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The Five Best (and Several of the Worst) Menu Deals During Gables Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week in the Gables launches next week with a preview of the goods from participating neighborhood haunts. The fourth annual, "Taste Of The Gables," will feature small bites from approximately 20 of these kitchens. You can vote for your favorite dish of the evening, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit Miami's United Way. Taking place in the rotunda at The Westin Colonnade next Thursday, June 2, from 6 to 8 p.m., general admission is $25. Warning: it goes up to $35 at the door, so plan in advance. A free cocktail comes with the price of admission and since Bacardi is sponsoring, we see mojitos in your future.

The real deal takes place in the two weeks to follow, running from June 6 to 19. A special three-course menu allegedly guarantees savings of at least 20 percent, but we thought that figure needed further probing. While some restaurants have constructed tastings that give great value, others slacked off by matching regular prices or even worse, profiting from higher price points on these set menus. From Ortanique to Graziano's, here's the lowdown on what establishments are truly offering a steal, or just covering the cost of doing business.

A few of the losers are places like Norman's 180, whose $40 pre-fixe actually costs more than the items on offer. With mixed greens ($10) or conch chowder ($8) to start, plus a "Wig" burger ($14), even with dessert included, you could easily spend less ordering à la carte. Other offenders include Bangkok Bangkok, Red Koi and Tarpon Bend, where you will barely break even.

Now on to the winners! These are the five top deals during the two week period:

5. Ortanique on the Mile
The dinner prix fixe here is $36 for three courses, including a choice of desserts (of course, Chef Hutson's rum cake is one of them). Order the "nightly" ceviche ($16) and the pan sautéed grouper ($31) with their 'special sauce' - a citrus base with orange liquor and Bacardi Limon. Total = $47; Savings = $11.

4. Gables Diner
Three courses are offered for $25, a great deal considering that their famous spinach and artichoke dip ($15) plus "surf and turf" ($22), a sirloin with a side of jumbo tiger shrimp, would set you back more than that. And, you get a slice of "homemade million-dollar carrot cake" for dessert, so it's sort of like winning the food lotto. Total = $37; Savings = $12.

3. Graziano's Restaurant
A $35 set menu allows for 2-3 choices per course. Choose the burratina di buffalo ($18) to start, and the twelve ounce Angus T-Bone steak ($39) as a main course, and get the full value here. A dulce de leche crepe or Argentine style cake finishes off the meal. Total = $57; Savings = $22.

2. La Cofradia
For $25, enjoy a choice of four items per course. They are well-known for the Peruvian-style ceviche ($13), made with lime juice and aji peppers. Get the "lomo saltado," a filet mignon sautéed with onions, tomatoes, red wine and vinegar ($37). Apple tart and dulce de leche are offered for dessert, as well as various sorbets. Total = $50; Savings = $25.

1. La Dorada
The $48 prix fixe here takes the top spot and here's why - this is the only place presenting a four course menu. Choose two appetizers from a selection of seven popular dishes, we recommend the crab bisque ($18), the "chipirones" ($17.50), fried squid sitting on on a bed of onions; one of their specialties. Then moving on to the entree, the striped seabass ($38) is an item rarely offered at this price point. They are throwing in the "dessert of the day" and all in all, your stomach will truly be satisfied. Total = $73.50; Savings = $25.50.

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Lesley Elliott
Contact: Lesley Elliott