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Tasting Menus--are they worth the price?

The best tasting menus run about $150 per person. If you go as a couple, it could run well into the mid to upper hundreds for some. Do you go, have you been? Was it worth the money? Let's assume it's a top notch place. You can get a lot of great food for that price. Were you happy w/ your experience?

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  1. Yes, many times. Like any dining experience, some were better than others. When its good, its outstanding. At many top tier places, by the time you start with various amuses and get through the petite four, you will have gone through 10-15 courses. Even though the dishes maybe small, have that many and you're totally stuffed. Is it worth it? Always subjective but in my experience, largely yes. Add in some great wine pairings and 4 hours can fly by in a food and alcohol blur. Did that most recently at EMP before the menu change and it was fabulous.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Bkeats

      Thanks. The one I have reservations for is 21 courses so we'll be there for a long time. Maybe I could think of it as dinner and show. It might just be one of those bucket list food things to do.

      1. re: chowser

        That's the way to think of it. Your dinner is the night's entertainment.

        1. re: chowser

          Is that Table 21 at Volt?
          (If so, it is worth it and a good value ($121 before taxes & service/tip etc or wine))

          1. re: huiray

            Yes, but the price is now $150. A 7 course dinner is only $95. Is it worth 50% more than the 7 course dinner?

            1. re: chowser

              Aha, the price has gone up - I haven't eaten there in the last year or so...

              Assuming the tasting menu is similar in concept, execution and substance to what I knew it as - Yes, it is worth it in my opinion. If you have one of the single-seating ones (i.e. just that one that night) expect it to take about 3 1/2 + hours. Don't forget to pet the two cast-metal flying pigs positioned at the center of the "Table 21" table counter. :-) [There is a story behind those pigs]

              1. re: chowser

                Yes,equal to the increased cost.
                The wine pairings over time have been finessed for even better pairing at Volt.

                1. re: lcool

                  Photo of the wine pairing I got back in June last year. (I also attach a pic of the menu) I requestedt a pairing that last time; the sommelier then served the indicated wines at suitable points in the meal. I asked for a listing which was presented at the end. I think the pairing was $80 or something like that. (On my previous visits to Table 21 it so happened that a pairing was verbally offered which you could accept or not)

                  p.s. to chowser: They should give all diners at Table 21 a copy of the night's menu. Ask for it if they seem to forget. I once stopped some first-time diners from leaving while I got hold of the Hostess and reminded her about the menus.
                  ETA: I guess the uploaded pic of the menu has lost resolution. Look around on CH or elsewhere, you can see what's on the menus reported by others.

                   
                   
                  1. re: huiray

                    Will do--a memory keepsake, other than the few pounds on the hips!

                  2. re: lcool

                    Thanks, good to know from someone who's BTDT.

          2. We have had nothing but wonderful experiences with tasting menus.Adding ones that went well past 10 or 11 items always had one thing maybe not for one of us.Something you wouldn't want more than a taste or bite of.
            Your analogy,"dinner and a show" is nice.It really is THE EVENING,not just food.

            1. I prefer to do a la carte and spend the wine pairing money on a really good bottle. Tasting menus + pairings leave me uncomfortably full and drunk.

              1. Generally, I enjoy tasting menus. There are certain things that I choose not to eat, so if I go to a place that can not, or will not, accommodate my requests, then I don't go with the tasting menu. Beyond the broad strokes, I do not try to manage the kitchen, and want them to put out food that represents what they do best. So while i will ask if they have non-pork options, I will not ask for sauces on the side, or to swap out one ingredient for another.

                In general, I have had no problem having my requests accommodated, and I have had some excellent meals. At one spot I asked for an alternative appetizer, and they offered the foie gras, which was one of the best things I have ever had.

                So yes, it is something I enjoy, it is something I think is worthwhile (in moderation) and something I recommend. It is a great way to try a wider variety of tastes from a menu than you would with a traditional meal.

                1. In general, yes.

                  There have been some places where it was more like an extended prix fixe (like at one certain place in Chicago with an irrationally exuberant fervent following and which has a menu that changes every 3 months or so) where I had less-than-stellar and not-enough-value-for-money experiences.

                  1. Thanks, everyone--the feedback has been really helpful. I really appreciate everyone's perspective.

                    1. Yes.

                      In fact, I think the question should be rephrased as "Tasting menus, why are they such a bargain?"

