In New York City, “tasting menu” may as well be code for spending a lot of money. But in 2016, it’s not just Goldman Sachs execs who can afford the chef’s prix fixe. Plenty of restaurants have started realizing they don’t need to charge obscene prices to give you a taste of the chef’s best dishes. While going out for a tasting still may be a bit more than you’d spend on your average meal (or not, if you’re the double-entree-ordering type), it’s a worthwhile indulgence for those who suffer from serious menu indecisiveness. We’ve found New York’s best tasting menus that will actually fill you up -- none of those three-bites-for-$75 scams -- without putting you into serious credit card debt.
Chef Patti Jackson’s Michelin-starred, 38-seat Williamsburg haunt may offer the best tasting-menu deal in town. The locally sourced, seasonally changing American menu includes shareable apps, a first course (pasta!), a hearty main course (duck, sea bass, or braised beef cheeks), dessert, and an optional cheese course ($10 extra, do it) for just $58, which is less than you’d probably spend at a non-Michelin-starred restaurant on just an entree and app. The best part about this tasting menu -- other than the price? -- is that you’re not stuck with the catch of the day or the perfectly (boring) seared duck that the chef really wants you to eat.
Instead of arguing with your tablemates over which curries, koftas, and tandoori chops you’ll share, opt into Babu Ji’s $62 tasting menu that brings out all the best flavors of India on several rounds of spicy and creamy dishes unique to New York City’s vast landscape of Indian restaurants. The small, colorful Alphabet City restaurant is anything but tranquil, with music bumping and the door to the customer-accessible beer fridge always swinging for the next craft brew to chase down that spicy cauliflower. Optional beer pairings are $22, but it’s more fun to DIY. Dishes are presented in a no-filter-friendly rainbow of delights, but save room after the main tali tray for homemade cardamom, honey, and pistachio kulfi, a creamy popsicle-like sweet that could easily put Mister Softee out of business.
Tasting menus are notoriously challenging for vegans, but the meat-free crowd can enjoy the deal and meal of a lifetime at this veg-friendly Japanese spot rooted in shojin cuisine, a method of vegetarian cooking stemming from Zen Buddhism. And yes, the atmosphere here is super-chill -- you can actually have a conversation, or just meditate over the best miso that’s ever touched your mouth. A monthly rotating four-course dinner menu runs at $55 and includes courses like vegan sashimi, a delicate vegetable tempura that will kill your taste for cheap bento boxes, a seasonal hot pot, and a starchy rice dish. Everything you eat in the serene Kajitsu feels seriously healthy but still indulgent, the perfect wabi-sabi balance for a tasting menu meal.
Last year, beloved sushi chef David Bouhadana was ousted from the East Village’s Sushi Dojo for refusing to wear gloves while preparing tastings that New Yorkers would book weeks in advance. Now, you’ll add your name to a clipboard at Sushi on Jones, co-owned by Bouhadana and business partner Derek Feldman, and wait for a $50, 12-piece sushi meal that stands to be NYC’s best sushi bargain. And no, that doesn’t mean fake tuna -- you can expect the likes of uni, hamachi, scallop, crab, and Bouhadana’s signature truffle salt-sprinkled wagyu. You only have 30 minutes to eat (opt for fingers, not chopsticks) and drink it all, but it’ll probably be the best $50 you’ve spent on sushi in forever.
New to the ever-growing, ever-obsessive scene of cool Korean fare in New York City is ATOBOY, a “casual fine-dining restaurant” -- wear your ripped jeans, expect excellent food and service -- where three dishes of your choice plus rice go for $36. It's not a tasting menu in the traditional sense, but it's affordable and lets you mix-and-match 20 varieties of mix-and-match Korean-style tapas, including French beans with smoked eel and grapes; corn with taleggio, bacon, and doenjang; a spicy peanut butter chicken; and lusciously juicy brisket with foie gras, ginger, and garlic.
