Atera, chef Matthew Lightner’s edible ode to rocks, moss, lichens and tweezers, has raised the price of its tasting menu to $195, a $30 increase from $165. That means dinner for two at the Manhattan restaurant, after tax and 20% service, now starts at $503.
This move puts the avant-garde Atera on the same pricing level as Eleven Madison Park and Blanca; the latter recently hiked its menu to $195 as well (from $180).
Atera has also switched to a full prepayment system, along the lines of Next or Alinea in Chicago, where your credit card is charged for the full price of the meal, with tax and tip (but not wine), when booking. Beverage pairings, now $115/$185 (up $10 apiece), are still purchased at the restaurant. Previously, Atera didn’t charge your credit card until 48 hours before dinner, giving you the option to bail.
I awarded three stars to Atera last fall in my Bloomberg News review, when dinner for two, plus pairings, was $696. That same meal plan is now $799. Still a BUY? Yes, I’d reckon it is, given that the dining experience is about as enjoyable as Blanca or EMP — though for sure Atera’s food can be a bit more challenging.
Chef Lightner was kind enough to talk to us via email about Atera’s price hikes and his prepayment system. Here’s what he had to say:
“Across the country, expensive tasting-menu-only restaurants are spreading like an epidemic…A high-end anomaly a few years ago, three- or four-hour menus now look like the future of fine dining.“
So writes New York Times food critic Pete Wells in his largely skeptical take on tasting menu-only restaurants, an odd, albeit interesting world where meals last over three hours, where bread courses are dictatorially delayed until mid-meal, and where dining rooms are filled by “big game hunters,” eager to spend a thousand dollars per couple for the privilege of feasting at a trophy establishment. Instagrams of the now-closed El Bulli must be the ultimate taxidermy, non?
Smart eaters will read the NYT piece in its entirety because it’s a fine lament on an expensive & idiosyncratic slice of modern gastronomy.
But what I focus on here at The Price Hike are prices, and it’s Mr. Wells’ statement about this “epidemic” of expensive tasting menus that piques my interest, as well as another one of his musings: “I can’t feel good about watching great restaurants that were already serving an elite audience taking themselves further out of reach.”
The NYT critic raises good questions. As much as I love American Omakase spots like Alinea, Blanca and Brooklyn Fare, committing the necessary financial resources toward a pricey tasting (or dealing with the subsequent gastro-intestinal distress) isn’t exactly my regular brand of bourbon.
This week in my Bloomberg News column, I awarded three stars to Atera. The excellent and uber-naturalistic restaurant in lower Manhattan ranks alongside Blanca, Romera, and Tom Tuesday Dinner as what are likely the most expensive New York restaurants to have opened since Per Se and Masa debuted in 2004.
Up until recently, Atera’s starting price point was $150, with wine pairings at $90 extra. That worked out to $619 for two after tax and tip.
Yes, that’s expensive, and justifiably so, because Chef Matthew Lightner has undoubtedly given us one of the best new restaurants of the year. But still, it’s not quite four star dining. There are a few issues with integrity of flavors — like a lobster roll with little lobster aroma, or a strip loin whose smoky overtones overwhelm the taste of beef.
And more importantly, there are a few issues with price transparency.
Unbeknownst to me, Atera raised its prices before my final meal last week. The tasting menu is now $165, while the optional wine pairing is $105, a $30 total hike, which can result in a $696 bill for two after tax and tip.
That’s $77 more than you’d have expected to spend for yourself and a date.