Earlier this year, the two-Michelin starred Saison moved from San Francisco’s Mission to a larger, more luxurious space on Townsend Street in the SoMa district. The menu is also more expensive, at $298, up from the previous price of $248 earlier this spring, which in turn is up from the (shorter) $198 weekday tasting menu offered around this time last April. That’s a total an increase of over $100, or 51% of the menu’s price, in a year’s time.
Saison currently serves California’s third most expensive tasting menu after Meadowood’s $500 chef’s tasting (inclusive of tip), and Urasawa’s $375 omakase. We’re always fans of discussing value and cost here at The Price Hike and The Bad Deal, so we were honored when Chef Joshua Skenes took the time to chat about his new space and prices. He also talks about a pretty cool payment alternative he’s trying to develop with Square.
What prompted the price increase from $248 to $298? We have a lot of extremely expensive stuff in the new space. It’s the price of doing business. In terms of our working with a local fishermen, we set up a deal where we pay for his trip fee, where he goes down to Half Moon Bay or to Monterey or to up north and sources all these little things for us and it drives our cost up. But at the end of the day, it’s really just based on the cost of the ingredients…the menu price is always dictated by the cost of the ingredients… if we were to use a traditional model, I think around $400 for the menu would put us in line with average food costs for a restaurant. By that logic we’re underpriced and it’s a value for the menu.
Sometimes, you gotta show a restaurant you love some tough love. Such is the case of WD-50, a restaurant that I’ve been visiting since 2005, and which I downgraded to two stars in my review for Bloomberg News this week. Last spring, the Dufresne’s restaurant eliminated its a la carte options in favor of a tasting menu-only format in the dining room.
Pricing isn’t necessarily the problem. WD-50’s longest tasting, at $155 is actually cheaper than the menus at other avant-garde spots like Alinea, Atera, and The Fat Duck. And the prix fixe-only policy is in line with other ambitious spots like Eleven Madison Park and Aldea that want to offer diners a singular experience.
The problem is the food, which isn’t as justifiably creative or whimsically satisfying as it used to be. And while a diner can’t expect WD-50 or any restaurant to reinvent the wheel year after year, it’s disappointing when a tasting menu that used to excite you at $95 in 2005 now bores you in 2013 at $155. After pairings, tax and tip, that comes to $644 for two.
The key mix of “wow” and gastronomic nourishment that diners used to find at WD-50 is now better accessed at other envelope-pushing spots like Corton, Empellon Cocina, and Torrisi.
It feels as if WD-50 was an academy-award winning rated-R movie that was watered down to a PG-13 version for network TV.
Atera is an envelope-pushing restaurant. The avant-garde Tribeca spot is wher quail eggs arrive on beds of grass, where lobster rolls come inside macarons, and where “charcoal” is made of chocolate. Atera serves 20-plus course meals that cost $165 before beverage, tax and tip. And now you’re expected to pay for your meal before your meal, not after it. The website of the two-Michelin-starred restaurant explains it all thusly:
Sure, many fine dining venues threaten cancellation fees, but Atera is only the second NYC spot to actually require prepayment (Brooklyn Fare is the other). Chicago eaters of course are familiar with such policies at Next and Alinea, where diners pay for dinner in advance via a much heralded ticketing system.
Make no mistake about it, pre-payment works in the favor of the restaurateur, and asks the diner to forfeit the price of dinner, plus tax and gratuity. if he or she can’t make it that evening. Chef Lightner was nice enough to chat with us about this development via email, here are highlights from our conversation:
When did you start the prepayment system and how have your guests responded to it? We started the prepayment about a month ago and guests have not had an issue with it, unless they are trying to cancel last minute.
We at The Price Hike and The Bad Deal hope this list can rival the number of restaurants on Facebook one day. As we’ve said before, Tumblr is a fine way to share your daily menus and your daily dishes with your daily diners on a daily basis. Let us know if we’re missing anyone and we’ll add’em on, fine brothers and sisters.
Update (12:10pm): added Nopalize, Pies & Thighs and more. Russ & Daughter’s isn’t a restaurant but they sell good caviar and they rock so why the heck not include them?.
Update (4:43pm): added Luke’s Lobster (duh), The Meatball Shop, the critically acclaimed Red Medicine and a whole lot more after Tumblr’s Food & Beverage Evangelist Jen Pelka kindly sent over (a long list of) what we were missing.