5 Perils of Prix Fixe Menus

chambery menuI’m just back from a month in France and Italy (definitely not looking for sympathy) and with the impending launch of Dine Out Lose Weight, I was more conscious than ever of trying to make the right choices when eating out since I can do a lot of damage in a month.

I’ve always loved fixed price menus, particularly at lunch time.  For a relatively low price, you get to pick an appetizer, main course and dessert.  Some even include a small carafe of wine.  What could be better?  When you add up the individual cost of these items, your bill would total a lot more than the typical 14 to 20 Euros.

Do this for a week or two during your trip, and you’ll see a cost to more than your wallet.  Here’s why:

1.  Menu choices are limited to what the restaurant wants to sell that day.  A lunch in Limoux, France, gave us selections of sausage in brioche, a tablet of melted cheese, or eggplant/aubergine parmesan as a starter!  Holy fat calories, Batman!  What happened to a simple salad?

2.  If you’re trying to cut back on animal protein and fats, there might not be an option for you.  Our main course choices that same day were rabbit, sauerkraut with pork and sausage, steak and, you guessed it, sausage. (Actually andouillette, a coarse-grained sausage made from pork, intestines and seasonings).  There are typically no substitutions for prix fixe menus.

3.  You end up eating dessert whether you’re full or not.  Plus, they’re often sublime and who’s going to pass up on chocolate mousse or lemon tart unless they’re seriously deranged?

4.  While European dessert portions are typically smaller than those in the US (read “no mountain of chocolate cake”), many of us are in the habit of sharing and having just a few spoonfuls.  If you get your own teeny, weeny, seemingly smaller piece of pie, you may be tempted to scoff the lot.  Of course, you can have a couple of bites and leave it but it’s harder when sharing prevents you from, well, having more than your fair share.

5.  Prix fixe menus are definitely great value but only if you want to eat three or more courses.   I found more often than not that a salad or a plate of pasta would have sufficed, and would actually have cost less than the menu.

In all fairness, some prix fixe menus give you the option of having an appetizer plus main course, or a main plus dessert. But still, what if all you need is one plate?  It’s easy to be led by the seeming value of a prix fixe.  And, they’re becoming more prevalent in the USA.  Actually, they’ve been around for a while under the guise of early bird specials!

Full disclosure: I have a dinner reservation at Bouchon in Los Angeles this week because I was attracted to the $40 prix fixe menu.  This is not a cheap restaurant but the fixed price offers great value.  My plan is to listen to what my body really wants and if a simple plate of salmon tartare will do it, I’m not going to feel obliged to wade through several courses for the sake of it.

Watch this space – I’ll report back in the comments or a separate blog.

To learn more about Dine Out, Lose Weight, visit www.dineoutloseweight.com.

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