Blanca, the twelve-seat, tasting menu-only counterpart to Roberta’s in Bushwick, has raised its price by $15 to $195, as we first reported last week. So dinner at the year-old-spot, before wine, is as spendy as at Eleven Madison Park or Atera, as well at Le Bernardin, for those who order the $195 chef’s tasting.
The REAL COST of eating at Blanca, after tax and 20% percent tip, now starts at $503. Add $95 beverage pairings (up $10), and dinner for two is now $747, up $64 from last year’s price of $683, when I awarded the venue four stars for Bloomberg News. And yes, Blanca’s wine pairings are a bunch cheaper than those at Atera ($115-$185) and EMP ($145).
I awarded Blanca in Bushwick four stars in my Bloomberg News column today, the highest rating permitted by my publication.
First thing’s first. Blanca is not for everyone. It’s a chef’s table restaurant along the lines of Brooklyn Fare, Atera, or Momofuku Ko. There’s no printed menu. There are no choices on the menu. There are no luxury supplements. Those who will arrive late will join a meal already in progress, which is just as well because you wouldn’t expect, say, Baryshnikov to redo a pirouette (or what have you) just because you were stuck in traffic on the way to the theater.
So it goes that Blanca, unlike Le Bernardin, Daniel or Jean Georges, with their hushed environments and myriad options, is proof that our most exalted fine dining spots don’t have to be amenable or accessible to all. The culinary arts, at their finest, can be just as uncompromising and wallet-taxing as the fine arts.
And wallet taxing Blanca is, which brings us to prices, the subject of our fine Price Hike Tumblr. Dinner is $180 per person, plus $85 for beverage pairings, which means your dinner date is just under $700. That’s the bad news. The good news it’s likely to stay that way. “We’re going to stay at $180 until we have a reason not to,” chef Carlo Mirarchi told me when I was fact checking my Blanca column.
I also asked Mirarchi about the possibility of going service included, in the vein of Alinea, Next, or Per Se, in the vein of creating a less transactional experience. Here’s what he had to say:
ZOMG I totes know what you mean… .The Price Hike has always been a huge supporter of service included policies, which allow for more transparent pricing and more equal redistribution of tips. As for online reservation systems, yeah, we wish Blanca had one. So for a proper discussion of the booking process at Blanca, check out that very separate discussion over at The Bad Deal.
There aren’t a whole lot of them, but rest assured, there will be more.
For more on the debate over tasting menus, see columns by both The Price Hike and Pete Wells. If we’re missing anything, let us know! And please do chime in whether you think any of these are a BUY HOLD OR SELL (2:44pm Update: added River Cafe per advice of DISQUS commentator).
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.