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.
i think tasting menus are really the most fine at a place that does local/seasonal very well. the chef always seems to have small amounts of sensational produce or a stash of cheese to bring out just for the tasting menu. if i have a lot of respect for the chef i like to do a tasting menu so as to sample more dishes and let her/him have a little fun with fave ingredients and spur of the moment thing. i wouldn't do a tasting if i had no clue about the restaurant or chef though-- tasting menus are kind of the culinary equivalent of telling a makeup artist or hairdresser: "do whatever you want!"-- if they are brilliant, so will your meal, if they're not brilliant or not engaged, you'll be unsatisfied and possibly ticked off.
one big tip-- don't order a multi-course tasting menu near the end of dinner service, it will usually be subpar and/or thrown together, and it will piss off the staff-- you won't get a good meal.
While some tasting menus are supposed to be comprised of "specials" and "the best of" what the chef has to order- I've sometimes been dissuaded since, perhaps one of the dishes may be something I/we don't eat- e.g. red meat. However, if you carefully and politely ask (and if everyone having the tasting menu agrees)- they may offer a substitute dish. I've been to both type restaurants-where they gladly will do a substitution and others where there is a "no substitutions" policy- which I can understand. Enjoy!
absolutely right. it's always a good idea to mention doing a tasting menu when making your reservation, esp if you've some dietary restrictions the chef will need to accommodate-- "we'd like to do the tasting menu at 8 pm, my husband has a shellfish allergy; but i can eat everything." that kind of thing.
if you happen to be as Gosh describes below, i'd agree to just order off a menu-- the range that a tasting menu will cover will likely be too much for a picky eater to be able to enjoy, and it is unfair to ask the staff to come up with new 3-bite courses for someone who "doesn't do" a lot of different foods. tasting menus are really geared in most cases toward more adventurous foodie types.
Depends. If you're an adventuresome eater, willing to try anything, go for it.
If you're some kind of candy ass, picky SOB with lots of food senstivities, just order off a menu.
I love tasting menus. I especially enjoy them when they are paired with wine for each course, but even if they aren't they are great. I love trying new things and seeing what the chef comes up with. But I am a very adventerous eater. My husband is a bit less adventerous but even he enjoys them. I would say if you are a very picky eater they would not be for you.
The disadvantage that I have experienced with tasting menus, especially in NYC, is that some chefs take "taste" too literally. One bite and it's gone. Forget conversation, because if you are talking you might not be sufficiently focused to take in the complexity of the one bite. Also, after a few hours and a gazillion bucks, it's even odds that you will still be hungry.
For tasting menus, another thing to mention is that you can tweak the proposed menu. I am normally a believer in the chef and, aside from navigating food allergies or health requirements, I'd never think of asking a chef to make a change to the proposed tasting menu. Except when I want more. My wife and I did this at Babbo a few years ago where we did the pasta tasting menu and asked to insert a beek cheek ravioli in to the mix and they happily accommodated this request. heh heh heh
mlgb....interesting point of view. Tasting menus sometimes do indeed take a while. But I like that. A lot. Eating dinner and enjoying the company of your wife or whatever folks you are with is one of the finer things in life. Dinner, to me, is not meant to be just speedily wolfed down so you can move on to the next thing (not that you're saying that either). Some of the best meals I have ever had are of the 3-4.5 hour variety.
And really good tasting menus, no matter how many courses, are meant to satisfy you and leave you feeling full and satisfied, but not stuffed. If you leave a tasting menu place feeling stuffed, then it is a not properly designed and portioned tasting menu.
Thanks all...here are my thoughts after reading all your thoughtful comments.
I'm pretty sure I will choose Babbo and I'm interested in the pasta tasting with the wine pairing.
I'm not a picky eater
I can't eat large quanitiies of food all at once but I think I can handle a lot of little bites over a few hours. One of my dining companions is a good friend who can usually finish what I can't...so nothing will go to waste.
I love the idea of trying lots of different types of things.
I've always wanted to go to Babbo!
Babbo's a great choice. The 'cheese course' my wife and I had there was one of the single best food/dining/eating experiences I have ever had. See the description below --
"........What came next was what we jokingly called a ‘cheese course’ – the Apricot and Carrot “Marmellata” with Goat Milk Curd. Essentially, this creation is a dab, an orb really, of goat milk curd (borderline cheese) with a reduction and weaving of apricots and carrots arranged as a semicircle at the feet of the orb of goat milk curd. The sweetness of the apricots worked really well with the texture of the carrots. This was a surprisingly incredible course. In fact, this was so, so good, that it was our ‘Course of the Night’. Especially when you consider that this was paired with a great wine, the Muffato della Sala, Castello della Sala (Antinori) 1998 (Umbria), it made this part of the dining experience absolutely amazing...."
If you want to read about my whole experience at Babbo, here's a link --