In a new piece titled “Nibbled to Death,” Times critic Pete Wells talks about the rise of the three- or four-hour, multi-course restaurant experience as the arguable “future of fine dining.” He praises multiple examples of lengthy tasting menus, including those at Atera and the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare in New York, Alinea in Chicago, and those here in the Bay Area at Benu and Meadowood. He says, “Corey Lee’s menus [at Benu] are breathtaking explorations of the potential for treating Asian flavors with a modern American sensibility,” and of Christopher Kostow’s work at Meadowood he says the menus “gently unfold as meditations on the season and the region.” He’s a bit fatigued, however, with some of the repetition in the 20+ courses he saw at Saison, saying “I walked out dazed when I could have been dazzled.”
That’s unfortunate, we’d say, given that we’ve never been dazed by Saison and chef Joshua Skenes’s light but intricate touch with ingredients. But we’re glad Wells got a chance to try some of our finer restaurants in what we think is still a high-water mark for Bay Area dining, in order to bring back some perspective to New York.
Wells does make a salient point, which is that we may be reaching a saturation point with restaurants that forgo all a la carte options and have only expensive, lengthy tasting menus that are really only for connoisseurs and special occasions. “The format presents formidable hurdles for customers and restaurants, enough to cause us to stop and wonder how many more meals like this we need. Not every novel should be War and Peace.”