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Fixed price deals are attractive to Rogue Valley diners

I’m easily wooed by fixed price menus.

Also known by the French term “prix fixe,” a multicourse meal for a single, inclusive price always presents an attractive opportunity for dining out. The format usually constitutes a good value, provided diners already are inclined to order several dishes apiece. In some cases, the savings can be akin to getting a glass of wine or dessert free of charge.

Such occasions as Valentine’s Day often inspire fine-dining establishments to offer prix fixe specials. But if you know where to look, namely social media, the experience is available in all seasons and for myriad reasons.

Meatball Monday is the theme of fixed price dinners served every week through the end of April at Ashland’s Hither Coffee & Goods. With a hip coffee shop vibe that “curates” a breakfast and lunch menu of about 10 items, Hither shifts its persona slightly in the evening to resemble a modern French bistro or Italian trattoria. The concise dinner menu lists cheese and charcuterie boards, pasta, a meat entrée and a seafood option, along with Hither’s staple “local greens.”

Making good on their promise that Hither would have “a little bit of everything,” founders Wesley Reimer and Corrie Robinson-Reimer keep the kitchen operation flexible and customers coming back to see what’s new two years since Hither’s debut. First trying Hither’s breakfast last fall, I knew dinner was a must and that I’d likely be pleasantly surprised by the seasonally rotating menu. Meatball Monday, however, sounded like a sure bet. And by virtue of Hither’s slightly higher price point, compared with other restaurants locally, this meal — including a glass of wine — for $20 per person can’t be beat.

Although Mondays generally are slow for restaurant business, I made a reservation just to be sure, choosing a table on Hither’s expansive, screened deck, heated in winter. Even decades after the counter-culture heyday of Evo’s at 376 E. Main St., this remains one of the most distinguished restaurant locales in Ashland for its large parking lot and nicely landscaped patio with additional outdoor seating abutting Hargadine and Gresham streets.

Inside, the small, high-ceilinged dining room was a cacophony of conversation. But the unoccupied deck was quiet with lower lighting, perfect for an intimate meal conjuring Old World favorites prepared simply yet precisely, as well as proficient service that, while not exactly friendly, assures diners that everything is well in hand.

When every table receives the same order, food comes out quickly. We waited hardly a few minutes before our salads and house-baked focaccia arrived. After asking if we preferred red or white wine, the server soon returned with the evening’s selection, a Barolo, which he fastidiously offered for tasting, although I couldn’t imagine nitpicking when Hither’s regular by-the-glass prices exceed $10.

The minimal treatment of both greens and focaccia underscored the quality of each. Just a squeeze of lemon, drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle of chile flakes and shower of grana padano cheese accentuated the impeccable freshness of the salad’s frisee, radicchio and other chicories. Slightly charred around the edges, the focaccia was piled in a bowl that efficiently delivered olive oil, salt and herbs for dipping in a pool at the bottom.

I hadn’t time to finish my salad before the main course arrived, which was no hardship, given that I prefer salad after the entrée. Assertively al dente, the spaghetti had a judicious coating of basic, tomato-based sauce that adhered more generously to the meatballs.

Alluding to a secret recipe, Hither promotes the use of sustainably raised meats from small ranches in Oregon and Northern California. Beef, pork and chicken combine in the meatballs, according to the server, who also described them as “light,” which was no idle observation. As someone who prides herself on her meatball recipe and technique, I couldn’t have agreed more heartily that these were exceptionally tender and moist yet cohesively meaty.

Also plenty moist but a bit less distinguished was Hither’s tiramisu. The espresso-infused ladyfingers layered with mascarpone cheese and accented with cocoa were appropriately rich but a little anemic in flavor. While I appreciate desserts that are lightly sweetened, the chocolate note could have been more apparent in Hither’s rendition of this Italian classic.

Such a sweet deal for a lovely meal, however, won me over. I’d return — maybe more than once — for Meatball Monday, and I certainly consider Hither worthy of a special dinner out with a special someone. Call 541-625-4090 or see hithermarket.com

Also a proponent of the prix fixe menu, fine-dining destination New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro in Talent pioneered the region’s “eat local” movement more than three decades ago. Singled out over the years in food and wine publications as one of the “hot 10 romantic getaways” and “top 50 wine experiences,” New Sammy’s is known for its quirky decor at 2210 S. Pacific Highway. The nightly, three-course dinner is priced in the $50 range; a la carte selections also are available. Reservations are required for dinner. Call 541-535-2779 or see newsammys.com

Another Rogue Valley establishment regarded as one of the most romantic, the Jacksonville Inn casts your sweetheart in rosy lighting against a bygone era’s decor. While the cellar-level dining room at 175 E. California St. usually is packed on holidays, canoodling couples — dressed for the occasion — can have the patio all to themselves in colder months. Overhead heaters and strands of white lights ward off the chill while a tangle of vines screen kisses from public view. Call 541-899-1900 or see jacksonvilleinn.com.

TEMPO TIDBITS

Callahan’s Mountain Lodge has a new chef. Tim Keller, who cemented his Southern Oregon following at The Jacksonville Inn and Ashland’s erstwhile Firefly, is transforming Callahan’s menu with his playful, seasonally focused dishes. The culinary consultant, who also caters special events under the name Hospitality with Heart, previews his eye-catching plates on Instagram, chef_tkeller, and Facebook, facebook.com/campkeller

An Ashland Plaza fixture is turning over a new leaf. Remodeling has shuttered Greenleaf Restaurant since early January. With plans to reopen later this month, new owner Brent Brakebill has helmed four other establishments, including an Irish pub and sports-themed eatery. He brings in wife Marisela Mendoza and neighbors Frank and Lucy Ortega as co-owners. The Ashland residents took over from Greenleaf originator Daniel Greenblatt, who retired in November after 35 years.

Vegetarians rejoice! Impossible Burger is now on the menu at Downtown Market Co. in Medford. The lunchtime hot spot at 123 W. Main St. is promoting its specialty burger of the week as a meatless option using the flagship plant-based product by Impossible Foods of Redwood City, Calif. Downtown Market Co. will prepare Impossible Burger with such trimmings as grilled red onion, chipotle slaw and arugula on a toasted pub bun. Burger prices start at $13.

The following restaurants in January received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health.

Ashland: Case Coffee (Lithia Way), Flip, The Maple Street Cafe, Mezcal Restaurant & Bar, Mix Sweet Shop, Subway;

Central Point: Burger King; Dairy Queen, Hawaiian Hut, Human Bean (536 E. Pine St.), KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Schmizza Pub & Grill, Shari’s Restaurant;

Eagle Point: Carl’s Jr., Crackin’ & Stackin’, Pizza Schmizza Pub & Grill;

Jacksonville: Forty Five Coffee Inc., Mustard Seed Cafe;

Phoenix: Jack’s Full Moon Saloon;

Shady Cove: Goebel’s Country Kitchen, Phil’s Frosty;

Talent: Sweet Beet Station;

White City: Human Bean.

Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow thewholedishblog on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.

Espresso-infused ladyfingers layered with mascarpone cheese and accented with cocoa makes up Hither’s moist tiramisu. Photo by Sarah Lemon
Hither’s Meatball Monday features meatballs made of sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken.{ }Photo by Sarah Lemon.