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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.

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  1. Great post.

    *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

    1 Reply
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Great addition and votes. And you're right, omakase and Chinese banquets don't count. Lucky for me, I've eaten a lot more of those than European style tasting menus. Thanks!

    2. i don't do that sort of thing too often, but providence has an excellent seafood oriented tasting menu.

      http://rameniac.blogspot.com/2006/09/...

      also alain giraud i think has set up residency at the peninsula hotel. equally awesome.

      1. I don't know that 561 is such a value. It's $100 with wine pairing.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JAB

          $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

          )

          ~AquaW
          http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com

        2. I think Providence has the best food, but Opus has better ambience and the chairs are unbelievably comfy (if you get one of the special 2-tops)

          I was pretty impressed with Providence's wine selection too.

          1. 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.