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After the winter solstice, the daylight begins to lengthen, while at restaurants, the reservation list tends to shorten.

This means that locals can find good deals on everything from prix fixe menus to wines by the glass and free corkage nights. Taken together, the savings may add up to $20 or more on each person's bill.

The "prix fixe" or "fixed price" menu — a group of predetermined dishes, presented as a multicourse meal at a set price — is standard practice in Europe but less common here.

"In France, there might be a 19, 29 and 30 euro option," said Brian Anderson of Bistro 29 in Santa Rosa. "It's economical, and at lunch it helps with speed in the kitchen."

Here in Sonoma County, many chefs use the prix fixe menu to showcase local, fresh and seasonal ingredients, along with their own talents.

"It gives us great creativity," said Dustin Valette, chef de cuisine of Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg. "It's whatever inspires me and sounds good."

Prix fixe menus — offered on a daily, weekly or weeknight basis — also give restaurants the opportunity to introduce their style of dining, in an affordable, non-intimidating manner.

"If you're new here, this is a great way to enjoy Estate and a good opportunity to get what we're trying to do," said John Toulze, executive chef of Estate in Sonoma.

If you're looking for a good deal - and who isn't? - and want to test-drive some interesting restaurants this winter, here are a few delicious places to start.


Applewood Inn in Guerneville offers a three-course, prix fixe menu on Sunday nights for $30, alongside the regular menu.

With the menu, you can order a glass of wine for just $6 or $7. Better yet, if you bring in your own bottle with a label that says Russian River on it, there's no corkage fee charged.

"We wanted to invite our friends and neighbors," said owner Carlos Pippa. "It's a good time for locals to congregate."

A recent menu included a white bean salad with crisp pork belly; cioppino of diver scallops, halibut and mussels with grilled bread and saffron aioli; and oranged glazed spice cake.

The menu is posted every Thursday at applewoodinn.com. 13555 Highway 116. 869-9093.

Monday through Thursday

The Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg serves a three-course, prix fixe "Sonoma Neighbor" menu every Monday through Thursday night, for $36. They give back $2 per person to the Healdsburg area schools.

An optional wine pairing brings the total to $51, but if you bring your own bottle of a Sonoma County wine, the corkage fee will be waived.

"It brings a lot of local people in, like my uncle David Sanucchi, a local farmer," said Chef de Cuisine Dustin Valette. "He won't come here on a Friday night, but he will come on a Monday or a Wednesday."

The menus feature Sonoma County ingredients that are local, organic and super seasonal.

For a recent prix fixe menu, Valette whipped up a salad of Sonxma County greens with pomegranates, persimmons and goat cheese; yellowtail with prosciutto, Swiss chard and kohlrabi; and an apple tart.

To check out the weekly menu, go to charliepalmer.com. 317 Healdsburg Ave. 431-0330

Tuesday through Thursday

Bistro 29 in Santa Rosa serves a three-course, prix fixe meal with an amuse-bouche every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night for $29.

"We like to use it as an avenue to change things up, go seasonal, or branch off from our normal style," said chef/owner Brian Anderson. "Or, we'll do something very traditional."

Along with the meal, each diner can order a wine pairing for $11 that includes two glasses of wine, each matched to a course.

A recent prix-fixe menu included a carrot-coriander shot of soup; a tarte flamiche made with leeks and gruyere; coq au vin; and a sweet crepe with lemon brown sugar and whipped cream.

During Bistro 29's anniversary week in early February, you can order a $29 prix fixe meal, from any three courses off the menu.

To find out the weekly, prix fixe menus, stop by the restaurant at 620 Fifth St. or call 546-2929.

Wednesday and Thursday

After primarily catering for the past 10 years, Olive and Vine Restaurant in Glen Ellen has recently started serving dinner in its shabby-chic dining room.

This winter, the restaurant is offering two prix fixe "Winter Nights": a Sonoma Cioppino Night on Wednesdays and a Neighborhood Night on Thursdays.

On Wednesdays, chef/owner Catherine Venturini is serving a salad and her Nana Julia's cioppino with a side of roasted potatoes and market vegetables, for just $22 and no corkage fee.

On Thursdays, she is serving a rotating menu of chef's favorite winter dishes, with two courses for $22 and no corkage fee. A recent menu included an iceberg wedge and buttermilk fried chicken and biscuits.

"It's all locals and regulars," said Nicki Wolfe, assistant to the chef. "You can order off the regular menu as well."

To find out the Thursday night menu, stop by the restaurant at 14301 Arnold Drive or call 996-9152.

Wednesday through Sunday

Bistro des Copains in Occidental offers a three-course, prix fixe menu every night they are open, Wednesday through Sunday, for about $40 (the price varies). Locals Night is Thursday, when corkage is waived if you bring a Sonoma County wine.

Menus include starters such as warm mushrooms on a bed of mache with goat cheese and a poached egg; entrees like duck confit leg and thigh with grilled quail and wild rice; and desserts such as bread pudding with caramel ice cream.

To find out the prix fixe menu, stop by the restaurant at 3782 Bohemian Highway or call 874-2436.

Every night

Estate in Sonoma offers four-course prix fixe dinners, called "La Cena di Famiglia," every night of the week for $26.

"We're trying to show guests some of the highlights and the pacing of the meal," Executive Chef John Toulze said. "We serve it family-style, which we love, because it's about community."

The menus change every Friday and include an antipasti, a primi (first course), a contorni (side dish), a secondi (second course) and a dolci or dessert course. Go to thegirlandthefig.com for the weekly menus.

A recent menu included Italian antipasti with house-baked bread; shaved brussel sprouts salad; house-made saffron pappardelle with braised oxtail; wilted escarole, meyer lemons and garum; and mini-pumpkin cheesecakes.

"The idea is that you're in Italy, they have one menu, it's 25 euros, and you're guaranteed to leave absolutely stuffed," Toulze said. "If you're still hungry, we'll make you more."

The restaurant is located at 400 West Spain St. 933-3663.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com

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