require the entire party to join in to keep the timing of the courses in sync," she writes. Maybe in Chicago, but not here, unless you are eating at The Supper Club or The Kitchen, where their format is based on serving the same set meal to everyone.
I checked with three other restaurants now offering prix-fixe menus, and each said they'd prepare the dinner for just one person in a party. If you are interested in further exploring this increasingly popular option, here are the three:
The Firehouse, 1112 Second St., Old Sacramento; (916) 442-4772: Four courses, with choices in each course except dessert, which is a chocolate zabaglione torte, $65. With a three-ounce pour of wine with each course, $95.
Mason's, 1116 15th St., Sacramento; (916) 492-1960: Executive chef Philip Wang just is introducing three types of fixed-price menu. Already available is a five-course meal with each course set by the kitchen, $60; a wine option with the meal costs an additional $25. Next week he is to introduce a fixed three-course "pre-theater prix fixe" menu for $25 per person, with no wine option other than the usual list. Also on tap is the "chef's grand tasting" whereby a customer tells the kitchen "just cook for me," setting the number of courses he'd like, whether vegetarianism or dietary restrictions should be considered, and so forth; the price will depend on such factors as the number of courses and the ingredients that chef and customer agree on.
Masque Ristorante, 3909 Park Drive, El Dorado Hills; (916) 933-8555: Five courses, all at the discretion of the chef and pastry chef, $49. With a three-ounce pour of wine with each course, $80.
The advantage of such a menu is that it eliminates or reduces the debate about what to order while providing a representative sampling of the chef’s style.
Keep in mind that portions with a prix-fixe menu generally are smaller than if the same dish were ordered a la carte.