Tasting menus

Pete Wells will tell you, and show you, and talk about, what you get for $1500: a 20-course meal, with paired wines. Gael Greene has the play-by-play, including this:

Several tables have emptied even before the bacon. Foodists have to catch the train back to Dutchess County or find their way home to Tribeca. So I see many chocolate bon bons left behind.

Spending $1500 a head on a meal? That’s obscene. But spending $1500 a head on a meal and then heading home before it’s even over? Now that’s conspicuous consumption.

But it’s also something I can understand. A huge multi-course tasting menu with paired wines is exhausting, and often not much fun. A great restaurant meal has to have great food, but it can’t be only about the food — it’s also about the guests enjoying — as opposed to simply being impressed by — the food. And when you’re concentrating on the molecular gastronomy, and the ever-changing wine pairings, especially at a meal which is billed in advance as being incredibly unique and special — well, then you lose a certain amount of fun.

I don’t think I ever want to have wine pairings again, they’re too distracting. For me, the best meal is one where I’m the happiest. Good food makes me happy, as does congenial atmosphere, and friendly servers, and great company, and, frankly, not eating in a shopping mall. This is good food, which made me very happy indeed.

While I’m as impressed as the next guy by auteurist pyrotechnics, I always get a whiff of self-congratulatory smugness, both from the chef and from the diners. And sometimes, as happened at one recent 20-course meal which started at 8pm and didn’t finish until 2 in the morning, the whole thing can become a chore. I think I’m the kind of person who cares more about the food than about the cooking. But ask me again in a couple of weeks, when I get back from Corton. I might have changed my mind.

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