The advertisement was innocent enough to avoid making me feel self-conscious for giving it a lusting second glance. Flattering photos accompanied glorious words, all so tantalizing and alluring. Nothing was left unsaid, every adjective clinging seductively to its noun. The final ice breaker was the brazen headline, "$18 Prix Fixe Menu 7 Days a Week!" Now I really needed a taste.
My companions were called and the reservation was made at 315. That week's three-course, $18 prix fixe special began with eggplant wrapped asparagus with frisée and tomato with a miso vinaigrette, followed by house-made potato gnocchi with either chicken sausage or shrimp served with spring vegetables and a parmesan cream sauce. A frozen strawberry soufflé would conclude our meal. Our fiscal frugality was rewarded by knowing each of our three courses would cost a mere $6 apiece and then again when our waiter noted wines by the bottle were additionally 20 percent off. Joyfully we anticipated our first course and relaxed with our first sips of pinot noir and the security of a reasonable bill at the end of the night.
Our 315 prix fixe tryst was three courses of edible economic stimulus that mediated the irreconcilable disparity between my increasingly limited funds and my ever-escalating gastronomic cravings.
When every dollar counts, fiscal compromise enters every facet of our lives, and the 315 rendezvous is a cherished delicacy amid the deepening recession. Industries dependent upon the consumption of cultural pleasures like art, entertainment, dining, beauty and fashion are in distress and creative strategies need to be employed to compete for what remains in our expendable cash kitties.
The editors of Epicurious, the online food forum and recipe master index, attest in their Top 10 Food Trends for 2009, "With the dawn of a new presidency, a deepening recession, and a fine-dining culinary culture that sometimes veers into the impossibly surreal, soberness is setting into the food world. Gone are the behemoth restaurants, $1,000 omelets, and ice cream made of dehydrated chile flakes." And No. 1 on their list for 2009 trends: "'Value' is the new 'Sustainable'. These days, the economy dictates our cooking and shopping decisions: Bargains are in, no matter where they come from."
Restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs of NPD Group, a market research company based in New York, reports on the increase in "deal traffic" techniques, such as limited-time offers, coupons and special menus, in order to fill tables and perk up profits.
A chat with Louis Moskow, chef and owner of 315, revealed that his prix fixe has been a "win-win" since he introduced it this past February. He loves that he "can move the product, increase cash flow, keep [his] cooks and waitstaff happy, busy and paid, and ultimately [he] can control how busy the restaurant is by changing the menu weekly." Also offered is a $32 prix fixe when choosing from items listed on the standard printed menu. And like most chefs and restaurateurs, ultimately he is pleased that "Wednesdays are as busy as Saturdays," and his customers are content both with their meals and their bills at the end of the night. I conjecture that Moskow can craft his prix fixe around price point, quality, value and profit margin because he is sensitive to seasonality and availability.
In the weeks that I have been noting the changing 315 prix fixe menus, Moskow has been featuring classic springtime ingredients like asparagus and strawberries. During one of our phone conversations, he rhapsodized about delicate new pea shoots from the Santa Fe Farmers Market—and all the while, he was huffing and puffing, hunting morels.
It is a happy ending to a culinary love story pierced with primal yearnings but haunted by monetary challenges. Tough times are upon us and I am thankful inspired chefs and business owners like Moskow can retool the recipe for fine dining grace. My financial constraints feel respected, my urbane wants are gratified and my culinary spirit has a recovery plan in place.
Open 5:30 to 9 pmSunday-Thursday
5:30 to 9:30pmFriday and Saturday
315 Old Santa Fe Trail