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Does any one except me not love tasting menus?

Maybe I am repeating an old topic, I am new to chowhound. But I am not a huge fan of tasting menus and they seem to crop up all over the place now. I'm surprised MacDonald's hasn't come up with McTasting. When I am out with a group, they take forever, I don't always like the choices and even though the portions are small I get full and bored way before the end. The theory is nice, you get to taste a little of a number of things, but I get the feeling they benefit the restaurant more than the customer.

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  1. I'm with you on this. Just too many things I don't want to taste, but it's great for those (incl. chefs) who are adventurous.

      1. I dislike tasting menus, too.

        For me, the portions of each course are too small to get a clear image of what I'm supposed to be tasting, and if's something I DO like, I want more than one tiny bite. Also, sometimes when an entire table orders a tasting menu, each person gets different dishes and people inevitably want to taste each others food so already tiny servings get split into even tinier bits. It gets so ridiculous and unfulfilling that at the end of the whole affair I feel like I'd rather have just not eaten any of the food at all.

        Usually after I've eaten a tasting menu, I'm either still hungry, or worse, stuffed but not really "satisfied" because I've just eaten a dozen courses of bits and pieces that were too ephemeral to make an impression on my palate but have made quite an impression in my gut and the host's wallet. It's like the culinary equivalent of channel surfing for two hours versus watching a great movie in it's entirety.

        1. It depends:
          - Tasting menus designed by the chef with no subs and all the courses small I do not like
          - Tasting menus that have the last course as an entree size, you're getting better
          - Tasting menu that I can design (choice which dishes I want off the regular menu) and all but the last course are small and the last course entree size I like

          2 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            Why do you want the last course larger?

            Also, isn't the last course going to be desert or cheese? Or do you mean the last course before those?

            Also, what if the first (or some other) course were entree size and the rest appetizer size -- does it have to the last course? Or do you just want a bigger main item?

            1. re: Atahualpa

              The penultimate course is larger if dessert is a "course" of course. Thank you Mr. Ed.

              The idea i refer to is if your order four non-dessert courses, you receive the first three as small and the last like any other entree sized portion. Customer get to choose the biggie.

          2. I, for one, love tasting menus.

            1. I am a very adventurous eater though. I'll have, and have had, just about anything.

            2. When I'm at a restaurant I like, I always want to order as many things as I can and a tasting menu is one step closer to that.

            3. I like to small portions. I find they are more than enough to make an impression on my palate. If it is good, I'll be able to remember it from just that small bite. If it isn't the best, it is forgettable. Whereas if I order an a là carte entree and I don't like it, I'm stuck with it.

            4. I often get bored with an entrée -- even a great entrée -- long before I'm finished it. I'd rather have two smaller thigns than one big one.

            The annalogy with channel surfing is somewhat apt. Except it is more like watching six 30-minute shows instead of a 3-hour movie. I certainly don't want to be stuck watching a movie I picked only by its title and description if I don't absolutely love it. I'd rather watch 6 short programmes -- even if only 4 are good.

            Of course there are exceptions. If I've seen a movie by the director before, or know the subject well, I'm more likely to commit to it. Simlarly, if I've eaten at the restaurant before and remember what I loved from the tasting, or they have a particular dish I've been dying to try or longing for, I'll forgo a tasting menu.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Atahualpa

              I too love tasting menus, for many of the reasons you listed above. I really like sampling many different things, and the small portions enable me to do that without being overstuffed. And I can try something interesting or unique without having to commit to it as the only thing I'm eating--it allows me to branch out and try new things I would be reluctant to order entree-size. And I find that the tasting menu is often where the chef features his/her most creative signature dishes--not only do I get to sample many things, but those are often the dishes the chef really wants to feature. So I am decidedly pro-tasting menu.

            2. Grew up in Singapore, where having more than 3 courses was quite common. At hawker centres we'd often share stuff and therefore get to sample 5-6 dishes if not more; similar situation eating family style or even Chinese banquets where 10 courses are typical. So I kinda find having only 3 courses rather limiting; a tasting menu sort of ovecomes that limitation for me. But more often than not, when I have the time and money, I just cruise through a few restaurants, going for their best dish there -- that optimizes the meal and maximizes the deliciousness on every course. And that way I get to tailor the length of my meal to a real time measure of my appetite as I'm not committed to any number of courses.

              1 Reply
              1. re: limster

                I do that a lot, too. After a one-year absence from NYC I ate nine courses at three restaurants over five hours --- all the stuff I'd been missing. Now I do the same thing at least once every two weeks. I'll graze an entire neighborhood as my evening's sole form of entertainment.

              2. Bourdain said that tasting menus are great for chefs because they get more servings from whatever meat, fish, or produce they buy -- as I recall he also said that they can push old stuff more easily using tasting menus.

                2 Replies
                1. re: steinpilz

                  And there was an interesting article in the NYTimes dining section recently to this effect ... using up odds and ends from other dishes to compose the tasting menus.

                  Not for that reason, but I've rarely ordered a tasting menu - guess I just prefer to choose what I'm going to have.

                  1. re: steinpilz

                    "Bourdain said that tasting menus are great for chefs because they get more servings from whatever meat, fish, or produce they buy -- as I recall he also said that they can push old stuff more easily using tasting menus."

                    And Batali said that tasting menus were for "wimps who didn't have the guts to order from the menu."