Manhattan’s most luxe new restaurant, run by the German chef of the same name, recently launched an abbreviated four-course tasting menu at $98, which, while still a splurge, is a small price to pay to dine like royalty for an evening. Seeger’s menu changes daily, based on what produce is available and where his imagination leads him in the restaurant’s hypnotic stainless-steel kitchen. Expect refined creations presented like works of art and listed off like salvation-inducing poetry as they’re plated at your cozy table: foie gras confit with apple essence and lettuce bouquet; Scottish langoustine with preserved butternut squash, madras curry, and pistachio; roasted black bass in cardamom honey with vegetable nage. The place is so posh, you’ll want to dress up for this one, but the food is worth the extra primping.
Lower East Side
Years after its October 2013 opening, Contra has made reserving a coveted seat in its dining room harder than scoring Hamilton tickets. The nightly rotating $67 seven-course menu -- think rye porridge with uni and sorana beans, culotte steak with charred fushimi peppers and raw matsutake mushrooms, and a refreshing elderflower granita with pistachio and pickled celery -- is greatly in demand not only for its price but for its majestic fare now worthy of urban legends. The “Contemporary New York Cuisine” is seriously less pretentious than it sounds, with whimsical dishes created from local, seasonal ingredients that are complex yet just simple enough to not make you feel bombarded with chef tropes you’d never understand. When room is available and cash is tighter, head to the bar for a $48 abbreviated menu (it’s OK if you supplement with a dollar slice after).
This irregularly scheduled, traveling pop-up restaurant, led by Restaurant Daniel and Mirazur alum chef Nico Russell, features an $80 set menu for a leisurely dinner that lasts about two hours. The seasonal dishes, announced at the meal, are accompanied by cocktails, wine, and beer, and the booze is pretty much ever-flowing (assuming you can both drink it all and keep up with the courses). At the intimate pop-up (most recently held at Williamsburg’s Egg), you’re getting the cooking skill you’d expect at Daniel, just with more laid-back, friendly service -- and most importantly, without the three-figure price tag. Think of Oxalis as a quasi-open bar paired with imaginatively composed and plated dishes. Check the website for upcoming dates.
The smart way to approach your dinner at Faro’s chef's counter is to reserve one (or all) of the six seats on Friday or Saturday nights, when a special five-pasta tasting menu along with amuse-bouches and dessert runs for $85. Chef and co-owner Kevin Adey, who boasts 100 pasta shapes in his repertoire, mills grains sourced from upstate on-site each day for the freshest pasta possible. While Faro's menu changes regularly, you can be sure you’ll stuff your face with seriously fantastic pasta and regionally diverse Italian dishes including culingioni, a braided Sardinian ravioli; baked pasta rotolo filled with kale (it’s Brooklyn!) and béchamel; and frascatelli, a handmade pasta similar to spaetzle.
Even at $85, Semilla’s vegetable-forward, 10-plus-course tasting menu is still a steal. Vegetables are the star of the show at the communal 18-seat bar where you’re sure to make friends or at least score a few new Instagram followers with this undeniably likable plating. Those not quite ready to make the $85 commitment can stop by for less pricey “drinks and snacks” when space is available.
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1. Delaware and Hudson135 N 5th St, Brooklyn
2. Babu Ji175 Avenue B, New York
3. Kajitsu125 E 39th St, New York
4. Sushi on Jones348 Bowery, New York
5. Atoboy43 E 28th St, New York
6. Gunter Seeger NY641 Hudson St, New York
7. Contra138 Orchard St, New York
8. Faro436 Jefferson St, Brooklyn
9. Semilla160 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn
Northeastern cuisine with an old farm feel fits this small Williamsburg restaurant well, where chef/owner Patti Jackson serves a prix-fixe, family-style menu nightly. Seasonal fare isn't a trope at Delaware and Hudson, and there are no gimmicks, just superbly prepared dishes that are rustic in character but artful in presentation, like braised short rib with squash puree and duck breast with corn polenta. Brunch is an à la carte and more casual affair that draws heavily on mid-Atlantic recipes for dishes like Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple and buckwheat pancakes with blueberry syrup. Pass the pretzel rolls.
