tasting menu virgin (i'm blushing)
I've never had? ordered? experienced? a tasting menu. Here I sit, nearly 50 and never been, well, you know.
I get the concept...read many articles, menus, descriptions, etc. I am wondering about CH's experiences and what y'all see as potential advantages and disadvantages of the whole tasting menu thing versus ordering off the menu.
The availability of a tasting menu will figure strongly in my choice of a NYC restaurant for my 50th birthday dinner...but that's a whole 'nother post.
When a tasting menu is thoughtfully prepared, a tasting menu allows the chef's creativity to come out, often with the best ingredients in the house that night. The tasting menu also allows you to sample a variety of small tastes, making the meal more interesting. Unfortunately, I've only had one good tasting menu experience several years ago. Since then I've had tasting menus at a couple of NYC restaurants where the dishes are basically modified (and only slightly smaller) versions of some of the less interesting items on the menu. Those meals just leave me full and unsatisfied.
I quite love tasting menus.
Personally, I find that on any dish, there's nothing quite like the first bite and after 3-5 bites, I am no longer having the same swooon experience. So for me, I love having many many chances for the first bite throughout a meal experience. If it's a chef whose work I love there are times when I like not having to narrow down my choices. Same number of total bites in a meal, but more variety among the bites.
I also like it when I want to do a bunch of wine pairings rather than drink just two glasses of the same thing. Then the tasting menu and wine pairings are more of an activity, than just a meal.
eta: I usually request a half-pour (3oz) when I get wine pairings with tasting menus, otherwise, I am under the table and full too quickly
At Emeril's Fish House in Las Vegas. From what I recall (3 years ago) the tasting portions were just so huge as well as the pairings. I believe I made it through three. That was it, my DH loved it and thought it was all good. It was just all so rich and I think when the third glass of vino came out, I raised the white flag.
It was a very cool experience don't get me wrong. but definitely save your appetite for the event. But then, as in me being a light-weight needed nothing else to drink after the second pairing.
I am sure that we could of had a better experience somewhere else, but at the time I was wanting to eat at his restaurant. But what the heck we were in Vegas!
I think it was around $350 for us both which by some accounts can be easily spent on a dinner at most restaurants.
Also a few in Napa, same thing, can't say that I would do that again either, at a point I just didn't get the dish, too crazy.
Another tasting was at a local restaurant - in San Ramon not as expensive although not cheap. And I didn't care for that one at all. The courses were oddly put together , quail was overdone, pasta was just eh. And there was way too much wine (if that is possible) Probably to over compensate for the dreary tasting.
I'll stick with ordering off the menu. Would I do anymore, probably not.
If its a place that you know you like, or a chef whose food you know you like, there's basically no disadvantage to a tasting menu. Well, I suppose the only possible disadvantage might be that there is a dish that is so spectacular you want more of it...but chances are you can either get them to bring you more. One thing to keep in mind is that if you have particular food likes or dislikes (or allergies or what not) let the restaurant know well in advance (ie, when you make the reservation) and then double check with them a few days before the meal. That should ensure that you don't run into any unpleasant surprises on your plate.
I very much enjoy tasting menus now and again.
My husband and I experienced our first tasting menu at Jean Georges. There were two tasting menu options: the Classic and the Seasonal. Each tasting menu consisted of seven official courses, although there were many food bonuses along the way. (At dinner, Jean Georges also offers a three-course prix fixe.) Our decision to do the tasting menu was somewhat counter-intuitive; there was nothing -- and I mean nothing -- on the Seasonal TM that we would have ordered had we decided to go the Three-Course Prix Fixe route. Yet we decided to order the Seasonal TM anyway. If the chef at one of the top restaurants in NY felt a particular succession of dishes best showcased his talents, we were willing to give the meal a try.
The results were amazing! Courses that on the printed menu seemed only acceptable were, in fact, symphonies of flavors and textures. The thrill of discovery -- what new creation was the chef going to send our way? -- made for an evening that was as fun as it was delicious. (I'll throw in the fact that the waitstaff at Jean Georges was absolutely charming. As out-of-town nobodies, my husband and I had made our reservations with the realization that we might get a major dose of attitude along with our food. Instead, we were impressed by the warmth of all the personnel.)
That experience has been our model for ordering tasting menus again. If I have confidence in the chef, I'm willing to turn my meal over to him/her and go the tasting menu route even if the list of courses don't all sound like something I'd order.
We've never done the wine pairing. I simply can't drink that much.
The big thing is to distinguish what is really a tasting menu and what is really a lazy prix-fixe passing itself off as a tasting menu.
If you have a choice of regular entrees off the menu, that is not a tasting menu. A tasting menu leaves it in the hands of the chef. IMO, it is best to go with the restaurant in terms of dishes and wine pairings. Let them pair the wine to the food.
As someone mentioned, let them know when doing a reservation about things you won't eat. If you are really picky, don't do a tasting menu. However, one, at most, two items is fine. I won't eat fois gras, so telling that upfront has been no problem.
One thing I learned recently is that when reserving you can reguest the menu being printed off. I will do that next time. It is fine to have the wait staff to tell you what is in the dish, but sometimes I like to look at the menu to further understand what I'm eating.
Also, be sure to ask on your local board what is the best menu. Happy 50th.