Diners the world over are searching for more extreme restaurant experiences with every passing year, and they are finding them in lavish tasting menus. The best ones go beyond a great dinner; they’re often the highlight of a vacation, and in many cases, they cost as much (or more) than a night in a Five-Star hotel room. Here are 10 tasting menus across the country worthy of bringing out the black card.
The French Laundry, Yountville, California
Diners looking to reserve a seat at Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Thomas Keller’s famed Napa restaurant should hurry to do so — rumor has it that the 17-table space, with its signature nine-course tasting menus (one for carnivores, one for vegetarians) will close for renovations as part of its 20th anniversary celebration this summer and open on a pop-up basis in nearby Silverado. Until then, reserve dinner or lunch spots up to one year in advance; by the time your table is ready, the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant will likely be reopened and bigger and better than ever. While you wait, dream of divine menu items such as Keller’s signature “Oysters and Pearls” (pearl tapioca sabayon with oysters and white sturgeon caviar) and morel mushroom agnolotti. $295; wine pairings range nightly; a $150 corkage applies to bottles brought in by guests.
Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas
The accolades for Joël Robuchon’s eponymous restaurant at the expansive MGM Grand Resort & Casino just don’t stop — it nabbed the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award, and Robuchon was named France’s “Chef of the Century” by Gault Millau. It’s only fitting that his 16-course tasting menu would be equally legendary (think dishes such as truffled langoustine ravioli with grilled spiny lobster in green curry and “chaud-froid” of sea urchin, as well as rib eye with baby chanterelles). In addition to seasonally changing menus, purple banquettes and pictures of famous celebrities throughout, the Las Vegas restaurant provides at least 17 bread options and more than 40 mignardises. $425; wine pairings an additional $295, $595 or $995.
Addison, San Diego
If you seek extravagance at this elegant Five-Star restaurant overlooking The Grand Del Mar’s Tom Fazio-designed golf course, skip the $175 “carte blanche” menu and go whole hog for Le Menu Gourmand, chef William Bradley’s signature and seasonally changing 10-course special. The tasting menu highlights the freshest ingredients; this spring, green garlic plays a large role in all of Addison’s menus, while past dishes have included coffee-roasted canard with koshihikari rice, candied peanuts and albufera sauce. $235; wine pairings an additional $175.
Daniel, New York City
Sample Five-Star chef Daniel Boulud’s signature seven-course tasting menu at his eponymous Upper East Side dining room. Expect neo-classical design and a well-heeled clientele who entertains clients over dishes such as butter poached jade tiger abalone with barberries, glazed chayote, red lentils and braised greens, and wagyu beef rib eye with young carrot, sautéed chanterelles, fava beans and smoked bone marrow pommes Dauphine at this New York institution. $220; wine pairings an additional $130 or $220.
Restaurant Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
Guy Savoy’s only U.S. dining destination is, appropriately, in the heart of a Vegas icon for fine dining — Caesars Palace. This Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant offers a wide tasting of the Parisian chef’s best, including his famous black truffle and artichoke soup. Select from two decadent tasting menus: a 14-course Innovation-Inspiration option that progresses through some of the toque’s signature dishes (including that decadent soup) or a wild Krug tasting, where every course is paired with Krug champagnes. Innovation-Inspiration menu, $350; Krug menu, $750.
The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia
The Inn at Little Washington and its restaurant of the same name make up a secluded retreat owned and helmed by Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Patrick O’Connell. At the 30-table restaurant, indulge in the Gastronaut’s Menu, a tasting with 10 courses that include a shot of minted English pea soup and chilled Maine lobster with heart of palm, blood oranges and pistachios. For extra indulgence, pair the dishes with wine from the inn’s 14,000-bottle cellar. Want more face time with chef O’Connell? The Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant offers two kitchen chef’s tables, which come with a hefty (but worth it) surcharge beginning at $375. $218-$248, depending on the day of the week; wine pairings an additional $100.
Michael Mina, San Francisco
Michael Mina’s San Francisco flagship snagged a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star award this year, and, not surprisingly, also earns the chef-owner’s highest price tag for tasting menus. Mina’s nine-course Ketto menu combines meat and seafood with Japanese influences. Try mouth-watering dishes such as bluefin toro sashimi with local wasabi, soy salt and ryuhi kombu (a flavorful wrapping), and grilled Maine lobster with pork belly, soubise and baby artichoke. $160; beverage pairings an additional $99.
Minibar by José Andrés, Washington, D.C.
Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker José Andrés has been on a bender of restaurant openings of late, but his D.C. Minibar holds the crown as his most famous and innovative eatery. Composed of just 12 seats, the tasting-menu-based restaurant, which focuses heavily on Andrés’ love of molecular gastronomy, books up at least a month in advance. Dine on 20 to 30 courses, finishing the meal at his adjacent cocktail “lab,” Barmini, where a signed menu, libation and dessert await. $225; beverage pairings an additional $75, $125 or $200.
Per Se, New York City
Thomas Keller nails not one but two spots on our list, making his love of expensive tasting menus a coast-to-coast affair with his Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Per Se in the Time Warner Center. Much like The French Laundry, Per Se serves two nine-course tasting menus (one is a vegetarian option). They change daily but often include signature dishes such as the aforementioned “Oysters and Pearls,” beloved by Wall Street types and gourmands alike. Also similar to Keller’s West Coast outpost, there are extra surcharges ranging from $40 to $75 for items such as foie gras and caviar. $310; wine pairings for an additional fee.
Urasawa, Los Angeles
Los Angeles’ most expensive restaurant is so trendy, it doesn’t even need a website. Once called Ginza Sushi-ko, Hiro Urasawa’s namesake sushi spot remains hidden on the second floor of an unassuming office building in Beverly Hills. A maximum of 10 diners at a time experience an ever-changing progression of sushi and fish dishes made with traditional Japanese influence. Expect 30-plus courses here, and it’s nothing but the freshest fish around. $375; beverage pairings additional.
Photos Courtesy of The French Laundry, Joël Robuchon and Michael Mina