Put your money where your mouth is - a field guide to prix fixes
January 7th, 2011
10:30 AM ET
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Maybe you're one of the lucky two who will be splitting the $355 Mega Millions jackpot. Perhaps you’re in a Mayan state of mind and trying to polish off the old bucket list before the world ceases to exist on December 21, 2012. Could be you're trying to impress a new lady or gent. Or maybe, just maybe, you're just someone who loves to eat good food no matter the price tag.

Whatever your motivation, there are plenty of places for you to drop some serious Benjamins in the name of fine dining.

We’re not declaring these to be the "best" restaurants in all the land (though some of them are), nor the most expensive (ditto). There are plenty of restaurants where you could order a gold-flecked sundae or truffle-laced burger topped with Beluga caviar and easily stack up a bill in the thousands of dollars.

Instead, we’re honing in on notable prix fixe and tasting menu options that will make your taste buds squeal with delight and may your wallet reel in terror - but at least with a set price, you'll know what you're in for.

French Laundry - Yountville, California
Find out why Thomas Keller is one of, if not the, most celebrated American chef at his three Michelin-starred food and wine temple in Napa Valley.

To the tune of $250 per person (service included), diners choose between two nine-course tasting menus that change daily – either the chef’s tasting, which includes several meat and fish-centric courses, or a tasting of vegetables. No ingredient is repeated throughout the meal and it celebrates the height of seasonality, prepared with French precision and technique. Chef Keller describes it as “American restaurant whose inspiration lies in the countryside of France.”

Per Se - New York City, New York
Meanwhile, East Coast diners can also dine on one of Thomas Keller's nine-course tasting menus while overlooking Columbus Circle – but it’ll cost you $25 more at $275 per person. (That’s Manhattan for you.)

Same deal as The French Laundry: two nine-course tasting menus, one vegetarian and the other is not. Both change daily but incorporate some of Thomas Keller’s classics like salmon cornets and “Oysters and Pearls” with warm pearl tapioca sabayon, Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar. Per Se also holds the distinguished honor of being awarded three Michelin stars; there are only four other restaurants in New York City with the same distinction.

It’s also in the same building as Masa (see below) should you feel the need to stick around for a $600 omakase afterward.

minibar - Washington, D.C.
While the price for minibar, $150 per person without wine, tax and tip, may seem like a downright blue plate special compared to a few of the other restaurants included on this list, the snafu is that there are only two seatings per night, one at 6 p.m. and one at 8:30 p.m. - and each seating accommodates six diners.

So if you are one of the lucky 12 people to nab a coveted reservation at José Andrés' culinary laboratory that night, you can expect 25 to 30 courses separated into "munchies" like cotton candy eel or a tomato crisp with anchovy caviar, "flavors and textures" like smoked oysters with apples or a Wagyu beef cheesesteak, and "sweet endings" like saffron gum drops and frozen yogurt and honey powders.

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire - Las Vegas, Nevada
What to do when you hit it big at the craps table or in a lucky hand of Blackjack and there’s a three-Michelin star chef on premise? Dine on a $285 prix fixe menu, of course.

The legendary French chef - and “wizard” according to esteemed food writer Ruth Reichl - makes his United States debut on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental serving classic French food (foie gras terrine, shellfish à la marinière) with an innovative twist (hibiscus gelée, potato chips and marshmallow), hence the name.

Momofuku Ko - New York City, New York
If you prefer lunch over dinner, austere to ornate, and sans menu to avec, Ko is waiting for you. As former New York Times critic Frank Bruni wrote in his review:

Proper tables and place settings? At Ko you belly up to a plain counter that wraps around a plain galley kitchen, and your chopsticks rest on a wine cork.

Lumbar support? At Ko you straddle a backless stool. Lovely scenery? There’s a plywood wall to your back and, in front of you, cooks so close you can count their beads of sweat as they not only prepare and plate your food but also hand it to you. You can feel the heat from the stoves like a sunburn on your brow.

Akin to minibar, chef David Chang’s Ko feeds a small crowd – 12 seats to be exact - and reservations are hard to come by – only available online at 10 a.m. for the next seven days.

Lunch service at Ko has a larger menu than dinner and is offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for $175. For the bargain hunters, dinner is $125 and offered every day. As for the food, it’s a bit of this and that plucked from around the world – homemade pork rinds, frozen grated foie gras flakes, braised pork belly, scallop sashimi. You dine at the chefs’ whim.

Le Bec Fin - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
While Georges Perrier previously announced that he would close his legendary French restaurant this spring after a 40-year run, he retracted those plans earlier this week and diners can still splurge on a nine-course "Grand Degustation" menu for $185, a six-course menu option for $120, and a four-course menu priced at $80 until further notice.