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        They are worth it to me, with careful consideration. What I would say, given that it appears you are new to this style of dining, is it takes a different mindset than traditional restaurants do. To have the optimal experience requires a release of control. Although many of the top restaurants that offer only tastings do accommodate dietary restrictions, that's not where they shine. As people who know me can attest, I love being in control. There is something special and cathartic, however, about letting go of those constraints, and just riding the wave. When we went to Alinea in 2008, our first $1000+ meal, we created the concept of "The Bubble," including hand gestures, which meant we would not discuss anything negative, be it work or a critique of any dish, so as to remain positive and have the best possible experience. I didn't even mention I hate bell peppers, because I was open to the possibility that they might serve me the most delicious green pepper ever (they didn't). Trust that the chefs know their food (and wines if pairings are offered) intimately, and go with it. For people who enjoy the total experience of going to a restaurant, tasting menus are worth it. For those who are only concerned with taste/flavor, they can probably do better at a la carte spots.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Agree,unless the wine pairing or recommendation falls short of the food.We only,almost met that once.The sommelier noticed 4 of 6 weren't drinking it after the first sip and changed it out.It was a wine we like,have in our cellar.But did not like,love it with the plates.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Yeah, good point--I'm not really questioning why they cost what they do. I can imagine the cost being incredibly high for that many hours--the cost per hour breaks down to much less than a regular restaurant meal. I guess comparably I do calligraphy and it can cost a person hundreds to do a nice piece. The question isn't why the cost is so high, which is part of the art and time, but whether it's worth it for the average person. I would say no because most people would be happy with a computerized picture. But someone who wants art will pay for it. So it's the same idea--tasting menus are probably not worth it for the average Cheesecake Factory patron but for CH, based on responses here alone, far worth it.

                            1. re: chowser

                              A tasting menu isn't really aimed at your "average Cheesecake Factory patron" ...

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                That's exactly what I mean.

                          2. Yes if you are alone a tasting menu can be a good deal. With two or more, many three course meals can be turned into a multi-course tasting menu just by sharing.

                            I also have a theory that there is a reason to believe that ordering a la carte order is superior. A tasting menu will not include a whole fish or most any other animal on the bone.

                            And of course ordering appetizers and small plate restaurants are already built-in tasting menus with greater selection.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Steve

                              This is along the lines of what I was thinking --there are ways to get great meals w/out paying the cost of a tasting menu. But, this is a way to see how the chef would put together the optimal bites and we're paying for that.

                              1. re: chowser

                                'Optimal Bites,' that must be the best wording I have heard for the reason behind a tasting menu.

                                Bravo!

                            2. This is kind of like asking, Broadway shows...are they worth it? Depends on the show and the person. Volt particularly...short answer: YES.

                              For anyone who is really enthusiastic about the many aspects of food - cooking, technique, flavor pairings, plating, etc. it will be an absolute delight. For someone who just likes appreciates things that taste "good" they'll likely enjoy themselves, but not to the same degree.

                              Lucky for you Volt is top notch by most reports..and also quite a deal given the number of courses and the level of cooking. It's kind of like going to see Hairspray at a bargain price - even if you don't like Broadway, you'll at least be able to appreciate the quality.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Rodzilla

                                Good analogy. And, it also depends on the patron.

                              2. It depends.

                                A couple of my favourite places only offer a tasting menu. It is good creative cooking and, yes, I know I'm paying quite a lot for it, but it's worth it to me - and usually I find it very good value . Other places I've been to are known for their tasting menu and also have a more standard menu. I'd usually go for the tasting - particularly as these are likely to have involved some signifciant travel and I want to experience the full fireworks.

                                On the other hand, there are other places that offer smaller portions of their standard menu offerings as a tasting menu. These don't often appeal and we would normally go for the standard menu.

                                The only struggle we can have with tastings is the wine. I don't drink alcohol and my partner only drinks fairly sparingly. She will not usually want to take the full wine pairing as it is simply too much but will want maybe three (perhaps four) glasses over an evening. We always hope there is a good sommelier who will be able to make suitable suggestions based on her/his experience.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Harters

                                  We're a little along the same lines as alcohol. Wine will probably be shared because I'm a light drinker. While I enjoy a glass, after a glass, I have no idea what i'm eating. So, a sip w/ each course will be fine for me.

