6. Tasting Menus Are the New, Well, Menus.
Extravagantly conceived tasting menus have been prevalent in the city’s high-minded culinary circles for several years now, but as ambitious young cooks, like Matthew Lightner at Atera and César Ramirez at Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, compete for the attention of ever-more distracted and discerning eaters, the range of options has never been more profuse. “Buckle in, it’s going to be a long ride,” muttered one of my world-weary gourmet friends as we examined the latest multicourse offerings available at Wylie Dufresne’s influential downtown restaurant wd-50. The city’s most consistently inventive chef recently created a $90 “From the Vault” option of his old classics, and if you have the stamina (and a spare $155), Dufresne is also serving up a new twelve-course tasting menu, which includes tender veal brisket decorated with dehydrated-mustard crisps and a cutting-edge version of Vietnamese phô, which Dufresne and his madcap assistants infuse with foie gras and crown with a weirdly delicious garnish fashioned from frizzled beef tendon.
David Bouley’s quixotic, high-end Japanese joint venture, Brushstroke, is still the best place for harried New Yorkers to sample the leisurely, rarefied joys of an old, imperial-style kaiseki dinner. But for knowledgeable young sushi freaks who don’t feel like paying a king’s ransom for their meal, the latest destination is Neta, which opened last spring among the scruffy bars and shoe parlors on 8th Street in the Village. You can always order the domestically sourced sushi prepared by former Masa Takayama acolytes Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau à la carte. But to experience the full range of the chefs’ talents, do what the New Age sushi high rollers do and plunk down $135 for the elaborate fourteen-course dinner, which, on one recent evening, included maitake-mushroom rolls scattered with truffles; numerous grades of melting, fatty, opulently rich bluefin tuna; and a tart, soothing grapefruit granita for dessert, which is presented the way the master does uptown, in a small cocktail glass with a little wooden spoon.
The most eagerly discussed new multicourse tasting experiment of all is the one under way in the kitchens of Daniel Humm’s celebrated Flatiron-district restaurant Eleven Madison Park. When the talented Swiss chef rolled out his first imaginative, ingredient-based tasting menu a year or so ago, your humble critic was moved to name Eleven Madison the best restaurant in all of New York City. But when I dropped in for lunch a few weeks ago, that concept had been scrapped and replaced with a three-hour, sixteen-course extravaganza. This elaborate culinary performance is still in its preview stage, but the new dishes include a giant iridescent cooked carrot, ground by Humm himself, picnic baskets filled with pretzel baguettes and specially brewed signature Eleven Madison Park wheat beer, and even a card trick performed tableside by a member of the dutiful wait staff.