DINE DOWNTOWN: THE FIXE IS IN, AGAIN

_DSC0003Dish is one of nearly 30 Red Bank restaurants joining in, as the townwide Dine Downtown promotion returns every Tuesday and Wednesday in October. (Photo by Peter Lindner. Click to enlarge)

A quick look at the list reveals a couple of newcomers — so new they hadn’t even opened their doors a year ago.

Then there are the handful of homecoming favorites who’ve made it back to the list after sitting things out for a few years. And of course, there are the perennials; the names who can be sure to appear on the list  each and every time — as surely as they helped make Red Bank the destination for fine dining that it’s been for more than a generation.

We’re talking about the roster of restaurants that are taking part in the semi-annual Dine Downtown promotion, going on every Tuesday and Wednesday evening for the month of October. The brainchild of the folks at Red Bank RiverCenter, it’s a great and proven way for the borough’s bistros, boites, banquet rooms and before-show hangouts to greet friends old and new — by serving up special prix fixe menus that include appetizer, entrée and dessert for a lusciously low price (beverages, tax and gratuities not included).

And, with nearly 30 participating restaurants in the downtown, riverfront and theater/antiques districts — as well as three distinct pricing levels ($15, $25 and $30), there’s probably never been a better range of choices offered to frugal foodies in search of a fixe; a streetside smorgasbord that spans Irish, Italian, Mediterranean, Mexican, seafood, sushi, contemporary American, vegetarian and European (in addition to some flavorful fusions that you’ll have to triangulate for yourself).

We’re getting peckish just thinking about it, so flip the menu over for more details and a rundown of restaurants.

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Folk-rock hitmaker Gordon Lightfoot (at the Count Basie) and Stacey Sargeant in INTIMATE APPAREL (at Two River Theater) are a couple of fine followups to a Prix Fixe dinner, this Wednesday night in Red Bank.

Partnering once again with the NJ Restaurant Association, RiverCenter touts the five-year-old Dine Downtown concept as “a huge success,” one that “offers a great opportunity for people to try a new restaurant and afterwards catch a show at one of the many theaters, or take a relaxing stroll around town to do shopping.”

There are several opportunities to do dinner and a show, such as the final Wednesday night performance of Intimate Apparel (October 6), or the first two previews of Opus at Two River Theater (October 26-27). Fans of Gordon Lightfoot can warm themselves with comfort fare (or hoist an ale to honor the gallant crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald) when the woodsy Canadian troubador returns to the Count Basie Theatre (October 6) — and it’s fun to match the latest arthouse film from Europe or Asia (at Clearview Cinemas Red Bank) with the appropriate cuisine of national origin. There’s even a chance to pair dinner with the annual Red Bank Candidates Night (October 13), if that’s your idea of entertainment.

Dine Downtown continues during regular posted hours of dinner business at each participating restaurant, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through October 27. An annotated list of participants follows.

$15.00 PRIX FIXE

Carlos O’Connor’s 31 Monmouth St./ 732-530-6663 Now celebrating its 15th year, the colorful little storefront café carries on a great legacy in the MexAmerican menu and the warm and intimate environment, where every nook and cranny is worth a look. BYOB.

Murphy Style Grill 26 Broad St./ 732-530-6659 The perfectly-positioned downtown landmark remains a great place to step away from the Broad Street shuffle while staying part of the action; serving up American classics like burgers, panini and a famous 24-oz. steak.

Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza 2 Bridge Ave. (The Galleria)/ 732-747-1683 New to the former location of 2Senza is this fossil-fueled fast favorite, a gourmet take on the pizzeria classics with some family-style sides and even a selection of homemade gelato.

Zebu Forno 20 Broad St./ 732-936-9330 Daytimers know this pulsating “Town Center” as a place where friends are encountered, business meetings strike a relaxed vibe, and laptops click with tomorrow’s news and opinion. Having just expanded its purview into the English Plaza side of the building, this go-to source for pizzas and panini, soups and salads, coffees and croissants and gelatti and MORE swings on into the night, every night.

$25.00 PRIX FIXE

Basil T’s Brewpub & Italian Grille 183 Riverside Ave. (Route 35)/ 732-842-5990 The Rallo family welcomes all who enter Red Bank with a legacy of fine kitchen creations — and the welcome continues with award-winning brewpub creations, available by the mug or growler.

The Bistro at Red Bank 14 Broad St./ 732-530-5553 As fine a place as any to watch the world go by, this essential downtown fixture has been positioned by the brothers Lyristis as a culinary world tour in itself.

Danny’s Steakhouse, Seafood & Sushi Bar 11 Bridge Ave./ 732-741-6900 Visionary owner Danny Murphy pioneered destination dining on his block, with a place that’s stayed fresh and current while losing none of its neighborhood-landmark status.

Dish, A Restaurant 13 White St./ 732-345-7070 A tiny titan where a seasonally-changing menu features accents of practically anywhere on the gastronomic globe. BYOB.

