Here are the fourteen most expensive tasting menus in the United States right now. Whether these degustation menus are indicative of the tyranny of the chef or not is still up for debate, but there's no doubt that whales and anyone willing to shell out hundreds and hundreds of dollars per person on a meal are keeping these places in businesses. Also, thanks to the size of the restaurants and the prices of their menus, they provide an alluring sense of exclusivity — no way they can be for everyone.
The selection that follows includes restaurants that only put out one menu (Saison, Alinea, Masa, Urasawa, Brooklyn Fare), as well as businesses where diners can choose from various options (The Restaurant at Meadowood, Guy Savoy, Daniel). In the latter case, the price listed reflects the most extended and expensive option available. The calculations below include the Ryan Sutton-inspired "real cost" of dinner for two (which includes tax and a 20% tip, but not drinks). To the selection:
14. Daniel (NYC): $567 For Two
The most expensive option at Daniel Boulud's Upper East Side flagship is a $220 eight-course tasting. Sit in the swanky dining room (recent redesign courtesy of the prolific Adam Tihany) and do as Charlie Sheen does. Before drinks, two people will rack up a $567 tab.
13. Addison at the Grand Del Mar (San Diego): $576 For Two
Though San Diego's Addison does offer a carte blanche menu for $165, whales will want to go for Le Menu Gourmand. The restaurant's website describes this menu as chef William Bradley's piece de résistance at the five-star, five-diamond resort restaurant. At 10 courses, the menu clocks in at $225 per person, or $576 for two people including tax and tip.
13. Brooklyn Fare (NYC): $579 For Two
The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is the only three-star Michelin restaurant in Brooklyn, an 18-seat counter within a market where the Bouley-trained César Ramirez orchestrates $225 meals marked by their clean flavors and borderline insane precision. Despite the fact that it's in Brooklyn and doesn't have all the trappings of traditional fine dining, it can be a little daunting to eat there, since there's no music and Ramirez doesn't allow photography or note-taking. That said, most agree that it's one of the greatest gastronomic experiences in the city. Total cost for two without booze: $579.
11. The French Laundry (Yountville): $583 For Two
The iconic French Laundry in Yountville is where Thomas Keller made a name for himself in the 90s and trained a generation of young chefs, including Grant Achatz and Corey Lee, that have put American high cooking on the global map. The place continues to operate the highest possible level and influence the many cooks that pass through its kitchen. Because the tasting menu and local tax rate are both lower than at Per Se ($270 and 8%, respectively), a dinner for two ends up costing $583, less than at Keller's New York effort. But just as is the case above Columbus Circle, supplements ranging from caviar to a dish of cavatelli with jamón Ibérico and black truffle can end up making the Laundry just as expensive.
[Photo: Ken Wyner]
10. Minibar (DC): $585 For Two
The chef José Andrés recently unveiled the new location of his intimate tasting counter Minibar in DC's Penn Quarter. It's a 12-seat, multi-room restaurant designed by Spanish architect Juli Capella, meant to evoke a modern European residence — Andrés has said he wants to make guests at Minibar feel like they're having dinner in his home. The menu, which features Andrés' progressive cooking, heavy on R+D and whimsy, goes for $225. If you can get in, which is quite the feat, a meal for two will cost $585.
9. Per Se (NYC): $642 For Two
Thomas Keller's three-star-Michelin restaurant in New York City's Time Warner Center is the place you go to get pampered and experience a marathon meal made up of decadent, expertly-prepared dishes that look like regular portions that haven't been adapted to a tasting menu. It's about as luxurious and generous as these things can be. The most expensive options, the chef's menu and the vegetable tasting, go for $295, which has a built-in service charge. So, dinner for two ends up at $642. But, as Bloomberg critic Ryan Sutton points out, whales can make things escalate quickly and dramatically by opting for the restaurant's various supplements.
[Photo: Michael Mina]
8. Michael Mina (San Francisco): $646 For Two
Michael Mina's San Francisco flagship is also home to the restaurateur's priciest tasting menu, The Gamut. This 20-course menu is so named as it ostensibly runs the entire gamut of the Michael Mina menu. The $245 is only available in a limited capacity, and there's an optional wine pairing for another $150. But without wine — and factoring in an extra 3 percent surcharge for San Francisco employer mandates — dinner for two comes out to $646.
