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