Le Bec Fin is widely accredited for starting the restaurant revolution in the city of Brotherly Love and cheesesteak. It reflects the white linen tablecloths of yore, where anything less than three hours for a meal is unheard of and a water glass never goes half-empty.

Oh, and we should probably mention there’s an all-you-can-eat dessert cart that’s rolled around the restaurant should you feel the need to milk that $185 price tag for all the cakes and tarts it’s worth.

The Herbfarm - Seattle, Washington
In the Pacific Northwest, avid eaters reap the benefits of a nine-course menu, designed as a progressive “story” of land and sea, with a five to six-course wine pairing.

It’ll run you anywhere between $179 and $195 per person, plus tax and service. The Herbfarm's kitchen gardens and farm supply most of its produce, so if terroir is what you’re looking for, terroir is what you get.

Urasawa - Los Angeles, California
In traditional Japanese omakase style, a place at Hiroyuki Urasawa’s ten-seat Rodeo Drive restaurant will run you $350 a person.

Omakase, translating roughly to mean “entrusting,” puts you in the chef’s hands as he sends out a twenty-course-plus procession of sushi and sashimi directly flown in from Japan.

Joël Robuchon at the Mansion - Las Vegas, Nevada
It’s another Vegas dining splurge by another storied French chef á la Pierre Gagnaire - this time by three Michelin-starred Joël Robuchon.

For $385 a person, high rollers belly up to a sixteen course tasting menu by the “French Chef of the Century,” according to the Gault Millau restaurant guide.

Worried about getting back to your hotel further down on the Strip? The restaurant provides complimentary limousine service to all its diners.

Alinea - Chicago, Illinois
After working for four years at Thomas Keller's French Laundry and a four-day stint at Ferran Adrià's mecca of molecular gastronomy, elBulli, Grant Achatz opened up Alinea in 2005.

For $195, diners are taken on a 20-course culinary journey of progressive cuisine, from pillows of lavender to singed oak leaves to a black truffle explosion.

Alinea was recently named the seventh best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine.

Michel Richard Citronelle - Washington, D.C.
For $190, Chef Michel Richard, who among other accolades was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who" in American Food and Wine, offers a 12-course “Promenade Gourmande” menu that is equal parts Californian and French cuisine.

Should you be so content and full that you couldn’t bear to travel back home, the restaurant is conveniently located in the Latham Hotel in the D.C. neighborhood of Georgetown.

Masa - New York City, New York
We’re ending with a bang - the most expensive restaurant on the list. For $450 to $600, Chef Masa Takayama offers a multi-course omakase like that of Urasawa: five appetizers, fifteen to twenty types of sushi (flown in from Japan, no less), and a dessert. Three Michelin stars don’t come cheap.

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soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. Escoffier

    Aragawa in Tokyo, visited twice, 2 people ~JPY 150,000 and 4 people ~JPY 400,000. The beef is really very good, surprisingly not the typical "fatty" waguy, but quite frankly not worth it, despite the fact that there are 14 grades between very, very rare to very,very well done. If it hadn't been on a corporate account, it would have hurt.
    I also liked Joel Robuchon in Ebisu (~JPY 75,000-100,000 per person), my favorite were scalloped potatoes with uni/espresso foam. Did not like L'atelier in Roppongi Hills (too uncomfortable seating).
    L'Osier is also a must.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  2. TCP

    I would LOVE to have those who have eaten a meal for over $50.00 post their political affiliation...

    January 19, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • Food is good

      Had a mediocre date at a Fantastic local restaurant, bill for 2 came out around $130. The seafood pasta dish I had was like eating butter of the sea, it was lovely and possibly the best I've had. Oh and for the record I am a broke college student, Libertarian.

      January 22, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  3. Bill

    Roughly around $ 600 US for two at Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was good, but I've had meals just as good for a fraction of the price. It's nice to do it once in a very blue moon, but for the most part, there are a lot of nice places at far more down to earth prices. Maybe I'll go back to the Jules Verne when I see them on Groupon.

    January 18, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  4. tammy

    if ever i won the lottery, my husband and I will tour around the world to taste different cuisines and exotic food found in each country!!!=)

    January 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  5. Bosco

    The French Laundry was worth every penny! Amazing food! Looking forward to Per Se. :) Would highly suggest that you bring your own wine and pay the $50 corkage fee. The markup on wine is the highest I've ever seen in a restaurant.

    January 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  6. joe

    i could afford to spend $1000 a night on dinner. but i don't because i'm not stupid. simply spending $10-$25 per person is enough to have an enjoyable night out. i have other fun things to do with my money than compulsively spend it at some so called "fine restaurant".....but some people are just a little dumb, what can i say.

    January 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
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