“Prix fixe” is French for "fixed price," and it also usually means a great bargain for a multi-course meal, paired, if you choose, with wine. The only catch? Deals can be so good that reservations are a must.
RUSTIC, Francis’s Favorites, Geyserville, Tuesdays from 5 to 9 p.m.
If you haven’t heard of a tavola, you’re missing out on a whole lot of fun. Meaning “to the table,” a tavola (pronounced a tah-vah-la) is a casual dining experience inspired by restaurant owner Francis Ford Coppola’s favorite way of enjoying a meal – impromptu plates, in family-style portions. Every Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m., the mood of the already friendly destination inside the winery relaxes even more. Instead of setting a firm menu, the chef prepares a variety of his own preferred dishes and sends them to your table. The evening morphs into a family dinner party, with all customers sharing an array of meat, poultry and fish specialties, plus pastas, pizzas, salads and desserts. You eat as much or as little as you’d like, with pricing determined per serving ($30/adult minimum), and add in as many different wines as you care, in two-ounce pours, full glasses or bottles. In what has to be the most creative extra of any Sonoma dinner, Coppola brings a touch of theater to the table, too. Servers take on the roles of various Italian family members, in full costume. Offering Oscar-worthy performances are characters like Cousin Giorgio, who’s saving up for an engagement ring to give to his sweetheart by playing barkeep for the evening; Uncle Roberto, making his way from table to table with stories as colorful as his bowties; and a very pregnant hostess, seating guests in between sips of her martini, oh my.
300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1485, franciscoppolawinery.com.
Applewood Inn, Guerneville, Sundays from 5 to 8:30 p.m.
This Michelin-starred restaurant and country lodge is a destination as much for its views as for its food, presented in a romantic upstairs dining room with cozy fireplaces and a solarium overlooking a courtyard and babbling fountain below. But Sundays are extra special, with Russian River Night “for friends and neighbors” (really meaning that it’s actually open to everyone). Executive chef Tyja Taube offers his fine French-California cuisine among the redwoods at incredible savings, with a three-course meal for just $30, plus glasses of preferred wines for $6-$7 and no corkage on any Russian River wines. Settle in for weekly-changing menus like this past week’s roasted buttercup squash soup topped in nutmeg crème fraiche; oven roasted Sebastopol chicken with cannellini beans, sautéed onions and Swiss chard, tomato concasse and fresh herbs; and spice cake topped in brandy, whipped cream and poached pears. Many ingredients are drawn from the Inn’s own two-acre organic kitchen garden as well as the farms and ranches scattering the Sonoma County countryside.
13555 Highway 116, Guerneville, 707-869-9093, dineatapplewood.com.
Zazu, Monday Night Farm Suppers (available after Memorial Day through New Year’s Eve)
May through December, diners are rewarded with a remarkable deal served in this charming countryside cottage owned by a Food Network star. The menu changes every week, but it’s always the best of chef Duskie Estes (she’s the star) and John Stewart and their Sonoma-centric cuisine. The deal is three courses for $39, with such delectable line-ups as a salad of Little Gem lettuces, Point Reyes blue cheese dressing, Black Pig bacon and avocado; slow roasted lamb shoulder with salsa verde and crispy red bliss potatoes; and strawberry shortcake paired with Bellwether Farms fromage blanc gelato and candied pistachio. In an extra-friendly touch, vegetarian options are available, too.
3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa, 707-523-4814, zazurestaurant.com.
Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant, Forestville, 5:30 p.m. to close
While this celebrated restaurant has a regular a la carte menu, it’s true that dining here can be a pricey proposition, unless one goes with the generous prix fixe options. Chef Steve Litke focuses on the bounty of Sonoma County in a mouthwatering marriage of Italian, French and Asian, sourced from organic and sustainably farmed seasonal ingredients. That means that menus change based on what’s best from local artisan purveyors, but some recent standouts included Durham Ranch buffalo tartare with capers, mustard, cornichon, sunny side quail egg, and bone marrow-butter crostini; grilled Mediterranean octopus with black olive salt, fresh chickpeas and arugula in chorizo vinaigrette; and the signature Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit of applewood smoked bacon wrapped loin, roasted rack and confit of leg in whole grain mustard cream sauce with Yukon potato. Prices are $69 for three courses (plus $40 for wine pairings), and $84 for four courses ($50 wine).
7871 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-3300, farmhouseinn.com.
Vineyards Inn, Kenwood, The second Thursday of each month, 6:30 p.m.
Chef-owner Steve Rose has combined his love of the Spanish delights served at his cozy restaurant on Hwy. 12, with chef Esteban Rose’s celebration of his Basque heritage, in this monthly Chef's Basque Dinner series. It’s impossible to beat the value of six courses complete with wine for $45, featuring old family recipes served on platters and in tureens for all to share at one long table. Because the limited seating dinners sell out so quickly, reservations are mandatory, beginning promptly at 6:30 p.m. (it’s not uncommon for fans to reserve their place months in advance). Menus vary – the Roses have their own organic farm, and love to share the harvest through their recipes – but some regular menu favorites include lime-garlic calamari, skewered and flame-broiled fish in Spring Hill butter, fire-broiled artichoke, lamb-beef meatballs in sofrito sauce, and the famous paella.
8445 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-4500, vineyardsinn.com.
Tip: Since you’re saving so much on supper, you can splurge a little for an extra-special evening. Why not add a chauffeured Pure Luxury limo to your decadent evening out?