When Charlie Trotter first opened his eponymous restaurant in Chicago, some questioned his brazen decision to offer tasting menus exclusively.
Twenty years later, Charlie Trotter’s is considered one of the top restaurants in the world and still offers no a la carte dishes. Instead, guests choose among three multi-course tasting menus, including the Kitchen Table, where diners pay $200 to sit within hissing distance of the kitchen line.
“I don’t need or care for eight ounces of beef,” says Trotter, who finds dining a la carte too confining, especially today when ingredients are so enticing.“ I would much rather explore the panorama of possibilities, like a beautiful piece of turbot and a perfect oyster in addition to that small slice of beef.”
For guests who can afford them, tasting menus offer a chance to experience the range of a chef’s repertoire and kitchen skills—both creative and technical—without having to think too hard.
Chefs like them because they allow them to pull out all the stops, and of course, they are generally quite profitable. On a more practical level, some chefs say they are a great way to test new ingredients or to get creative with leftovers.
We scoured hotels and restaurants around the world (and even underwater), from the Michelin-crowned in big cities to the lesser known in the middle of the woods, to find the world’s most expensive tasting menus.
Ironically, at a mere $200, Trotter’s Kitchen Table menu didn’t make the cut in terms of price. In fact, the least expensive tasting menu on our list is the legendary $250 nine-course menu at Per Se, which has been known to put diners in a taste bud trance.
The most expensive was the $465 tasting menu at L’Arpege in Paris, another restaurant that’s been wowing foodies for more than 20 years. Alain Passard, who is often credited for having reinvented the vegetable after becoming more or less of a vegetarian himself, grows all of his fruits and vegetables on a bio-dynamic farm 100 miles outside of Paris. Vegetables are harvested in the morning, put on a high-speed train from Le Mans and delivered to the restaurant just in time for lunch service.
Most restaurants offer wine pairings to go along with their tasting menus. That’s not the case for Eigensinn Farms, a rustic gem of a restaurant in Ontario, Canada that has no wine list. Instead, chef Michael Stadtlander encourages guests to bring their own wine to complement his $250 farm-to-table eight course menu.
While some of the world's most lavish tasting menus are spontaneous affairs not listed on the regular menu, most are well-conceived displays of the restaurant's signature dishes.
Claude Le Tohic, the chef at Joel Robuchon at The Mansion, in Las Vegas, loves the 16-course tasting menu there because guests get the “big picture” of what Joel Robuchon’s style of cooking is all about.
About 60 percent of the customers who dine at the MGM Grand-based restaurant order the $365 menu which contains some of Robuchon’s signature dishes like the langoustine en papillote with basil pesto, and some of Le Tohic’s own creations.
“When devising a tasting menu," says Le Tohic, “it’s important not be too linear or people will get bored.”
That’s especially true in Vegas where guests are on a different time frame.
“Some people take their time with the menu and others zip through it in one hour,” he says, which makes constant communication between dining room staff and kitchen essential.
Whether you’re talking about a 16-course tasting menu or a six-course menu, it’s important to avoid repetition, he says, and always have an element of surprise to keep things titillating.
His current culinary curve ball is his trilogy of caviar—caviar prepared three ways on one plate, which comes at a point in the meal when guests are not expecting more decadence.
Surprises like this work because diners are trusting their taste buds to the experts.
“When you’re in the hands of a good chef, why not let him dictate your meal?” asks Trotter. “When I go to the symphony, I don’t tell the conductor what to play. I let the music wash over me.”