                                2. For me I don't think a 5 course tasting menu is worth it because I'd rather order a la carte with my dining companion and share the courses so I can try about 6 things. If there is something I see on the 5 course tasting menu that is not offered on the regular menu, I ask them if I can have it and they have always complied.

                                  I think a 21 course tasting menu is great because you can try a whole bunch of different things without busting your gut. And there is definitely less chance of palate fatigue because most of these courses will be about a couple of bites.

                                  1. I've said this before but this has been a great thread for me--I was a little apprehensive before but now I'm really excited about it. It's great to see that so many have had wonderful experiences with them. Thanks, everyone!

                                    1. One of my favourite tasting menus wasn't the most expensive -- at the late Elisabeth Daniel, the menu was structured into 5 or 6 courses with 3 choices per course. There were 3 of us, so we ordered "one of each" -- the food was superb.

                                      The highest cost might have been a tasting menu at another restaurant where I made an advance request for them to cook dishes that would complement a 1983 Margaux; the wine was the lion's share of the bill but certainly worth it (got it for a price comparable or lower than auction prices then).

                                      At the end of the day, I think that some tasting menus are worth the price, and some aren't; it's going to depend on the merits of the kitchen.

                                      Incidentally, one of my favourite places here in London (Trinity) has a 5 course tasting menu for £45, which is a steal, especially in combination with a certain selection of nicer wines where they don't charge markups, only taxes and corkage above their acquisition costs.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: limster

                                        The danger/benefit to this is that I'll love it and want to explore it more. Even an "inexpensive" tasting menu is costly compared to a regular dinner out. And, while I'm ready to write off a bad dinner out, it's harder to spend that kind of money on a disappointing experience.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          One approach that worked for me was to "audition" restaurants with smaller meals (e.g. a couple of appetisers at the bar) first, before committing to a a "regular" meal or a tasting menu. I don't do that as much now, as there aren't as many places in London that have a bar where one could snack at, but was very useful when I lived in Boston and SF.

                                      2. Y'know, technically Chinese banquet menus are "tasting menus" and I think they are worth the price.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          That's exactly what I've been thinking. And, I'm often too full by the end of a banquet, even though it's just bites.

                                        2. Personally, I would like more restaurants to do more "tasting menus" as more of the rule rather than a high priced option. I am not looking for a 5 or 7 or 9 course meal but more something modelled on Tapas where you get to taste a range of flavours. It would also be better if they did not do one size fits all, but proportion/price it based on number of people that the dish is being served for. Personally, I don't much like the standard western model of a restaurant where you go to a restaurant and buy maybe an appetizer and a main - and the food is not shared. I prefer here (Thailand) where you go out with a group of people and order many shared dishes, ensuring everybody has food that they like and the overall balance of the meal is maintained..... much more civilized!

                                          1. In the style that the OP was mentioning, I also like to see how the menu is designed and fits together as a whole. The way one dish leads to another, etc. The best tastings aren't just small bites of popular items, but have some logical progression from course to course.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Rodzilla

                                              Indeed. That's why a knowledgeable and skilled itamae makes all the difference. at the bar.

                                            2. Yes, worth the price. Thanks to everyone who convinced me to go. I'm such a geek about this type of stuff so I don't know why I hesitated. I'll confess at one point I left the table to text my son to ask him what it was that turned olive oil to powder (too much wine, forgetful mind). The food was amazing; each course an adventure. With 21 courses, it did get long. At one point, I said to my husband, "This is like mile 23 of a marathon..." Next time, I'll do a tasting menu with fewer courses, although, yes I ate everything.

                                              I still have problems managing wine with long dinners. With the wine pairing, there was a glass about every three courses. That adds up to a lot of wine, when you start off the evening with a glass in the bar, even over the course of hours. My husband and I shared but he was driving so just tasted.

                                              I completely agree w/ ipse about the cost not being "enough." I thought there would only be a few people doing the meal (I watch too much Top Chef where it looks like they only get one helper) but there were probably over 15 kitchen helpers and then a few servers. For close to four hours, plus prep, what we paid seems like it would just cover costs, especially with only 8 seated.

                                              Thanks again everyone for your input.

