Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reviewed: Paisan Prix Fixe

You may have seen the many prix fixe specials and other deals (think Groupon) that restaurants use to get patrons, but are they worth it? Recently, the family of K2 Restaurants has offered almost weekly prix fixe specials: Jimmy Bean's offers a daily $15 2-course meal while Paisan hosts a family style 3-course meal every Wednesday and Lalime's a 3-course seafood prix fixe every Thursday. Today, T-Rex jumps into the bargain fun with an all-you-can-eat whole hog dinner with sides and one free drink for $19.

With so many promotions, it was easy to round up some friends for dinner. A few weeks ago, we tackled Paisan Pizzeria on San Pablo Avenue. Reviews were mixed, but overall, Paisan was a good neighborhood joint with dependable food, and the outside seating on a warm May night didn't hurt.

While Paisan calls itself a pizzeria, the prix fixe doesn't include a sampling of their billing. Rather, the prix fixe is a mix of Italian-American comfort cuisine that feels more neighborhood joint than authentic Italian fare.

The prix fixe comes with your first glass of wine on the house: a choice of a red or white wine from Farnese Family Wines. There's no vintage or varietal information, as the waitress bluntly asks, "white or red," so the wine is nothing memorable.

We started with a strawberry and arugula salad with prosciutto. The strawberries were seasonally sweet and paired well with the salty prosciutto. The breadsticks, however, that accompanied the salad were stale and left untouched.

Next was a pork tenderloin with fettucini. The dish had a lot of potential, but was disappointing. The tenderloin was so dry that not even the oil from the pasta could save it. The butter pasta sauce was also bland, and would have benefited from more garlic, herbs or any seasoning.

We wrapped up the meal with dessert: a hazlenut, chocolate mousse that was too sweet for some, but amazing in its simplicity for me, the one in the party with a sweet tooth. The dish wasn't refined, but like the salad, stood out because you could taste every ingredient and picture how it was made.

Service was very informal, as there wasn't a host to greet us at the door or an area aside from the packed bar for us to wait the half-hour our reservation was delayed. As with most popular neighborhood joints, space is an issue as the tables are crammed together and hard to navigate, and there is no waiting area aside from the sidewalk outside.

The day we went drew a crowd, whether because of regularly Wednesday diners, prix-fixe goers, or people enjoying the day's warm weather. But, I'd brave it again as I found the overall experience worth the wait and cost.

Try it yourself this week. Reservations recommended.

Jimmy Bean's: $15 for salad/soup, seafood pasta and dessert
Paisan: $22 for first glass of wine, asparagus sformato salad, wood-oven roasted organic garlic chicken and baba au rhum
T-Rex: $19 for all-you-can-eat whole hog dinner with sides and your first drink (cola, PBR, house wine or well drink)

Jimmy Bean's: $15 for salad/soup, pork loin and dessert
Lalime's: $45 for potted wild king salmon rillettes, wood grilled asparagus and sweet corn with poached egg, carmelized Massachusetts scallops, selection of North Coast Artisan Cheeses and strawberries with chewy peanut butter cookies and buttermilk sorbet

Jimmy Bean's: $15 for salad/soup, fried chicken and dessert

Jimmy Bean's: $15 for salad/soup, paella and dessert

Jimmy Bean's: $18 for salad/soup, grilled rib-eye and dessert

2514 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley
(510) 649-1031

Jimmy Bean's
1290 6th St. Berkeley
(510) 528-3435

1300 10th St., Berkeley

1329 Gilman St., Berkeley

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