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Taste big-city flavors, pay small town prices

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Pork belly is an entree choice on the three-course menu at Restaurant O in Coos Bay. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Tempura wild-caught prawns are an appetizer choice with the three-course menu at Restaurant O in Coos Bay. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
A 16-ounce ribeye steak comes with two side dishes at Restaurant O in Coos Bay [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Locally cultivated oysters can be ordered singly or by the half-dozen in various preparations, including Rockefeller, at Restaurant O in Coos Bay. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Locally caught Dungeness crab can be added to Parmesan risotto at Restaurant O in Coos Bay. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Fresh-fried churros with chocoalte sauce are a dessert choice on the three-course menu at Restaurant O in Coos Bay. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Pork belly is an entree choice on the three-course menu at Restaurant O in Coos Bay. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Tempura wild-caught prawns come with a chile-tamarind dipping sauce at Restaurant O in Coos Bay. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]

As consumer prices rise nearly everywhere, it’s arguably worth a tank of gas to try one of the South Coast’s premier restaurants — at some very attractive prices for fine dining.

Restaurant O in Coos Bay had been on my list for the past five years, but visits to my hometown never aligned with a window for dinner until my mom’s birthday this month. A particular prawn preparation won her over earlier this year and cemented her perception of Restaurant O as a special occasion destination.

Because fine dining is in short supply in and around Coos Bay, Restaurant O strives to be all things to all people, tapping into such trends as tapas while simultaneously ascribing to more traditional dinnerhouse fare, such as steaks and surf ’n’ turf, even old-school lobster Thermidor.

Setting Restaurant O apart from most other establishments in the region — even extending to the Rogue Valley — is a three-course, fixed-price menu for just $35, the most affordable I’ve seen in maybe a decade. And the fee doesn’t just buy the kitchen’s odds and ends with a scoop of sorbet for dessert.

Headlining the bill of fare were those wild-caught prawns my mom loves so much, preceding choices of salmon, pork belly, cheesecake or tiramisu. My partner surprised me by selecting the pork belly over salmon and fresh-fried churros with chocolate sauce for dessert. Adding a wine pairing with each course tacked on $20. I ordered my own glass of rose cava for $8.

Our agreement to share opened up options for me, although choices narrowed somewhat when we heard the kitchen was out of lobster. So instead of the lobster-asparagus risotto ($38) we’d been eyeing, I requested Parmesan risotto with Dungeness crab. The total cost was $31, although plain risotto can be had for just $14, and add-ons from meatballs to lobster tail start at $5 and top out at $28.

Steaks also seemed unusually affordable. My older son craved the 16-ounce ribeye whose $36 price is at least $20 less than I typically see in the Rogue Valley. And this one boasted not one, but two side dishes. From jasmine rice, sautéed mixed vegetables, mashed or rainbow potatoes, mixed greens salad and french fries, he chose the last two in that list.

My mom so loves truffle-Parmesan fries ($7) that she paired a side order with the tempura prawn appetizer ($12) to compose her meal. Inclined to seafood of another sort, my younger son weighed fried versus broiled oysters and finally agreed to share a half-dozen broiled bivalves Rockefeller-style ($25).

Locally cultivated, oysters also can be ordered singly with various toppings, including foie gras, from $4 to $6. I requested one with the addition of liver. Other selections under the tapas heading include bruschetta with numerous toppings, beetroot hummus, tempura vegetables and chef’s cheese and charcuterie boards from $4 to $23.

Luxury ingredients alongside Italian specialties — chicken Parmesan, spaghetti Bolognese and fettuccine Alfredo — acknowledge chef-owner Eoghain O’Neill’s globe-trotting career. His first Ristorante O in Alghero, on the Italian island of Sardinia, earned him recommendations in the Michelin Guide. He previously cooked in London, Paris and the Caribbean, where he met pediatrician Kariktan Cruz. They married a year after he joined her in Coos Bay.

The couple indeed have made good on their plan to furnish a cosmopolitan vibe for small-town prices. While Restaurant O’s main dining room has a minimalist decor, the adjacent bar with cushioned stools and abstract artwork feels like a chic antidote to the town’s brew pubs, casual ethnic eateries and fish ’n’ chips shacks.

But if it’s fish ’n’ chips you’re after, chef O’Neill prepares those, too, for $18. He is Irish, after all.

Our salads and appetizers arrived intermittently, as the server fulfilled requests for my older son’s side salad in advance, as well as my younger son’s small Caesar with grilled chicken ($12). The gorgeous mixed greens were somewhat wasted on my carnivorous older son, as his veggie-loving brother relieved him of the cherry tomatoes, adding them to his own salad.

Presented with five succulent prawns, butterflied and conveying just the right ratio of perfectly crisp batter, my partner and I agreed my mom’s enthusiasm was not misplaced. A chile-tamarind sauce inspired by the cuisine of Trinidad imparted delicious notes of acid and heat, tempered with a glass of California sauvignon blanc.

Five-spice jus accented the tender pork belly — crisped in the fryer and perched atop leek and pea mashed potatoes. A glass of Abacela tempranillo paired with the dish. Sculpting baby carrots and zucchini in classical cuisine’s “tourne” style preserved their toothsome textures.

Surrounded with coulis of basil and bell pepper, my risotto referenced colors of the Italian flag, although the flavor fell short on Parmesan. Several fat crab fry legs topped the rice, under garnishes of microgreens and fresh chives.

I was similarly less enamored than I anticipated of the oyster with foie gras. The mollusk was practically a miniature specimen, the liver reduced to a sauce, rather than retained as a piece of lobe or even pate. More flavorful were the oysters with spinach and garlic, nicely broiled under a buttery sauce. My son loved scooping them from half shells and asked if I could make them at home.

We waited out a lull in the service while the kitchen apparently prepared a new batch of chocolate sauce for my partner’s dessert, paired with a glass of Port. Hot, crispy and showered in cinnamon sugar, the churros came in a generous portion that provided one for each person at the table. Dessert-loving diners will find themselves in a quandary over trios of creme brulee and tiramisu or deconstructed lemon tart with homemade raspberry sorbet.

And anyone who wants to maximize a Restaurant O foray for its westward mileage can consider the six- or nine-course chef’s tasting menus for $95 and $125, respectively.

Located at 260 S. Broadway, Coos Bay, Restaurant O is open from noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. See restauranto.us or call 541-808-9300.

Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com