                    That seems a little harsh, but I'm not a fan of tasting menus either. Over and over, on CH and other food sites, people post about multi course tasting menus where the hit rate varies widely. A few courses are wonderful, a few are awful, and the rest are "interesting," foodie-speak for "I'd never order *that* again." So at the end of the meal, all those courses average out to a "B" if you're lucky.

                    At their best, a tasting menu can give you a chance to try a broad sample of a chef's cuisine. At their worst, they are a random selection of dishes of varying appeal chosen by somebody else. I am old fashioned - I like to chose my own food. After all, I'm paying for it. I think I have a better chance of selecting something that appeals to me on a given night than a chef who doesn't know me.

                  2. I never order the tasting menu. In many foods there's a gradient of texture and flavors from the center to the edge, such as the range from the point of a slice of pie to the crust, that is dimished when made into smaller versions for tasting menus. I must have certain foods in a certain quantity to have the full experience.

                    1. Tasting menus only really work when you are at a GREAT restaurant where you want to experience the work and ART of a great chef... otherwise, they often don't work very well. A restaurant has to be "set up for it" and understand what a tasting menu is all about. Those that are "using up old product" to compose a menu are not the kind of places that one goes to for a tasting menu. One chooses a tasting menu when they love great food and it's their entertainment for the evening... its a great restaurant and they don't care about spending 3-4 hours at the table (or more). My meal recently at Per Se was 6 hours!! I loved it and it didn't seem like it was 6 hours.

                      I've also been the guest at restaurants (meaning the chef knew us and the meal was comped) and the chef wanted to show us a lot of dishes... so they composed a tasting menu. The problem was that every dish was almost entree size so it was a rediculous amt of food. Since we knew the chef we felt uncomfortable... as we didn't want to leave a lot of food on the plate.

                      A tasting menu should be small portions, a size large enough to enjoy the dish but not so large that you get tired of the dish... and the number of dishes should be determined by the size of each of the courses... so as not to serve too much food. A tasting menu could work at 4 or 5 courses... or 7, or more. Obviously, when you are having 4 courses they should be larger than if you are having 8 or 10. When I went to El Bulli in Spain we were served 35 courses (or tastes in this case... a bite or 2.... but El Bulli is a whole different thing... a separate topic for sure). In addition, each course should be chosen so that each dish works on its own, but also within the context of the others... so the meal is balanced. The best chefs understand this and take into account flavors, textures, temperatures, etc. so the total meal is balanced. They think about the meal as a total entity, not just a bunch of courses sent out just so the diner can try a bunch of things. That is short sighted... more like a buffet concept. While many restaurants in Europe understand the concept of the degustation menu... few really pull it off in the US. It's also a great way to have a lot of nice wines that you can match with each course, esp if you go with 4-6 people so you can order a bottle for each course or 2.

                      Those that know how to do tasting menus well that come to mind immediately as the best are Per Se, Alain Ducasse, Cafe Boulud and Daniel in NYC.... French Laundry in Napa... and Charlie Trotters in Chicago. All the great places in Europe have it down pat.

                      When you have a great tasting menu with great wines in a great restaurant... it's magic.

                      1. I agree with the above, I've had amazing meals at restaurants that really know how to do a tasting menu, especially when paired with the appropriate vino. Most recently at Le Reve in San Antonio. Other memorable meals were Bouley back in the late 80's, Cellar in the Sky (I'm really dating myself now), the food bar at Emerils in New Orleans.

                        I like to taste as many different things as I can, maybe that's why I really enjoy restaurants where you eat family style, like Chinese or Thai.

                        Especially when there's just two of you, it's impossible to create your own "tasting" menu, but with four or more, in some places I prefer to just order four different apps, pastas, entrees,etc and share. that way we get to try many different items, but get to choose ourselves what we're eating.

                        1. Boiling down my longish post above... the key to a great tasting menu if youre in a place that "gets it" is balance, portion control, timing and proper wines served properly. It's the perfect way to dine for those that love fine dining.

                          Agree with above post ... Bouley it his old place was great. Always ordered a tasting there. Interesting that poster mentions Emerils. Too many people don't give Emeril his due, as they see him on his show doing his "foodertainment" thing. This guy is also a SERIOUS chef. I've dined at Emerils since it opened in 1989. He was there a lot then and he served up some unbelievable meals. I too remember tasting menus at the food bar where he'd ask what we wanted to eat next as we progressed thru the meal, offering suggestions. Now its a little more crazy at his place/s, but food still solid. I usually don't order tasting menus now... places are too busy. Settle for for the killer BBQ'd Shrimp w/Rosemary Bisquits (I always get that) and then pick an entree... say a grilled pork chop with mashed yams and seared greens. Delish! So, Emeril's is actually a good example of a place where I wouldn't suggest ordering a tasting menu now.

                          1. The last few posts touched on an important element in enjoying a tasting menu - carefully chosen wine. We had the tasting menu at Tony de Luca's at the Oban Inn in NOTL. It included a nice range of wines since that's wine country. The wines were an integral part of the menu.

                            1. I like tasting menus because I like a variety of things... the THING that gets me though, is those restaurants that people say "Only the tasting menu is good". Well, sometimes I just want to drop in for an entree or something light. I hate to cross off a whole bunch of POTENTIALLY good restaurants because I feel obligated to get their tasting menu... :P


                              1. I only do tasting menus where I KNOW the chef will be amazing.

                                In those cases, I love it, because I get to try so many things, plus the chef gets to modulate the flow of tastes better. Personally, I get the pinnacle tasting experience from the first 3 bites of a dish anyway.

                                Places more regular, I like to order my favourites, because few restaurants do everything equally well.