Bargain Meals at Top Restaurants


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IS THE SKY FALLING? Are the barbarians beating down the gates? Have the billionaire burghers of Rancho Santa Fe contracted a mass case of the cheaps?

You should know that there is now a burger on the menu at Mille Fleurs. No question about it, the sky is falling.

To be precise, the burger (big and glamorous, it sports a topping of Point Reyes blue cheese, a accompaniment of perfect pommes frites and a $22 price tag) appears on the Mille Fleurs bistro menu, an innovation in­troduced to deal with reduced circumstances among the Bentley, Benz and Beemer crowd. The bistro menu marks a watershed moment for what remained of formality at local eateries, since patrons are encouraged to “come wearing jeans,” formerly not the policy of this high-society habitat.

The recession has spawned deals and promotions at deluxe restaurants around town. Their targets don’t exactly fear joining soup lines but do feel the need to watch expenses. The prix fixe choices popping up in many places represent genuine value, as does the plush bar menu at the Grant Grill. Prices that were unimaginable 18 months ago have made now—right now—a fine time to dine out whenever a few extra bucks burn holes in your pockets.

Those who regard Martin Woesle’s nearly flawless cooking as priceless must goggle at the $40 prix fixe menu Mille Fleurs offers Sunday through Thursday. The list supplements his “classic” menu du jour, which still includes items like an incomparable wiener schnitzel carpeted with sliced caperberries ($32). Forty bucks for three courses is a steal, and father-son proprietors Bertrand and Julien Hug don’t stint their customers: Starters recently have included suckling pig in aspic, a soup of rare musque de Provence pumpkin with cinnamon croutons, and a salad of tender calamari and melting Chino’s Farm tomatoes with purslane, an herb virtually unknown hereabouts.

This is typically elevated, ethereal Mille Fleurs cooking, a comment true of such entrées as delicate homemade vegetable ravioli and a New York steak cut from Durham Ranch bison and served with green-peppercorn sauce. A particularly stylish entrée poses quenelles (feather-light dumplings) of rainbow trout over fragrant basmati rice, adding lobster sauce for richness and fried shredded leeks for extra flavor.

The desserts—if less elaborate than à la carte sweets—are lovely, including a pineapple-coconut cake with white-chocolate mousse, and a heap of fresh berries with vanilla ice cream and homemade, swoon-inducing chocolate sauce. 

Mille Fleurs, 6009 Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe, 858-756-3085, ­millefleurs.com.

THE U.S. GRANT HOTEL has redecorated its Grant Grill Lounge yet again, with the goal of attracting patrons who want to dine stylishly, but less formally and at less expense than in the dining room. The new look is sensational, thanks especially to high tables surrounded by barstools crafted of polished metal that gleams like sterling silver. Rich wood walls and a bar that boasts ultra-choice cognacs and scotches set a tone supported by glamorous waitresses. During the daily 4 to 8 p.m. Happy Hour, the luxe “Cocktail Cuisine” menu is served at half-price, as are selected beverages and good house wines that taste very good at $6 the glass.

The somewhat more substantial “Lounge Fare” list is not discounted, but given the setting and the reduced-price drinks, $14 seems fair for a club sandwich starring house-roasted turkey and top-quality Nueske bacon. The dressy list also offers an open-face sandwich of succulent Mexican white shrimp ($16) and seared salmon with warm stone-fruit salad ($18).

This five-star hotel serves a five-star burger ($15) that boasts a baseball-size patty of Kobe beef, sandwiched inside a tender bun layered with sliced homemade pickles, red onion and juicy-ripe tomatoes. It’s so big that the only sensible way to eat it is with knife and fork, although this approach probably is uncommon. The accompanying chips, sprinkled with sea salt, melt on the tongue.

At these prices (during Happy Hour, a plate of irresistible pulled pork spring rolls sells for $7), desserts such as lemon pound cake with crystallized lemon ($10) and pistachio-berry tart with vanilla crème fraiche ($9) do not seem extravagant.

Grant Grill Lounge, U.S. Grant Hotel, 326 Broadway, San Diego, 619-744-2077. 

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