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Downtown Restaurant Week is so yummy, you'll want to dine out six nights in a row

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Choices, like small children and vodka martinis, are sublime when you have only two. George Bush or John Kerry? That's democracy. How to keep your kids from killing each other -- and your martini buzz -- on a steamy summer Saturday afternoon: the zoo for babbling Billy, the library for precocious Patty or anywhere you're not for sulking Sarah? That's a migraine.

Throughout history, however -- or at least since the first sous chef ditched the original restaurant to open his own place across the street -- no choice has led to more frustration and second-guessing than "Where should we eat tonight?" Worse still, following the gastronomic renaissance in America in recent decades, this question is no longer a mere matter of preference but an Inquisition-level interrogation of the soul. Do you believe in small plates or a traditional meat-starch-and-vegetable entrée? Ethnic or fusion? Do you order your main course at the same time as your appetizers, or after your first course has arrived? Do you eat a pasta dish so you can splurge on a good bottle of wine, or do you drink the house plonk with your filet mignon?

No wonder we hungry St. Louisans retreat to a P.J. O'Footertoot's in Chesterfield or eat another square "pizza" thing even though the U.N. has threatened to impose sanctions on us for calling it "pizza."

We'll let you in on a little secret, though. Good restaurants -- especially those that have foregone the allure of big-box-store parking lots for the sometimes elegant, often quirky corners of downtown (you know, where the Cards and Rams play) -- don't want you fretting over the menu while you fill up on free bread. They want you to enjoy the foods that their chefs have carefully selected, lovingly prepared, and elegantly dotted with basil oil and sprigs of parsley. These restaurants want you to enjoy yourself.

Still unsure? From Monday through Saturday (August 22 through 27), twenty restaurants take part in St. Louis' first Downtown Restaurant Week. This event, sponsored in part by the RFT, offers you a chance to enjoy three-course dinners for $25 per person, tax and tip not included. In other words, these restaurants' special prix-fixe menus (a French phrase meaning "too lazy to perform simple arithmetic, especially after a few glasses of wine") let you choose an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert without breaking your budget. Also, select Beringer wines will be available for only $5 a glass.

Participating establishments include old favorites such as Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood (314-421-1540) and the Pepper Lounge (314-241-2005), plus newcomers like An American Place (314-418-5800) and Red Moon (314-436-9700). And although there's nothing better than a simple binary choice, you won't have trouble finding a dish that you are sure to love -- or have always wanted to try. Each restaurant's menu for the week has several enticing possibilities, whether your tastes favor the exotic (Red Moon's Thai Red Curry Dragonfly), the sumptuous (olive-oil-poached salmon in a caper-and-raisin reduction at the Clark Street Grill, 314-552-5850) or the reliably comforting (toasted ravioli at Carmine's Steak House, 314-241-1631).

For a list of all of the participating restaurants, complete contact information and the prix-fixe menus, visit Reservations are highly recommended, and be sure to mention that you are interested in Downtown Restaurant Week when you call and reserve your spot at wherever you decide to eat.

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