The Downtown 10 West Front St./ 732-741-2828 “Posh pub grub” creations to this reborn (and double-sized) nightspot, while retaining the brick-lined warmth and sushi bar.

The Dublin House 30 Monmouth St./ 732-747-6699 The renovated House on Monmouth Street boasts an expanded kitchen, a freat streetside courtyard, the out-back Temple Bar out back and an authentic pub that’s lost none of its drafty, dotty charm. Wash down a pint with a repast comfortably traditional (corned beef ‘n cabbage, bangers ‘n mash, fish ‘n chips) or bracingly adventurous (not to mention surprisingly affordable).

Front Street Trattoria 31 West Front St./ 732-747-9569 The place that helped usher in a new era of restaurant excitement in the 1980s continues to surprise and delight, with an adventurous menu that fuses a south-of-the-border perspective with an approach to Italian fare that’s never by-the-numbers. BYOB.

Juanito’s 159 Monmouth St./ 732-747-9118 This popular attraction (located just one block east of Red Bank’s train station) serves up a sizzling range of entrees, sopas, ensaladas and postres to a clientele that keeps on coming back for more. BYOB.

Gaetano’s 10 Wallace St./ 732-741-1321 This bustling bistro with the convertible-front dining space is a fine place for a gourmet pizza, special entree or intriguing dessert.

La Pastaria 30 Linden Pl./ 732-224-8699 The family Angelo’s relocated favorite offers an expanded menu, custom-sized portions and an array of personalized pizzas.

New Corner Restaurant 22 East Front St./ 732-530-1007 The popular eastside pizzeria puts on no airs but packs ‘em in with a full menu of robust ristorante favorites.

Pearl at the Oyster Point Hotel 146 Bodman Place/ 732-530-8200 The hotel’s refurbished dining space is the polished and lustrous thing within; a place to enjoy a billion-dollar view of river life and the RB skyline while dining on a seasonally morphing menu of “knock-out contemporary American cuisine with tastes of Asia and the American Southwest.”

Racioppi’s Kitchen 107 Oakland St./ 732-933-5989 Chef Joe’s always-creative space on the Left Bank transportation hub is a best-kept-secret spot for dinner; enjoy a midweek repast from the dining room’s center-island kitchen or copper oven, and be sure to return for one of their special Demo Night Thursdays. BYOB.

Red 3 Broad St./ 732-741-3232 Downtown’s cool and designey multi-level meet-and-greet has an intriguing way with traditional steakhouse/seafood fare, along with signature specialty drinks.

Taste 2 Bridge Ave. (The Galleria)/ 732-219-9770 With an eclectic small-plate menu, and an electric array of wines and beers (highlighted by those unique taps), Janine and Ken’s recent arrival to the Bridge Avenue scene works with the Galleria space to create an exceptional lounge experience.

Via 45 45 Broad St./ 732-450-9945 Owners Claudette Herring and Lauren Philips-Daly brought this very exciting new place for Italian and vegetarian fare to Red Bank’s own “crossroads of the world.” BYOB.

$30.00 PRIX FIXE

Buona Sera Restaurant & Bar 50 Maple Ave. (Route 35) at Monmouth St./ 732-530-5858 The early part of the week’s excellent for enjoying the fine Italian cuisine in a relatively quiet corner of a place that’s busy, boisterous and bumper-to-bumper with crowds of tri-state clubgoers each weekend. (Prix fixe on Tuesdays only)

Jamian’s Food and Drink 79 Monmouth St./ 732-747-8050 Owner Jamian LaViola reimagined the former Echo as a forward-thinking take on the neighborhood pub; a place where musicians go to create, art takes to the walls and some amazing things come from the kitchen.

The Melting Pot The Galleria, Bridge Ave. and West Front St./ 732-219-0090 Fondue is for lovers at this tantalizing dip into communal dining.

Molly Pitcher Inn 88 Riverside Ave./ 732-747-2500 Million-dollar panoramic views and bracingly fresh seafood classics at this grande dame of Navesink River hospitality (gents wear jackets after 5pm).

Monticello Bistro Cafe 69 Broad St./ 732-450-0255 New to the former site of Sogno (and relocated from its first location in South Amboy) is owner-chef Katerin Giambalvo’s elegant take on the neighborhood bistro; a spot that pushes the “pasta place” envelope with a wide array of internationally flavored seafood and meat dishes.

Pazzo 141 West Front St./ 732-747-4551 Recently opened on the ground floor of the Red Bank Corporate Plaza building, the upscale Italian dining room has redrawn the fine dining map of the boro’s Theater District, boasting an open-air kitchen, coal fired pizza oven, and what just might be the best parking deal of any place on this list.

Torcello 91 Broad St./ 732-530-0602 The former Osteria Dante is reinvented by original owner Mike Bitici and family as “an Italian restaurant with a kick” of Tuscan/Roman emphasis.  BYOB.