Wednesday, April 16, 2014

FOOD BIZ | The Irony of Tasting Menus (Comment)

Dover on Court Street, Brooklyn - Battersby #2 and one
of the "Hottest 10" restaurants in NYC, spring 2014. 
The new-restaurant excitement in New York City is focused on Brooklyn, as evidenced, for example by Battersby.

The four of us (Alice and I, and Caroline and Francis) recently went for dinner to Dover, on 412 Court Street in Brooklyn.  

Dover has been open six months and is now fully staffed. It is restaurant #2 of the owners of Battersby, and it is bigger, newer and more likely to be able to seat you, although it too is getting discovered fast. Like Battersby, it is getting top reviews. It is in the "Hottest 10" NYC restaurants for the spring 2014 put out by Zagat every quarter. Can Bon Appetit be far behind?

The tasting menu looked good and I was ready to go for it. You pay a little more, and you get the deep thinking of the chef, who puts together the selections. Wines are also paired with the food. The tasting menu is certainly tailor-made for people who don’t like making a whole slew of decisions at the end of a long day and want to get an idea of what a restaurant can do, at one sitting.

But... it dawned on me... for a group of four, a tasting menu ironically gives you less to taste. The typical requirement of a tasting menu is that everyone at the table must have the same food. That rule taketh away some of the value that the number of tasting portions giveth. You end up getting less exposure to the menu than if you just pick a la carte and share some of the food that looks good.

The four of us got to taste 14 dishes on the a la carte menu. We had wine as well, for less than $100 per person before the tip. To taste seven dishes on the tasting menu we would have paid about the same and paired wines would have been extra.

My take (I'm looking for insights into the Food Biz):
  • For two people, one of whom is going to get the bill and is trying to impress the other, the tasting menu is perfect!
  • For four people, a tasting menu doesn't offer enough variety.  In my view, restaurants with tasting menus should require the first two at the table to get the tasting menu, but then they should relax the requirement or offer more choices.
Comment (September 8, 2014)

At dinner today at Bouley's on Duane Street, management was smart of about their tasting menu:
  • They offered a choice of three items for each course.
  • They did not require everyone too buy the tasting menus. 
In this environment, a tasting menu is a great deal.