Feast: The fixe is in - Page 2

In praise of the set menu ... and where to find some good ones
Photo by Rory McNamara

415-564-5332, www.zazisf.com), another bistro that feels authentically French, though more Provençal than Parisian. The prix-fixe possibilities here are marked on the menu card with asterisks; soup, salad, mussels, salmon, and chocolate pots de crème are some of the staples. Quite like France. A bonus draw is the restaurant's large rear garden, which is made habitable even on chilly winter nights by those heating trees you often see at ski lodges.

In a much more urban quartier we find Le Charm (315 Fifth St., SF. 415-546-6128, www.lecharm.com), which since the mid-1990s has been an oasis of civilized clattering in the scruffy heart of SoMa. The prix-fixe is a little pricier here — $30 for three courses — but the cooking might also be a bit more urbane. Recent starter choices included salmon carpaccio and escargot, while among the desserts lurked a financier and a sablé. The restaurant also has a small patio for the al fresco–minded, and let's not forget that SoMa tends to be warmer and less windy than the city's more westerly neighborhoods.

Not all prix-fixes must be French. One of the better deals of the non-Gallic — indeed, of any — sort going at the moment can be found at Roy's (575 Mission, SF. 415-777-0277, www.roysrestaurant.com), an outpost of the Hawaiian-fusion chain. The restaurant's three-course set menu changes seasonally and, at the moment, costs $35 — making it something of a successor to the $28 Hawthorne Lane bonanza. There is typically a choice among two or three starters and a like number of desserts, with a slightly greater variety (perhaps three or four possibilities) among main courses. The San Francisco version of Roy's doesn't much resemble its older siblings on the islands; those places are rustically elegant, while ours is unmistakably urban, with a lot of glass, hard surfaces, high ceilings, and gloss. But the food is excellent, and at $35 for a full dinner in such a stylish setting, it's a bit of a steal.

Firefly (4288 24th St., SF. 415-821-7652, www.fireflyrestaurant.com), which turns 15 this fall, has been well worth seeking out all these years, prix-fixe or no. (The prix-fixe — $35 for any starter, main course, and dessert — is a post-millennium wrinkle.) From the beginning, the restaurant has offered its wondrous shrimp-and-scallop potstickers while providing for the tastes of vegetarians and flesheaters alike, with no apparent fuss. It's as good as a neighborhood restaurant could be, in a gastronomically-minded city where many of the best restaurants are in the neighborhoods. And with a prix-fixe option allowing a full range of motion across a supple and changeable bill of fare, it's also an enduringly good deal.

Far to the west, near the shores of the sea, we find Pisces (3414 Judah, SF. 415-564-2233, www.piscessf.com), a seafood house with a minimalist look (including a bold black facade) New Yorkers would call "downtown." The twist here is not one but two prix-fixes, one for $23, the other for $33. What does the extra $10 buy you? A choice of desserts, for one thing; the $23 folk must settle for, say, vanilla-bean crème brûlée. A little ordinary, but there are worse fates, surely; how often do bad crèmes brûlées turn up? The price premium also results in somewhat tonier savory dishes — Dungeness crab cake rather than clam chowder as a first course, for instance, or ahi rather than salmon as a main course.

Also from this author

  • The last supper

    Food writer Paul Reidinger bids farewell after more than a decade covering the San Francisco food scene

  • Radish

    Staging well-crafted feats of new all-American, neatly tucked away from the Valencia Street h-words

  • Boxing Room

    A warm Hayes Valley spot that punches up the Cajun trend with lagniappe, mirilton, and po'boys