What is a Tasting Menu?
A tasting menu is a special menu offered in many fine dining establishments. It can be an opportunity for restaurant guests to have a nibble of almost all dishes offered at a restaurant, or it can be a way for a chef to demonstrate all that he/she is worth by creating small and innovative dishes that aren’t on the regular menu. Usually the tasting menu is what is called prix fixe or set price. This means people pay a single price to get to explore everything that is on the tasting menu, instead of ordering a la carte, and “everything” may be quite a few small dishes.
There are many restaurants that offer a tasting menu in addition to a la carte meals or more standard prix fixe meals that could include things like an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, at minimum. Typically tasting menus are much more extensive in scope than a simple three-course meal. Some restaurants may have ten or more dishes in this type of menu, and they might frequently be paired with different wines or other alcohol. If they are not, and people are interested in food/wine pairings, they ought to consider consulting the sommelier or wine expert of the restaurant to get recommendations on the most appropriate accompaniments to the chef’s food.
Though there can be an extensive collection of dishes on the tasting menu, they are usually alike in being relatively small. In fact, the more dishes there are, the smaller they tend to get. Chefs don’t want to overwhelm diners by giving them too much, but they also don’t want diners to leave hungry. Therefore the chef prepares each dish as a little more than a taste, and often a lot less than a meal, and when composing a tasting menu, one goal is to make sure the sum total of what is served is approximately equal to a three-course meal.
Another thing that many of these menus tend to have in common is that they can be expensive. In some of the finer restaurants in the world it is not uncommon to pay over $200 US Dollars (USD) per diner to sample a tasting menu. There are other restaurants where the prices are not as high, and it can be said prices vary. Part of the cost is perhaps due to quality of ingredients, which in finer restaurants may be exceptionally high, and also the extra work that goes into preparing multiple meals. Yet it should be noted that there are critics of the tasting menu, who lambast the majority of them by saying they are simply a way to spend a lot of money and are more about showing off one's ability to pay or charge that type of money, than anything else.
@Lostnfound -- You don't know what you're missing. At many upscale restaurants, you can ask for the vegetarian tasting menu, which avoids unpleasant surprises like variety meats. If you do the lacto-ovo menu, then you can still enjoy dairy and eggs.
I'm not much of a drinker, so I usually pass on the wine, which has earned me some strange looks, but it's my money and I'm not paying for wine I don't drink!
I'm not sure I'm enough of an adventurous eater to try the tasting menu. I have a problem with variety meats, and I know many tasting menus feature things like sweetbreads and so forth. Not my thing.
I have been told that doing the tasting menu in an upscale restaurant is quite an experience, since it can feature things not on the regular menu, and also that diners doing the tasting menus are treated like royalty. Must be nice.
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