The Austin Chronicle

Prix-Fixe Primer

Eating Well in Austin Without Breaking the Bank

Reviewed by Barbara Chisholm, March 2, 2001, Food

Chez Nous

510 Neches, 473-2413

Tue-Fri,11:45am-2pm; Tue-Sun, 6-10:30pm

Chez Nous didn't invent prix-fixe, but the restaurant had a lot to do with establishing the flat-rate, no-surprises option as an affordable option in fine dining in Austin. By today's standards, the offerings at Chez Nous are a super-bargain, and by any standards the cuisine is spectacular. $19.50 gets you three courses, with plenty of options in each. The first course allows you to choose from sublime soups or to opt for the habit-forming salade Lyonnaise (topped with a perfectly cooked poached egg), or to go for the house-made and deeply flavorful ptés maisons, which can vary from fish-based options to more traditional liver varieties. The entrée portion is a selection of the specials of the day, which usually include a couple of fish options (like mahi mahi with a vanilla-lavender buerre blanc or salmon with pesto), and one meat selection, like a pork delight or some veal concoction. Whatever choice strikes your fancy, you can be assured that the meal will be superbly prepared. After lingering over the entrée and discretely sopping up a sauce with one more slice of baguette, you finish out the meal with either an ethereal chocolate mousse, silky crème caramel, or in the ultra-French fashion with a wedge of Brie. To accompany the meal, there are plenty of affordable wine options that won't send the bill into the stratosphere. We've had great success with the house wine, too.

The service at Chez Nous is relaxed and informed. The staff is as likely to be in blue jeans as anything else. Don't confuse relaxed attire with relaxed standards, however. Waitpeople are always well-informed about the specials and have obviously sampled the goods. They are incredibly helpful and we often relied upon their expertise to break a tie when we sat on the fence. They may or may not have a favorite of their own, but what they are more likely to do is feel you out for where your particular tastes lie. And, of course, they are privy to anything exceptional going on in the kitchen. Behind the scenes, there is a true appreciation of classic bistro fare and real skill in its proper preparation and presentation. It's unpretentious and respectful, and most of all, delicious. All this takes place in the utterly charming bistro that transplants visitors to the heart of France immediately upon entering. It's smallish, it's cozy, it has lace curtains, Ricard bottles, and waiters with thick accents. Families, lovers, friends: They're all at home in here and all well fed without breaking the bank. Prix-fixe? Oui, Oui!!

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