Why bother to order when you can have the chef do it for you? There are few culinary experiences that beat a well-curated tasting menu. These chef-chosen selections offer chefs a way to tell a story while letting diners enjoy five, seven or sometimes even more courses. You have to choose carefully though, as the meals can last upwards of four hours and cost over $100.
Of course, the city's fine-dining establishments offer amazing chef-curated selections, but we're going to look beyond the Per Ses and Eleven Madisons for tasting menus that are equally special, if a bit more off the radar. Click through the slide show below for our favorites - whether you're heading by for a special occasion or just a splurge, you won't be disappointed.
Jesse Schenker's tasting menus are some of the best deals in town. Seventy-five dollars gets you five courses and $150 gets you 10, but the sweet spot is the seven-course selection for $100. The elegantly plated New American dishes are as tasty as they are beautiful, and you're likely to come across a flavor or presentation that you haven't tried before. The quality of the fare at this charming West Village spot is on par with some of the town's more famous fine-dining establishments, at less than half the price. Also, if you see something you like on the à la carte list, the servers will try to have it appear during your tasting, if you ask nicely.
The Details: 328 W. 12th St.; 212-414-3000
There is magic in the room at this TriBeCa Japanese, and you don't have to drop $150 at stand-along sushi counter Ichimuri to experience it. A standard tasting menu is $85 for about six courses, and will guide you through the restaurant's offerings. If you do go, we suggest spending a little extra for the $135 seasonal kaiseki tasting menus. This selection features roughly eight courses and showcases every type of fare that the restaurant has to offer. Because why choose between a meat course and a fish course if you can have both?
The Details: 30 Hudson St.; 212-791-3771
Chef Galen Zamarra is a secret threat in the world of NYC fine dining. His restaurant Mas (Farmhouse) may not get the ink in the press that Daniel or Le Bernardin inspire, but the eatery regularly ranks on our Top Food list. A six-course tasting of the French-inspired fare is $115, and you can expect a constantly rotating selection of dishes like Long Island duck breast with kale and port-glazed beets. Not only is it cheaper than the upper echelon of fine dining, the restaurant itself is less stuffy. Be it a birthday dinner or a third date, you'll feel at home here.
If you feel wary about cracking the $100 mark, the tasting menu at Zamarra's grill-foucsed Mas (La Grillade) is also a good deal, ringing in at $95 for six wood-fired courses.
39 Downing St.; 212-255-1790
28 Seventh Ave. S.; 212-255-1795
Navigating the extensive à la carte selection at this West Village sushi restaurant can be daunting, even for sushi pros. The omakase is the way to go here - a smaller selection is available for $95, while $135 will get you a steady stream of the freshest fish in the house (along with some unique varieties that you probably wouldn't have ordered if left to your own devices). The tasting selection varies daily and is determined by the best product they have available that day.
The Details: 61 W. Eighth St.; 212-505-2605
This Italian favorite has experimented with longer tasting menus, but the true joy is the simple, seven-course meal that made this place into such a destination. You choose a pasta and a protein, and the staff does the rest of the work, presenting simple yet impressive takes on Italian classics. The tiny room is perfect for intimate parties and dates, and the size alone makes it feel like you're in on a little-known secret. The menu is more expensive than it once was - the price has slowly ticked up to $75. But those diners lucky enough to have visited when the price tag was a mere $50 know that the extra $25 is totally worth it.
The Details: 250 Mulberry St.; 212-965-0955
Mario Batali's West Villager offers two awesome tasting menus to choose from, and both are excellent values. The pasta tasting is $80 per person and features five pastas with two dessert courses (wine pairings are available for an additional $60). Dishes include black tagliatelle with parsnips and pancetta and papardelle Bolognese. There's also a traditional seven-course tasting, which intersperses pastas with dishes like grilled guinea hen, for $90.
The Details: 110 Waverly Pl.; 212-777-0303
When this high-end Korean opened with a tasting-menu-only concept, they caught some flack. New Yorkers weren't quite ready to spend $125 on an untested chef, so the restaurant tweaked the offerings and added an à la carte selection, but the tasting menu is where it's at. The price is now $155 for 10 courses, and wine pairings are an additional $105 - no one said that you'd get out of there for cheap (but that wine is only worth it if you're a real baller). But you will walk away impressed - the fare scored an impressive 26 in our 2013 New York City Restaurants Survey, with diners lauding the cuisine as "sublime."
The Details: 2 Harrison St.; 212-219-0900
John Fraser's UWS joint has a lot going on in the tasting-menu department. There is a seven-course chef's tasting menu available nightly for $132 that features dishes like squab with endives and cranberry (with wine pairings for $82), and a vegetarian tasting menu for $85. The best deal, though, is on Sunday, when the restaurant serves six courses for $85 for their "Sunday Suppa" promotion.
The Details: 103 W. 77th St.; 212-362-3800
Did you know that Michael White's haute Italian has a tasting menu? Neither did we, until we noticed a small note on the regular menu saying that tasting menus were available upon request. Countless courses and $125 later, we were shocked that the restaurant doesn't do more to promote this stellar option. The culinary journey highlights some of the dishes from the main menu (yes, you will try pasta) and progresses from light to heavy. You may start with some oysters and a bite or two of uni, and then seven courses and a few pastas later, you'll be digging into a prime cut of steak. Down the street, diners are flocking to Masa and Per Se for their tastings, but we don't see why this one is any less splurge-worthy.
The Details: 240 Central Park S.; 212-582-5100