[Photo: Ulterior Epicure]
7. Saison (San Francisco): $664 For Two
When Joshua Skenes' Saison reopens in a new space early this year, the restaurant will no longer have a separate kitchen tasting menu or online reservations. Instead, everyone will receive a $258 menu that highlights the chef's command of the fire and the hearth. It currently holds two Michelin stars, but the new space and format, as well as buzz for enthusiastic bloggers, could make it three quite soon. Total cost for two: $664.
6. Alinea (Chicago): $702 For Two
Chef Grant Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas made the bold move of adopting a ticketing system at their Chicago flagship Alinea, the trailblazing restaurant that holds three Michelin stars and is among the world's best. There are no more reservations by phone. Instead, diners must go online and buy tickets for the meal, which, depending on your date and time preference, will range from $210 to $265 per person. If you want to go at peak times — and if you're a whale, you really should — a table for two will total $702 without wine pairings. Kokonas, who first conceived the system for the team's newer restaurant Next, made it so that a 20% service charge and tax are paid in advance. Wine you take care of when you get to dinner.
[Photo: Guy Savoy]
5. Guy Savoy (Las Vegas): $891 For Two
While it earned two in the Vegas Michelin Guide, Guy Savoy's restaurant at Caesar's Palace is without question a restaurant with three-star ambitions. It's the only place in the States where you can try the influential Parisian chef's food, including his iconic artichoke and black truffle soup with toasted mushroom brioche and black truffle butter. The restaurant's Innovation-Inspiration menu, the most decadent option, costs $348 per person. After tax and tip that totals $891 for a table of two. There's also a completely baller Krug tasting menu, whose $750 price tag is obviously due to the fact that every course is paired with Krug. That one will cost a pair of whales $1921 after tax and tip.
[Photo: A Life Worth Eating]
4. Urasawa (Los Angeles): $967 For Two
Hiro Urasawa trained under Masa Takayama in this very space, when it was called Ginza Sushi-ko. Masa's legacy remains alive and well here, hidden on the second floor of a Beverly Hills building, where guests experience a $375 menu of sushi and Japanese dishes with luxurious and creative touches that don't compromise the integrity of the fish. Dinner for two, without beverages, clocks in at $967. See photos of the experience and a detailed account over at A Life Worth Eating.
3. The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena): $1080 For Two
The Restaurant At Meadowood has become one of the best restaurants in the United States under the intelligent and deft hands of chef Christopher Kostow. The restaurant offers a $225 tasting menu in the dining room, which is what most diners go for, but the more epic option, the chef's counter, is where you should go if you can afford it. There Kostow and his team put out a marathon dinner for around eight diners a night. When asked in an Eater Interview if guests express some doubts about the price tag, he responded, "Not at all. If you are in my kitchen or you're at table 2, you'll see and you'll know that we cook with our hearts and our hands. The attention you receive, the food itself, the overall experience — I don't think we've had anyone question the value." By most accounts, that money goes straight to your plate. Total cost for two, before drinks: $1080.
2. Joël Robuchon (Las Vegas): $1115 For Two
This is the legendary and expansionist French chef's only "restaurant gastronomique" in the United States. It earned three Michelin stars when the Guide went to Las Vegas, and the space has plush, purple banquettes and pictures of stars spread throughout the space (one of them is Chuck Norris). There are several menus on offer, but the most excessive of them all is the menu degustation, which consists of 16 courses. It went for $425 for quite some time, but it's now been bumped to $435 per person. That means that the show-stopping dinner now will cost about $1115 for two. It almost goes without saying, but the caviar and foie gras dishes are included.
1. Masa (NYC): $1160 For Two
Masa Takayama's restaurant is known for being the most expensive in New York City, and the United States. It's a dark, exclusive space in the Time Warner Center (Thomas Keller's Per Se is one of its neighbors) where the chef spares no expensive flying in products and dishing out some of the most impressive Japanese food in the country. Despite recent backlash from former New York Times critic Sam Sifton and the the fact that the space is often empty, the price tag remains at $450, making dinner for two $1160. That includes tax and tip, but not the sake, wine, or cocktails, which are also rather prohibitive. It's not a restaurant for locals as much as it is one for traveling whales.
Listed at per person base price (before tax and tip): L2O ($210), Mélisse's carte blanche menu (~$210), Eleven Madison Park ($195), Le Bernardin ($194), Jean-Georges ($188), Inn at Little Washington ($188), Grace ($185), Benu ($180), Blanca ($180), Manresa ($175), Moto ($175), Momofuku Ko's lunch menu ($175), and Coi ($165).