Help me break down the LA tasting menu scene (I promise to be specific!)
I know you all get a lot of questions about tasting menus, but scouring the past posts hasn't been very helpful because each query simply results in a slew of votes for: Spago, Opus, Patina, Providence, Sona, Melisse, Bastide, and a motley assortment of others.
And no, I can't afford Urasawa!
So, I'm wondering if breaking it down would help me decide. What, do you think, is the best in terms of the following:
BEST FOOD: I'm going to predict this will be a wash. I know the food's going to be fantastic at all of these places, so I'll do the legwork and check out all the websites. Reading the menu and looking at photos should help me decide what I want to eat.
BEST AMBIANCE: do all of these places have gorgeous dining rooms, either modern or old-fashioned? Is one especially more breathtaking than the others?
VARIETY: if two people go for tasting menus, which of these places will serve the two people different courses, and which will serve the two identical courses?
WINE: who has the most impressive wine pairings?
VALUE: I know we're talking about a $20 difference between all these menus, but who has the best value in your opinion?
CHAIRS: it sounds silly, but ipsedixit just complained that her behind fell asleep after three hours at Providence. Who has the the most well-cushioned chairs? I know Opus has big comfortable armchairs.
My one and only tasting menu experience was at The Ritz in San Francisco (Ron Siegel), and I'm hoping to top that.
*One caveat, this list does not include omakase, nor Chinese style banquet menus, both of which I consider the Asian equivalent of "tasting menus".
So, here goes ...
BEST FOOD: Spago and La Cachette (tie)
BEST AMBIANCE: Patina
VARIETY: Maison Akira
WINE: Valentino and Providence
VALUE: Restaurant 561
CHAIRS: La Cachette
Please allow me add another category ...
STEMWARE & SILVERWARE: Watergrill
$60-65 for a nine-course menu for food alone is pretty good tasting menu wise (and for a better steal, $30-35 for the lunch eight-course) ~ and there are special events which are drinks-inclusive, usually promotion with a winery/spirits company (recently I was at a vodka-paired 9-course, drinks included, for $65 - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/335860)
I honestly think Providence is the best restaurant in LA now with L'Orangerie is closing. Plus, it's not insanely over-priced, so I would say it's best in food and best in value (i couldn't stop gushing to michael cimarusti when he came out to talk to us). best in ambience will always be l'orangerie (try to squeeze in a reservation). as for variety, i've never gone to a good restaurant and be served the identical tasting menus for me & my hubby. we have some dietary restrictions and preferences (we don't eat cruel food like veal & foie gras, the only meat i eat is seafood, my hubby is allergic to crab & shrimp, etc. etc...) and always seem to ask for alterations of the tasting menus and they always seem to oblige. obviosuly bastide has been closed for a long time but it supposedly had the most extensive wine list (albeit all french). never been to valentino, but heard it has a great wine list, as patina does. melisse, sona & patina didn't really do it for me.
Disclaimer: my tasting menu experience is rather limited
BEST FOOD: Of the ones I've been to so far - Opus, but I'm saving up for Providence (and probably Urasawa after that! You should too! ;) )
BEST AMBIANCE: From the Web site pictures and other food blogs, Providence seems to have the nicest ambience - very classy.
VARIETY: Highly doubt any of these places will serve two completely different menus (well, I guess you can always lie at Opus and say one of you is allergic to all seafood, and the other is a pescetarian.) Some may offer vegetarian options in lieu of the meat courses, but those may come out sub-par.
WINE: I particularly enjoyed the pairings at 561 (once it was wine; the other time vodka - special event.) ~ however, sometimes the service can make this a downer (there were a few times where I got the wine way before food, and vice versa.)
VALUE: Either Opus/561/Roy's
CHAIRS: I AGREE with ipse that chairs are a consideration, since you'll be sitting for 2-3 hours! And yes, I love the big comfy boothlike chairs at Opus.
BEST FOOD: Spago.
BEST AMBIANCE: Hotel Bel-Air - in the garden, though the chef's table gives you great kitchen action (as well as at Patina and Providence).
VARIETY: Two completely different menus at Patina - the regular, and the ocean based. Melisse has a regular and vegetarian based, but value-wise, seafood wins.
VALUE: For short ones - Sunday night Lucques; Roy's; Monday night Violet. For longer ones - Spago, Opus.
CHAIRS: If you want to look and feel important while sitting comfortably, get one of the three main dining room booths lining the north wall at Spago.
Have fun, and report back!