This airy, East Village Indian restaurant is serving traditional dishes with a modern twist that still feels true to the culture and cuisine. The menu features street food snacks like crispy gol gappa and yogurt kebab, satisfying tandoor-cooked meat dishes, and curries that run from coconut milk-based prawn to spicy ginger beef. An authentic Indian meal isn't complete without daal, so be sure to order Babu's slow-simmered black lentil daal, and of course, the charred-in-all-the-right-places naan.
One of Manhattan's pioneers in shojin cuisine -- a style of multi-course vegetarian cooking with roots in Zen Buddhism -- this upscale, Michelin-starred restaurant offers a dining experience that's memorable in both visual and culinary scope. There are two menus available -- four-course or eight-course -- and though both change monthly, they always feature seasonal vegetables and wheat gluten, or nama-fu. Kajitsu's sparse, minimalistic interior matches its Zen-like ethos and puts the spotlight on the poetically-arranged plates of food.
Sushi on Jones in NoHo is a four-seat outdoor omakase bar nestled in the Bowery Market. During the 30-minute-long open-air sushi experience, you’ll be passed near-perfect pieces of chu toro, California uni, and Chef David Bouhadana’s signature wagyu beef flame-seared right in front of you and dusted with truffle salt. With all fish expertly seasoned, you won’t feel the slightest desire to reach for the soy sauce for flavor, making your interactions with the chef a whole lot less awkward.
Atoboy is a modern, banchan-style restaurant from Chef Junghyun Park (Jungsik) and his wife Ellia Park (Noreetuh). The family-style menu fuses seasonal American ingredients with traditional Korean flavors, as evidenced in the tasting menu (one of the more reasonably priced ones in New York) that features small plates that rotate around beef, pork, seafood, and vegetables.
Mum’s the word at Günter Seeger, an exclusive American restaurant in the West Village named for its Michelin star-earning chef. You’ll choose between a 10-course tasting menu and a four-course prix fixe menu, both of which change daily. Here’s the catch: you’ll discover what you’re eating only when you are seated, fork in one hand and knife in the other, during your just-short-of-$200 reservation. Surprises aside, Seeger relies religiously on seasonally appropriate local seafood and produce. While you’re feasting, you’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of Seeger’s personal art collection, which adorns the white brick wall and complements the muted color scheme.
It's not always easy to score reservations at Contra, but if you do, prepare for an inventive, seven-course menu that rotates nightly. The chefs at this narrow LES restaurant create contemporary and whimsical plates, and similar to Contra's bare-bones interior, they keep everything unpretentious and minimalistic. If room is available and your wallet is thin, head to the bar for a more affordable, abbreviated menu.
Bushwick’s rising status as a grown-up culinary neighborhood is reaffirmed by Faro, a 50-seat Italian restaurant that blends the contemporary and rustic in a converted warehouse (can you get more rustic than a wall of firewood stacked to the ceiling?). It's not surprising that it received a Michelin Bib Gourmand just six months after opening: Chef Kevin Adey, formerly of nearby dining leader Northeast Kingdom, works with farmers in upstate New York to source grains, and subsequently mills flour and makes pasta in-house. His pasta-heavy menu, featuring dishes like gnocchetti with braised quail, consistently exceeds the expectations of local loft-dwellers and those hungry after a neighborhood graffiti tour.
Eating at Semilla in Williamsburg is like attending an intimate dinner party as this slim space features just one 18-seat wooden bar that diners gather around for a vegetable-centric tasting menu. The dinner lineup features 10 dishes that change with the seasons and are based on what's available from Semilla's farmers. Shaking up the menu this often leads the chefs to create inventive meals that are always plated with beauty and precision, like an heirloom tomato tart with shiso & red onion, and rhubarb-marinated scallops. You'll have to make reservations well in advance, but walk-ins are welcome for drinks and light bites when space is available.