Five Reasons Tasting Menus Are a Dining Scourge

Done well, a tasting menu is a wonderful meal where the chef picks a theme and the kitchen shows off what it can do; you leave satisfied and awe-struck, and wanting to come back to taste the kitchen's prowess again. I've had great tasting menus in Orange County and outside of it, and I've had absolutely execrable ones. Sometimes they're well-constructed journeys through the chef's experience, and sometimes they're proof that the chef is actually just a caffeinated squirrel. Five courses that flow together, or twenty-three courses that become tiresome after number 7?

Unfortunately, there are more and more restaurants, good and bad, serving only tasting menus, and sometimes they're restaurants where the chef really shouldn't be showing off. Here are five reasons why I try to avoid tasting menus.

1. They're expensive.

Why pay $50 or $60 for three courses when you can pay $129 for fourteen little bites of food, including three desserts? Don't forget the wine pairing, too, which causes the sommeliers to approximate Brownian motion as they replace your glasses after every second course. The problem is that the cost is probably justified: the more courses you make, the more everyone has to work. The question is whether it's worth it.

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2. They're annoying to eat.

For some reason, many chefs who do tasting menus all think they're Wylie Dufresne or Ferrán Adria, and they create these elaborate presentations that have to be deconstructed before they can be eaten (or consumed, in the case of flavored smoke). Even in places without that level of pretense, the different sauces and flavors mean you're going to go through a dishwasher's worth of utensils by the time you're done.

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