Somewhat odd tasting menu question...
I'm familiar with tasting menus at places like French Laundry/Per Se or at chef's tables (like Patina in LA), but I'm not as familiar with the etiquette/process at places that have a regular menu and also list a chef's tasting menu option, but don't include the actual menu. In other words, when the dinner menu ends with "Chef's Tasting Menu, 6 courses, $90" - how does that work?
I'm assuming that they ask about preferences, etc? For instance, I'm not a big seafood eater, but I love duck. I'm thinking about doing a tasting menu for my birthday, but I don't want to end up disappointed that I didn't get to try the duck and had to eat scallops!
I feel silly for asking, but I figure I'll feel a lot more foolish asking at the restaurant!
(I'm looking at going to Redd in the Napa Valley, if anyone has specific experience).
You're pretty much spot on. It's the chef's choice of what to give you that night, often a variation on a regular menu item, but not always. Let the staff know your dislikes/allergies, and let the chef have at it.
I am with you 100%. We do tasting menus (and sommelier's wine pairings most often) quite often. When dining out, I attempt to do full research, if we have not dined there before. If we anticipate the tasting menu, then I will call, as my wife cannot do bivalves. To date, we have never had a problem. Each chef (and kitchen) has accommodated us 100%. Most often, the sommelier has also paired the wine with my wife's dish. This usually means that I get to taste her dish, plus mine, and also taste her wine, plus mine.
We've had some tasting menus, that did not quite live up to our expectations, but have had many more that blew us away. Some of our best meals have been these.
I love to turn a chef loose, and let him/her do their thing, and reap the rewards. So long as my wife's one problem is addressed (and I give them notice, so changes can be made - no surprises), everything is wonderful. I also like the smaller portions (kinda' like "small plate" selections). Give me more tastes, and more flavors, and not too much of any one thing. If I fall in love with a dish, then I'll just order it on my next trip.
Please do call ahead with any concerns. Let the kitchen know, so they can make changes, as might be necessary. Do not spring it on them, as a surprise. As I stated, no chef, regardless of the number of Michelin stars after their name, has ever had a problem. Each has done their best, and these efforts have been excellent.
Maybe I have been fortunate, but then we do this dozens of times per year, around the globe.
re: Bill Hunt
Hunt is correct -- Almost all restaurants that offer chefs or tasting menus are capable of and happy to accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences, as long as they have notice and the revisions are reasonable. Yes, these special menus vary, and are meant to take advantage of a kitchen's creativity and what is fresh and in season. But chefs have their specialties and preferences, restaurants have their styles, and purveyors have their products, so there is some continuity. If there is no sample chef'a menu listed on the website, do a Chowhound or Google search and seek out reviews and blogs, or ask the restaurant for a sample menu. Ask questions and state limitations and preferences when making your reservation, and get a sense of whether the person on the phone is knowledgeable and capable of passing on your info or is just a reservation-taker, in which case it makes sense to follow up during an off-hour and ask to speak with a cook or manager. Make sure to check on the communication when the reservation is confirmed the day before or day of. If you find yourself reciting a whole list of restrictions, changes, and requests, maybe you should rethink your plans and order a la carte, after all, part of the point of a tasting menu is to put yourself in the kitchen's hands.
Be aware that most restaurants require that if anyone in a party is ordering a tasting menu, the whole table must order from it. Some places are flexible, but most don't want to fire and serve a number of small courses to some diners while a couple are doing the usual appetizer, main and dessert. Usually all diners will be served the same dishes (with some alteration for restrictions and preferences, above) while certain restaurants will present even more ambitious separate dishes to couples so they can taste and share. There are often unannounced amuses, palate cleansers, and little extras served in addition or between the listed courses.