Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The case of the overwrought tasting menu numbers

Masayoshi "Masa" Takayama
I was reading a story in The New York Times this morning, written by restaurant critic Pete Wells and titled "Slips and Stumbles at an Elite Perch."

The review was of the landmark Manhattan restaurant Per Se which, after dining there four times this fall and winter, Wells declares has fallen off in both food and service.

I found the review interesting, but nothing startling -- except for the price of the tasting menu experience Wells said "would cost the four of us close to $3,000."

That comes to $750 per person. Unless tickets to a hit Broadway show and an overnight stay at a Central Park South hotel are included in the package, I found the number implausible.

So, I checked in with The Daily Meal (TDM), that survey-mad website that keeps tabs on all sorts of things in the food-and-beverage world. Among other findings, TDM has created a ranking, using current menu prices per-person based on an average tasting menu dinner, of the 30 most expensive such restaurants in the U.S.

Apparently, The Times and TDM arrive at their numbers by different routes. TDM says that at Per Se, the fifth-most-expensive venue on its list, "two nine-course tasting menus are offered daily: $310 for the Chef’s Tasting Menu, and $310 for the Tasting of Vegetables." So, that works out to $1,240 for a party of four. A lot of drinks and huge tips would be needed to boost it another $1,760 to hit the $3,000 level.

Interestingly, listed as most expensive on TDM's chart is the sushi restaurant Masa that, like Per Se, is located in the Time Warner Center. Says TDM, "The menu-less cuisine, with fish flown in from Japan, is accompanied by a high bar for entry: the price. For dinner at this three-Michelin-star venue, you’ll pay a minimum of $450 per person before tip." That would come to $1,800 for a party of four, before wines and tips.

You can check out the entire list of 30 online. But first, go to the Masa website for one of the most beautiful restaurant website films you'll ever see, featuring the elegant chef-owner Masayoshi "Masa" Takayama.

Here are the high-priced establishments that rank between Masa and Per Se:

No. 2 -- Joël Robuchon, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas. "The 16-course prix fixe menu is a truly memorable experience, as well it ought to be at $425 a head, wine not included. However, their most popular menu is the five-course tasting menu, at $195." Party of four? For the 16-course adventure, $1,700 for food only.

No. 3 -- Urasawa, Beverly Hills, CA. "Has a nearly 30-course omakase menu, priced at $395, that changes daily." Party of four? $1,580 for food only.

No. 4 -- Gus Savoy, Las Vegas. "In addition to the 14-course Innovation menu at $375, a nine-course $290 Signature menu, and an À La Carte menu is available." Party of four? $1,160 for food only.

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