Grand Prix Fixe

The first prix fixe menu I ever loved was in France, in a little tiny bistro in a town called Bayeux. I had no idea what the neatly handwritten chalkboard menu said, but it was $14 euros and included an cup of earthy French cider and since I had exactly $14 euros and am very fond of cider, the chef and I shook on it. All sorts of beautiful things emerged from the kitchen and four glorious courses plus a few extra treats later, I was a prix fixe devotee. Slightly less common in America, the prix fixe menu is a firm friend to the frugal, indecisive, and trusting, and a stellar introduction to many of the city’s best restaurants. I can’t promise that these come with cider, but here are a few of my favorites around town.

Ava Gene’s

avagenesextsquareGaze into the mirrors suspended over this Division Street stunner’s open kitchen and see your future…meal, that is (along with a LOT of lightbulbs). The latest project from Stumptown sage Duane Sorenson, this upscale hotspot is dazzling discerning diners with chef Joshua McFadden’s sophisticated take on rustic New York-style Italian, like warm chicken livers with raisins and marsala, Delicata squash fritto, housemade ravioli, and pork osso bucco. Finish with a vanilla bean panna cotta in pine cone syrup, then sip one of the bar’s exquisite grappas as you plot your next visit. Prix fixe seekers–opt for the five-course chef’s tasting menu.

Beast

beastintsquareThe premiere prix fixe menu ’round these parts, Beast’s six outstanding courses are deftly prepared by chef Naomi Pomeroy and team in an open, intimate kitchen so close to your chair that you can feel the heat coming off the tomato and lobster bisque as it’s being ladled into bowls. While the six-course menu changes weekly, the charcuterie plate remains constant, and it feels like Christmas every time it’s brought to the long communal table, each piece of the assortment a little gift to your palate—particularly the foie gras bon bon and chicken liver mousse with candied bacon.  Can’t make it to dinner due to a debilitating case of nyctophobia? Try the four-course Sunday brunch.

Clarklewis

clarklewisSleek, sophisticated Clarklewis is a hidden oasis in the still slightly gritty industrial East waterfront district, so whenever you’re taking someone you don’t know all that well there, if they tend to be skittish, you might need to reassure them that you aren’t taking them to swim with the fishes. That said, nothing will put your companions at ease like the three-course Blue Plate Special–$14 for three courses like potato and roasted garlic soup, a fried farm egg sandwich, and the chocolate ale poundcake with butter toffee pecans. And come dinnertime, as long as the whole table joins in, you can sample the kitchen’s whims with the $55 chef’s family-style 4 course tasting menu.

Langbaan

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From pomelo to pennywort to pandanus noodles, secretish Langbaan—hidden behind a bookshelf in the back of Restaurant Row’s popular PaaDee—serves up course after course of unusual, authentic Thai palate pleasers for a very reasonable price ($45 for the basic tasting menu, $65 for the expanded version), under the motto, “Taste right, not just taste good.” And they don’t even laugh at you when you stand outside the secret door after dinner and repeatedly open and shut it like overexcited school kids, which is nice.

Le Pigeon

lepigeonfrontwindowIt’s fitting to celebrate your special occasion in one of Portland’s most celebrated restaurants, East Burnside’s intimate and popular contemporary French bistro Le Pigeon, but keep in mind you’ll be sharing your celebration and possibly a bite of your Beef Bourguignon with your communal tablemates. If you’re a “the more the merrier” type, you’ll have the time of your life. Although, come to think of it, if you really want to have the time of your life, opt for the seven-course chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings (five course available as well).

Mediterranean Exploration Company

mecpitaandshugEvery neighborhood needs a stylish supperish social hub, and MEC has the Pearl District covered—you’ll hear the buzz of conversation emanating off the open air window bar from blocks away. Inside is a lively hive of hip, well-dressed sorts sipping cocktails and sharing eclectic small plates like lamb tartare, Tunisian couscous with rose petal harissa, Oregon albacore with beet olive salsa, and cardamom ice cream affogato. Like its sister restaurant Toro Bravo, MEC will lead you by the fork through the long list of mezza via a chef’s choice tasting menu that’s well worth the $40, especially if you’ve already burnt out your decision-making abilities agonizing between the Spanish Diplomat and Retsina Spritz.

Ringside Steakhouse

ringsidePerhaps Portland’s most all-around popular steakhouse, the esteemed Ringside is stodgy enough to please the classic steakhouse afficionado and friendly enough to please anyone else who might happen in, even if they are wearing khaki shorts and a slightly sweaty lavender t-shirt. Start your swanky old school supper with the NW Oyster Medley–a half dozen oysters on the half shell with cucumber & ginger mignonette or a classic shrimp cocktail, get your greens with an iceberg wedge, then move onto the endless surf and turf possibilities. If you’re on a budget, but want to feel like a high roller, opt for the quite-affordable Supper Menu–your choice of soup or salad and an entree of surf ‘n turf, prime rib, pork chop, or jumbo prawns for $33.50. Finish up with Bananas Foster and another dirty martini, and then head out for a cigar and maybe some jazz. You’ll be in that kind of mood.

Roe

roesquareWith its exquisite 10-course chef’s tasting menus and supper club-meets-speakeasy feel, it’s no wonder that Trent Pierce’s 30-seat jewel box of a seafood restaurant—tucked into the back room of his buzzy upscale fish house Block & Tackle—is booked weeks in advance. Minimalist décor and infallibly gracious service complement the kitchen’s innovative eye candy—dishes like the confit butterfish in parsnip puree and black marlin sashimi with white soy ponzu and shaved matsutakes are part artwork, part delicious homage to the seas’ bounty.

Suzette

suzettebrunchsquareThey don’t come any more oh-lá-lá than this Belmont creperie, which produces some of the most thoughtfully-constructed savory and dessert crepes in town—I lust after the lemon butter-drenched, cider poached apples-topped Normandie. The prix-fixe weekend brunch menu (for those opposed to prix fixe confines, the full menu is served as well) is three courses—if you count a mimosa as a course, and I certainly do. As you watch your drink’s construction (perfectly proportioned at 7/8 champagne, 1/8 juice), you’re served a sweet, nutty housemade French almond teacake, followed by your choice of crepes–the prosciutto, Gruyére and caramelized onion, or roasted mushrooms, chevre, caramelized onion and mushroom cream sauce—both topped with a still-quivering fried egg and crème fraîche squiggle. Le sigh.

Toro Bravo

torobravoextIf you have yet to fulfill that lifelong dream of running with the bulls of Pamplona but you have a low fear threshold and a lean pocketbook, just go to spirited little Toro Bravo on North Russell Street  instead — it is as much zesty good fun as its “brave bull” moniker, and a lot less likely to gore you to death. The tapas menu can induce paralysis-by-indecision, because more than likely you’ll want to order each and every Spanish-inspired small plate on it–who can resist dishes like piping hot manchego and paprika fritters, radicchio Salad with green olive toast, braised lamb with apricots and coriander, oxtail croquettes dipped in spicy chili mayo, the infamous bacon and Manchego burger and impressive house Paella Toro? If trying to choose what to order is giving you croquette-sized hives, let the kitchen choose —the Chef’s Tasting Menu is a steal at $30 per person.