                                              14 Replies
                                              1. re: chowser

                                                Glad you had such a great time, and thanks for reporting!

                                                From all the reviews I've read, I believe Volt is one if not the best values in haute cuisine.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

                                                  What is the menu now? (Full listing, please, if you feel up to it :-) )

                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                    The menu (given to us, thankfully because I'd never remember it all)

                                                    chips and dip lobster, sour cream and onion (lobster chip, like a shrimp chip, warm sour cream dip and chives--I wanted to lick the bowl but refrained)

                                                    celeriac apple, foie gras and orange (stuffed meringue but they called it a macaroon)

                                                    mock oyster (salsify caviar w/ oyster leaf--this might have been the one iffy-ish course)

                                                    celery pickled vegetables, flowers, herbs

                                                    kampachi ginger, citrus, fennel, chive

                                                    blue crab jasmine rice, avocado, yuzu, white soy

                                                    beets, goat cheese, coffee, sherry, orange (proof that beets and goat cheese can be good even if it's a cliched combination)

                                                    quail egg lobster ravioli mushroom, asparagus, caper (arguably my favorite course but hard to say)

                                                    ravioli leeks, turnip, chicken on the woods mushroom (ethereal pasta)

                                                    arctic char, timothy hay, sorrel, huckleberry

                                                    sturgeon pearl onions, figs, lemon, thyme

                                                    scallop, uni, soy, root vegetable

                                                    maitake, steel cut oats, sea greens, fresh yeast (savory oatmeal out of Top Chef)

                                                    salsify apple, hazelnut, country ham

                                                    sweetbreads, bacon, fennel, black kale (my husband's favorite--how can you go wrong w/ sweetbread and bacon)

                                                    rabbit, purple haze carrots, oak leaves, rye (we joked about nibbling the ribs because they were so tiny)

                                                    beef, sorrel, buckwheat groats, foie gras (this was the most impresive and time consuming as presentation goes. The prep took a few people and a long time)

                                                    berries, vanilla, basil, shortbread

                                                    blueberry, grapefruit, mint, black sesame (black sesame foam cake. Great flavor but I didn't care for the texture of the foam cake. I've wanted to try it at home but now I won't bother)

                                                    chocolate mousse, marshmallow, caramel

                                                    chocolate, candies, macaroons (although they were macaron, not macaroon, being pedantic)

                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                      Now make the drive to DC and try Rogue24.

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Yep, on my list. While it is a "deal" for what you get, it's still an outrageous amount of money for dinner. Our tip would have been enough for a nice dinner out.

                                                      2. re: chowser

                                                        Thanks! Good to see the current menu. Heh, I was wondering if his prosciutto chip (and dip) would still be around, I guess it's a lobster chip now. No special "cocktail" anymore as the 1st course, I see.

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          Wow, that looks fantastic! Glad you enjoyed :)

                                                      3. re: chowser

                                                        very glad you had a wonderful time and excellent food

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          We always have difficulty with wine with long tasting menus. Firstly, I don't drink alcohol so that means my partner is reliant on wine available by the glass. As indicated by chowser, pairings often mean that there's more glasses provided than are wanted so her solution now is to simply tell the sommelier how many glasses she wants over the evening and leave it to her/him to sort it out - which, of course, is what they're paid for. Usually works.

                                                          That said, our favourite local Michelin starred place is small and does not have any great expertise in wine. The advice we've recieved there is for her to order what she likes drinking and it'll generally be OK. And, generally, it is.

                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                            which place would that be? Just curious.

                                                            I never do pairings either, I know that the wine can accentuate a certain dish, but I don't appreciate them enough to warrant the price and I'm far too much of a lightweight.

                                                            1. re: Rodzilla

                                                              Fraiche - http://www.restaurantfraiche.com/

                                                            2. re: Harters

                                                              That's a good idea. I did love the pairings and it made a big difference in the dishes...for the first dozen or so. Then, I backed up on the wine (at one point, I had three glasses in front of me) and finally asked for smaller pours.

                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                You don't have to drink it all. Just saying. :-)

                                                                1. re: huiray

                                                                  I made a valiant effort but realized it wasn't working. ;-) The thing is, after all that wine, I wasn't exactly thinking clearly. Next time, I'll start building up my drinking tolerance a few months in advance so I can get through the wine. I'll think of it like marathon training.