Prix-Fixe Primer

Eating Well in Austin Without Breaking the Bank

A.J. Liebling once pointed out that true gourmandism comes not from having enough money to buy whatever delicacies one desires but from having just "enough money to pay the check, but not enough to produce indifference to the size of the total." Gourmandism is born from that pain of having to choose between the appetizer or the dessert, when both are too expensive; it is nurtured on the profound ache of forgoing the foie gras in favor of the gravlax. A true food lover is never satisfied with just one flavor, or just one course, but instead likes to nibble from many different dishes, imprinting each new taste indelibly onto sensory memory. Unfortunately, however, few of us who call ourselves gourmands ever have enough wealth to eat all the foodstuffs we crave in one meal.

Thankfully, many restaurants have formed a solution to the gourmand's dilemma, and offer a prix-fixe (fixed price) menu that involves a preset meal of multiple courses, for a price that is usually less than if each were ordered a la carte. According to 19th-century French wit and gastronomist Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the prix-fixe meal, a longtime staple of the French dining tradition, appeared when a few clever restaurateurs decided to "wed good living to economy by appealing to men of modest fortune." The fixed price menu is one that changes according to the season, incorporating whatever is available and inexpensive at the market that day, and is carefully calculated to fill the average stomach. With the invention of the prix-fixe menu, continues Brillat-Savarin, restaurateurs in France solved an important problem for that country's blossoming bourgeoisie: "how to live well and at the same time live moderately, and even cheaply." In Austin today, a number of the city's better restaurants have discovered the same formula. In addition to their regular menus, they have begun featuring changing fixed price menus. Some are genuine bargains, while others are princely feasts designed to seduce food lovers away from thrift, and away from the regulated moderation proclaimed by experts to define the healthy lifestyle. While not all are economical for every expense account, all of them share a certain economy for their price range. And each in their own way irresistibly proffers tempting combinations of foodstuffs that few of us are able to consume at home.

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Aquarelle, Girasole, Chez Nous, 22, Si Bon, Jeffrey's, Jean-Luc's French Bistro, Tocai

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