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.

Artigiano

artigianopastaBypass the Italy trip and head to this marinara-hued Division Street cart instead–for about $4,980 less you’ll get comparably divine pastas, like the handmade fettucine tossed with heirloom tomatoes, garlic and basil, and Yukon Gold gnocchi with sage-brown butter sauce and hazelnuts. During happy hour, you can graze a selection of simple small plates, and if you trust chef Rachael Grossman (and you should), give the prix fixe family-style chef’s choice feast a try. Beer and wine are served, and since a bottle of Sangiovese or Pinot Grigio will only set you back $18, might as well get one of each, and a slice of the rich dark chocolate torte with homemade caramel sauce too, you can afford it now that you’ve binned your Christmas in Venice plans in favor of eating here every night.

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.

Biwa

biwamealmelangeLow lights that disguise even the most bloodshot of eyes, the buzz of animated conversation that disguises your slurred speech, the restorative bowls of ramen and the sour wake-up call of kimchi–if only every evening could end at sleek, tasty, friendly little Biwa, the lower Southeast’s sunken late-night izakaya gem. Oh wait, since Biwa is open until midnight daily, you can end every evening there! As an added perk, happy hour falls twice daily, early and late, with discounted skewers, ramen, beer, sake and other afterhours deliciousness. And if you’re looking for an inexpensive adventure (aren’t we all), opt for the $35 chef’s tasting menu…oh my omakase!

Bluehour

bluehourdiningroomThe Pearl District’s reigning trendy spendy fiefdom isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of dining values, but the nightly prix fixe dinner menu is an excellent way to breathe the same truffle-oil scented air as the beautiful people, with a three-course lineup that might include a warm haricots verts salad with crème fraîche and caviar, roasted duck breast with baby fennel, and a decadent Cordillera chocolate torte with buttered popcorn ice cream. The price tag? Just $39 per person, so you won’t even feel the least bit guilty ordering the $18 glass of Veuve Clicquot. Or maybe just the $8 glass of “Bluehour Bubbles.”

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.

Din Din

dindintableYou never know exactly what to expect from chef Courtney Sproule’s fantastical weekend supper club adventures, which is of course, part of their considerable charm. Perhaps the proceedings will begin with sparkling Vouvray, deep-fried mussels and mingling, until everyone is ushered to whimsically-decorated communal tables, where savory madelines with speck, peaches and brandied cherry tomatoes magically appear, followed by gooseberry sorbet and lamb tartare with currant and dried fennel. Once upon a time, Din Din venues varied with the menu, until Courtney found a permanent home for her moveable feast, a small, exquisite space hidden in the depths of the inner Northeast industrial district, where she also serves a light breakfast and lunch “Fee Fee” menu on weekdays, as well as a decadent Sunday brunch.

Langbaan

langbaancollage

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.

Park Kitchen

parkkitchensquareThis beloved North Park Blocks restaurant has a prix fixe menu that will get you so excited, you’ll forget all about that bocce ball injury you sustained before dinner in the city court across the street. The nightly prix fixe is chef’s choice, so the kitchen holds your dinner reigns, and the whole table has to participate, which works to your advantage–because each dish served is different, and all are prepared in Park Kitchen’s imitably delicious seasonal and local-centric manner. If you’d prefer to graze small plates only, dinner is $45. If you want to venture into large plates territory, it’s $55. So simple, so delicious.

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.

Simpatica Dining Hall

simpaticainteriorsepiasquareEvery Friday and Saturday evening, this basement supper hall hosts unforgettable communal prix fixe dinners brilliantly showcasing Pacific Northwest cuisine, much to the delight of those able to secure a reservation. The four-course menu reads like exactly the sort of gourmet lineup you’d rustle up with all beautiful food you bought at the farmers’ market, if only you’d gone to culinary school instead of journalism/medical/cosmetology school–delicacies like minted pea soup, roasted mushroom, burrata and tomato salad, fennel-crusted Oregon albacore, and huckleberry pot de creme, all for the bargain price of $32-$39, which comes with a free side of mandatory socialization.

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.

Tabla

tablainteriorsquareTabla has one of the most well-known and best-loved prix fixe menus in the city, perhaps because it doesn’t confine you to the chef’s choice but lets you roam the entire menu to assemble your perfect supper. For $30, you choose one appetizer, pasta, and entree from each section, creating a customized menu that might include peach and spinach salad with tarragon mousse, strozzapreti with prosciutto and English peas, and sweet corn risotto one night, and panzanella salad, semolina spaghetti with bolognese, and duck confit with farro and Lacinato kale the next. Dessert is extra, but the Steve Jones-curated cheese plate is worth it.

Taste Unique

tasteuniqueextAs a general rule, Italians love food and plenty of company to eat it with, so it’s fitting that Taste Unique chef Stefania Toscano throws big festive weekly dinner parties at her Division Street deli and kitchen. The prix-fixe, multi-course suppers are faithful to a theme–a Florentine Dinner might include a history lesson about Caterina dè Medicia’s role in establishing France’s modern food movement, while a culinary revisitation of Stefania’s first trip to Sicily features tomato and Pecorino-stuffed ‘Nfigghiulata (say that three times fast in your best Italian accent), a traditional caponata, eggplant parmigiana and pistachio-covered cannoli Siciliani. With a $35 price tag and wine just $6 a glass, these dinners are a great time and a real steal.

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.