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.
Says Benu Chef Corey Lee, after The Price Hike asked him about managing increased costs. He goes on: “We are already an expensive restaurant so we can’t just pass those costs on to our guests. The Healthy SF Tax is a prime example of that. We absorb that cost; we do not apply it to the final bill as many SF restaurants have decided to do [editor: that charge is up to 4%]. For us, we try to become more efficient in our operations so we can maintain our overall margins. For example, we now do all of our own accounting in house, handle our own PR, run our own payroll, etc.” RIGHT ON, opines The Price Hike. As we reported earlier today, Benu recently hiked their tasting menu to $180 from $160.
Benu, an ambitious Asian-inflected restaurant in San Francisco’s SoMa district, has raised the price of its tasting menu by $20 to $180, a 12.5% increase from the $160 price that the restaurant had been charging earlier in May. This isn’t a “same food for more money” proposition because the new menu has upped the course count to 18 and because Benu also accommodates guests requesting shorter, more affordable tastings. Chef-Owner Corey Lee, who helped guide Thomas Keller’s French Laundry to three Michelin stars, explained these changes last week via e-mail to The Price Hike: