Prix Fixe Tradition at the Second Street Bistro in Livingston:
On a chilly late-winter afternoon, the kitchen is warm and bustling at the Second Street Bistro in Livingston as cooks, chefs and servers prepare for the Sunday evening “Prix Fixe,” or “fixed price” menu.
The notion of prix fixe is common in bistros around the world. Chefs often clean out the larder at the end of the week and prepare a fixed multi-course dinner from what’s left of the week’s inventory. It’s a creative process and an opportunity for diners to get a taste of a chef’s imagination.
For many winters and early spring seasons, Executive Chef and owner Brian Menges presented a weekly “Iron Chef-type five-course dinner” on Sunday nights.
When Menges himself unable to travel one winter because of a new baby, cabin fever was setting in, he said, and he came up with the concept of diners traveling around the world from the tables at his restaurant.
Menges launched a tour of Europe with wine pairings and food specialties, still working within some of the same parameters of the original prix fixe offering, including the involvement of the entire staff in brainstorming recipes and pairings.
Now, the Sunday evening meal at the Bistro is an opportunity to try specially selected wine curated with fine cuisine and a story.
Each week. Menges provides diners with an experience, a trip to another place. While last year a European tour was featured, this season is a comparative tour. On a Sunday in mid-February 2019, diners were transported to Australia for a night of fruity, lively wines and dishes.
“An Evening Down Under: Wines of New Zealand & Australia" featured wines from the region paired with freshly-made pasta, coconut-crusted cod with mango, honey-glazed pork belly, curried lamb pastry, and a light, sweet dessert topped with kiwi.
Chef Garde Manger Kyle Bakken assembles homemade ravioli stuffed with house-cured duck confit, green apples and brie, finished with a sage brown butter for the prix fixe. The course is paired with Berton Vineyards, Chardonnay “Metal Range” Limestone Coast, Australia 2016
Having traveled the world in search of cuisine, culture and fine vintages, Menges brings his experience as a Master Sommelier to each prix fixe with a hand-crafted tale of the horticultural base and regional origin of the wines being served at the dinner.
“Unlike anywhere else that we have visited, these islands (or continent) in the South Pacific are unique in that they are the only winegrowing areas that did not have any indigenous grape varietals,” Menges writes in the Australia and New Zealand pairing installment.
He goes on to note, “Although the ‘blokey’ beer drinking culture is still as much a part of the national identity as Crocodile Dundee, there is a shift happening... Today the biggest issue plaguing the Australian wine scene is massive overproduction of low-quality wines flooding the marketplace.”
He explores growing conditions and geology, culture of place and production statistics, giving diners a chance to get a feel for each region he features. Each diner is treated not only to a meal but a history and humanities lesson, including a signature placemat mixing context with whimsy.
When Brian Menges helped open the Second Street Bistro in 2003, he had hopes of one day creating a Michelin-starred restaurant in Montana, he says with a laugh. Now, as head chef and owner, he has yet to cease striving for the best, whether being a leader in the farm-to-plate movement in Montana or entertaining diners with customized creativity.
In 2013, Menges received the Montana Ambassadors’ Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Ambassadors, a nonprofit group of business leaders and advocates from across the state for his work on providing sustainable, local, organic and ethical food and expanding on the Second Street Bistro and Murray Bar with Gil’s Goods to create a corner of sustainable commerce in Livingston.
Sous Chef Josh Porter pipes cream in pavlova, or baked meringues, and decorates the desserts with fruits. The final course is a crispy meringue cake topped with crème Chantilly and fresh fruit.
Along with the Murray Bar and Gil’s Goods, Menges’ three dining establishments form the cornerstone of a new local tradition of cuisine in the city of Livingston and across the state of Montana. Many noted chefs and connoisseurs frequent the Bistro at Second Street and Main, from Mario Batali to the late Anthony Bourdain and all come to experience the dedication to craft that Menges continues to apply.
Photography by Lindsay Wells
Visit www.secondstreetbistro.com for information about the weekly prix fixe.