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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Novice Foodie: The Prix (Fixe) Is Right at Acero

Posted By on Tue, Sep 15, 2009 at 4:30 PM

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Two common obstacles to people who want to explore cuisine are 1) money and 2) feelings of insecurity. St. Louisans as a whole seem obsessed with value in dining. They want a lot for their money -- ever seen the lines outside Cunetto's? -- and in this economic climate, they might not have much money to go around. If dining out, particularly in a fancy place, is a treat, then you want to make sure you get your money's worth.

The insecurity is something I still struggle with. What should I wear? What am I doing with all this silverware? What or how should I order? THEY KNOW I'M A FRAUD.

Really, though, I'm getting better.

If you want to alleviate such apprehensions using a single tactic, I've got two (Frenchie) words for you: prix fixe. A prix-fixe, or fixed-price, menu is when a restaurant offers a set number of courses for a set price. Sometimes it's a very limited menu; sometimes diners have their choice of dishes. In any event, it's something that, when done well, can be an amazing value, not to mention a cost-effective way to determine if a restaurant is worth your money and time.

You can tell a lot about a restaurant by how it treats diners who order the prix-fixe menu. Because these diners have made an economical choice, a restaurant's staff could choose to treat them as somehow subpar. If the staff does this, the restaurant isn't worth its salt -- or your money. Every diner that comes through the door of a restaurant should be treated well.

For example, I'm a big fan of Downtown Restaurant Week, where multiple restaurants feature a $25 prix-fixe menu, and I patronize it annually. One year, I had one of the best meals of my life at An American Place; another, a regrettable meal with a snotty server who, when asking about different, fairly egregious fuck-ups during a meal, said "What do you expect? It's Restaurant Week." I will never go to this place again, and neither will my friends who dined with me.

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