Grand Prix 

Why Dale Reitzer lets you off cheap.

Tu ne parles pas Fran‡ais? Prix fixe means fixed price; the entire table must order from the set menu. Picture a plated convention dinner ("Would you like steak or chicken?"), but imagine that all your choices are prepared in a kitchen run by Reitzer, one of Food & Wine's 1999 picks for Best New Chefs. And the whole meal's going to set you back only $19.95. (Plus beverages, tax and gratuity, of course.)

On a recent visit I found there were two options for first plates: roasted red-pepper soup with crŠme fraŒche or a salad of mesclun greens, apples, blue cheese and walnuts with balsamic vinaigrette. The four options for entrees: pan-roasted chicken with mushroom sauce, flap steak (a cut between the flank and the skirt) with red wine sauce, blackened salmon with yellow pepper sauce, or pan-seared scallops with Parmesan sauce. Finally, two options for dessert: vanilla ice cream with mixed berries or pound cake with caramel sauce and ginger ice cream.

A typical order might read like this: soup, beef, grits, ice cream. But what comes out of the kitchen is more a work of culinary art than a short order. Sure, it's not quite as dressed up as the regular dinner offerings. But the stripped-down versions are painted from the same palate. For example, the sauce on the chicken is porcinis in demi-glace. The scallops are seared golden and perfectly complemented by the light Parmesan cream — the same preparation I ordered from the regular menu on a previous night's visit, minus the gnocchi, cannellini beans and wilted spinach. Instead, I opted for a side of risotto, which may have been an improvement.

That is the hidden gem of Acacia's prix fixe, the selection of sides. Choosing between creamy Gruyere and caramelized onion risotto, smoked bacon grits or beautifully grilled asparagus, to name a few, allows the gourmand a little creativity in the dining experience. And it debunks the myth that prix fixe is another term for cleaning house. At Acacia, this special menu seems designed to introduce new customers to a restaurant they think might be out of their price range.

If your idea of a dinner outside on a summer evening translates into a burger and beer, it might be time to opt for something you'll remember. Soft-shell crabs are on the march, wild rabbits are on the run, Hanover tomatoes are on the vine. Nothing in town compares with what Dale Reitzer can deliver when he's in the groove of a new season's bevy of fresh ingredients. And the price? Sweet. S

3325 W. Cary St.
Lunch: Monday - Saturday,11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday -Saturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Prix fixe: Monday -Thursday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Friday -Saturday,5:30-6:30 p.m.

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