Many would say that the tasting menu has taken over the NYC dining scene. We’re not talking about the simple three-course prix-fixe — usually a way for the kitchen to save time, maximize profits and move product. We are talking about an elaborate parade of dishes that showcase the true talent, and range, of a chef. Yes, they can be lengthy (some can last longer than a Broadway show). And they certainly can be costly, (in most cases, prepare to drop hundreds before tax, tip and booze). And sometimes their ingredient combinations can seem off-the-wall (squash-roasted peanut soup, cockscomb and fig tobacco, for instance). But the tasting menu holds a whole lot of plusses. The burden of decision-making is lifted, by putting oneself in the hands of an expert chef. And it’s a great way to try new things or to have a fun treat-yourself splurge: Who knew abalone could be so tasty? Here are 10 of our favorites in Manhattan and Brooklyn — a list picked across a range of prices with an eye towards diversity of cuisine and creativity of chef — along with why you should be making a reservation post haste. Bon appetite!
Chef Matthew Lightner’s menu is vaguely Nordic, utterly naturalistic and wholly modern. There is no such thing as a la carte in this TriBeCa restaurant, 13 seats around a square bar, outfitted like a Bulthaup showroom. (There is also a nook with a table for five). The 20-course, $195 menu introduces inventive combos such as geoduck with lardo on an air baguette. Yes, hard to describe, but a must to try. 77 Worth St., 212-226-1444, Ateranyc.com
Legendary chef David Bouley brings the tradition of Japanese kaiseki cuisine — a meticulous, multi-course, seasonal experience — to TriBeCa. Bouley paired up with Japan’s premier culinary school, the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, to create a staggering 10,000 dishes that change micro-seasonally. Sample tastes such as Scottish langoustine and bay scallop in the $85 six-course or the more extravagant eight-course $135. The vegetarian option here is just as alluring, if not more so, with spring vegetables dressed in tofu foam, white asparagus tempura and grilled bamboo shoots — true delicacies. 30 Hudson St., 212-791-3771, Davidbouley.com/brushstroke
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Definitely the toughest-to-score tasting menu in town, only 18 lucky diners at a time get to experience chef Cesar Ramirez’s three Michelin-star cooking in Downtown Brooklyn — until his long-awaited Manhattan outpost opens, that is. Chef’s Table is tucked inside an upscale market, where diners sit around a stainless steel bar, right in the kitchen, as Ramirez personally serves up a procession of excess. Expect at least 20 courses ($255) such as uni brioche with truffle; escargot in garlic cream; Wagyu beef — extravagance with a feeling of underground exclusivity. 200 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn, 718-243-0050, Brooklynfare.com
People often forget chef Alex Stupak’s roots: Before he became the maestro of modern Mexican, he was the pastry chef at the much-lauded wd-50. So when he recently introduced a dessert tasting menu at his East Village restaurant, the fooderati took notice. The five-course, $45 sweet succession, available after 9:30pm, was inspired by what Stupak told Grub Street was the “increasing lameness of desserts around the city.” It spans the exotic to the classic, from jasmine pastry cream to soft chocolate ganache. 105 First Ave., 212-780-0999, empellon.com
The cuisine of Michael Anthony, James Beard Award winner for Best Chef New York City 2012, and his $120, six-course tasting menu (and the $102 six-course vegetarian option) is what you would bring your snobbiest European friend to enjoy in order to truly understand what is great about American cooking. Dishes such as succulent roasted duck breast and thigh with turnips, almonds and wheat berries not only celebrate timeless and seasonal flavors but also feature of-the-moment execution and presentation. Bonus: the daily “Today Menu” in the bar room offers exceptional value: $48, four courses, with homey plates such as duck meatloaf and ice cream sandwiches. 42 E 20th St., 212-477-0777, Gramercytavern.com
The various tasting menus at this Murray Hill spot (four-course $90, six courses $120, 10 course $180) exalt Shaun Hergatt’s artistry to the point that experiencing them is like walking through an exhibit at the MoMa. Hergatt’s palette may sound minimalist on the menu, with descriptions such as “young carrot, organic rabbit, green peppercorn,” but the flavors are lushly romantic, and the presentations, impressionistic. 12 E 31stSt., 212-995-8599, Juninyc.com
This is the beer-lover’s tasting menu: six courses for $95, while an extra $45 buys a suds pairing with each bite. It makes sense: the dining room is hidden behind a Danish beer bar in Greenpoint, after all, and the food — fried onions with buttermilk dressing; lamb and sunchoke cooked on burnt hay with tongue — feels slightly like drinking food, if you lived in Scandinavia. 615 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, 718-389-6034, Luksusnyc.com
Though there are a few tasting menu options here (five course, $75; seven course, $105; and 10 course, $155), nothing brings the diner into the mind of chef Jesse Schenker like his monthly “Mondays with Jesse,” when the chef defies all boundaries with a dozen bites set to a theme ($125). The inspirations in the West Villager can range from the Beatles to local heroes such as Sotohiro Kosugi of restaurant Soto. Monday or not — Schenker’s creations, such as fregola with braised rabbit, leek, wild mushroom, parmesan and rabbit jus, are always intensely engaging. 328 W. 12th St., 212-414-3000, recettenyc.com
Torrisi Italian Specialties
The nightly, nine-course menu ($100) from Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of updated retro classics such as vitello tonnato and mixed grill cacciatore is an awful lot of fun. But the 16-course, $175, special tasting feels like a foodie play date. A smoked sable cigarette arrives in an ash tray, for example, and jewel box reveals glistening caviar and blini. All within old-school Italian trappings in Little Italy. 250 Mulberry St., 212-965-0955, torrisinyc.com
Groundbreaking when it opened 11 years ago, still a pioneer today, Wylie Dufresne’s (James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef New York City 2013) flagship always feels fresh, whether ordering the current tasting menu ($155, 13 courses) or “from the vault” classics ($90, 7 courses). The dishes here are truly one-of-a-kind: where else would you ever experience charred chicken liver with Szechuan pepper injera (spongy, Ethiopian bread) and melon? 50 Clinton St., 212-477-2900, wd-50.com
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