Sidecar owner Casey Bee’s doing the right prix fixe thing.
SIDECAR (577 College, at Clinton, 416-536-7000) Open for dinner nightly 5 to 10 pm ($22 three-course prix fixe Sunday to Wednesday only). Bar nightly to 2 am. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Full disclosure: before strapping on the NOW feedbag lo these many years ago, I rarely went to restaurants. Instead of going to some trendy trat du jour, I'd much rather stay home and do the cooking myself, thank you very much, where the food I dished up always met my considerable standards.
The rare times I dined in public, I'd gaze forlornly at the plate - a fricassee of mahi mahi en croute, say, sided with baby spring vegetables and chef's pilaf - and know I could duplicate it for $1.35 and that it needed more garlic. I saw myself as an aesthete; my friends thought me cheap.
So I've learned to spot a restaurant bargain. Everyone in the resto biz knows there's no money to be made selling food - it's booze that's pure profit - but sometimes, to attract new customers, it seems some of them are going out of their way to give the stuff away at cost. Case in point: Sidecar, an attractive bistro on the generally disappointing College strip where Sunday through Wednesday an impressively prepared three-course prix fixe goes for only 22 bucks.
And who are we to complain, especially when it's served on one of the loveliest backyard terraces in town? Away from the rush-hour traffic and shaded by a vine-covered trellis and umbrellas, we're soon tucking into an exceptional basket of warm house-baked sourdough focaccia deliciously dusted with fleur de sel sea salt. "Of course" is the answer when we're asked if we'd like more.
From the prix fixe options - three starters, four mains - we begin with one of the better Caesar salads around ($9 à la carte), crisp leaves of Romaine finished with shaved parmigiano, streaky pancetta and crostini spread with house-made ricotta. Why, there's even garlic and anchovy in the dressing! Another ap, cream of mushroom soup ($7), is pure luxury in a bowl, an alarmingly rich mix of cremini mushrooms nipped with Dijon mustard and a whole lotta butter 'n' cream.
Of the mains, oven-roasted chicken, a deboned, partially frenched and heavily peppered half-bird, comes crisp of skin and sauced with a raw sweet 'n' sour red onion purée. Plated over a raft of grilled asparagus spears and a few fried fingerling potatoes, it exemplifies co-owner and first-time chef Bill Sweete's kitchen credo: keep it simple and make it affordable.
At first glance, his steak frites (both $16) appears somewhat smaller than elsewhere, but that's because the 8-ounce sirloin arrives mignon-style, looking like an overweight hockey puck - a tasty one, mind. True, there aren't as many shoestring frites as we'd like, but that just means the Literary Device doesn't get to share. Regardless, she's stuffed to the gills but still manages to polish off tonight's dessert of ultra-chocolatey chocolate mousse ($7) swirled with syrupy raspberry coulis and a few random berries.
"They're Mallomars, only much more extravagant," laughs the Device, licking her fingers and draining the last of her tangerine-infused brandy and Cointreau cocktail ($10).
Six courses, four drinks and a healthy tip barely scrapes $100. At these prices and this level of finesse - turns out Sweete worked under Mark McEwan at Bymark and North 44 - we'd be stupid to stay home.