best of new york

The Absolute Best Tasting Menu in New York

Educational, accessible, and entertaining, Ko is the full package. Photo: Tirzah Brott/New York Magazine

As with many things food in this culinary-mad era, New York is in the midst of the Golden Age of Tasting Menus. Chefs are turning them out in restaurants of all sizes and shapes, but our current favorites tend to follow a similar pattern. They’re small, hidden-away little places, in the back of beer bars, on the ground floors of modest townhouses, or next to unassuming markets, and if you want to sample them all, you’ll be spending a good deal of your time searching for obscure addresses in Brooklyn.

The Absolute Best

1. Ko
8 Extra Pl., nr. 1st St.; 212-203-8095

There are a thousand cutting-edge dining trends in the big city these days, and David Chang’s rebooted East Village tasting room more or less encompasses them all. Unlike in other increasingly hermetic, locally sourced, obsessively market-driven tasting kitchens around town, the globe-trotting Chang and his executive chef, Sean Gray, draw their influences from all over, and their menu changes not just season to season, but month to month and even day to day. During the course of a year’s dining, you may encounter caviars from Idaho, bee pollen gathered from apiaries in Connecticut, and mille-feuilles tipped with green-tea matcha from Japan. Add the endless food-lab inventions (oyster foams, macarons touched with chickpea Hozon, delicate shiso-leaf perfumes), and beverage director Jordan Salcito’s eclectic list of beers, sakes, and wines, and no tasting experience in town is as consistently educational (what is Hozon, anyway?), accessible (unlike at many precious fixed-price ateliers, there is a lunch menu, and you won’t need to book months in advance), or entertaining.

2. Atera
77 Worth St., nr. Church St.; 212-226-1444

Ko might offer more variety week in and week out, but if you’re looking for the classic, once-a-year, big-money tasting extravaganza, this discreetly elegant Tribeca tasting room is the place. The much-praised Danish chef, Ronny Emborg, is less of a madcap, haute forager than his talented predecessor, Matthew Lightner, but his 18-course dinner is a seminar on impeccably sourced ingredients, the magic of flavor (juniper, birch bark, a hint of wood smoke) and first-class Continental technique.

3. Take Root
187 Sackett St., nr. Henry St., Carroll Gardens; 347-227-7116

Is this little mom-and-mom establishment (chef Elise Kornack and her wife, Anna Hieronimus, are the only staffers) on the bottom floor of a Carroll Gardens townhouse really the third-best tasting joint in the entire city?! Based on the level of buzz (consistently insane) and demand (procuring one of the 12 seats isn’t quite as hard as getting a ticket to Hamilton, but it’s close), we’d have to say yes.

4. Yuji Ramen
150 Ainslie St., nr. Lorimer St., Williamsburg; 718-302-0598

At this tiny Williamsburg establishment, Yuji Haraguchi serves his great ramen tasting menu for one sitting only on Saturday and Sunday evenings, using the spare mottainai technique (the idea is to use every last ingredient, and waste nothing). Even if you’re not a card-carrying ramen freak, the subtle ingenuity of the cooking makes it feel like you’ve stumbled into a little gem of a restaurant in one of the more obscure neighborhoods of Tokyo.

5. Semilla
160 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 2nd St., No. 5, Williamsburg; 718-782-3474

This pleasant Williamsburg restaurant is as cramped as a submarine, but the friendly, even boisterous atmosphere and the casually sophisticated nature of Per Se alum José Ramírez-Ruiz’s consistently satisfying vegetable-forward cooking (the name is Spanish for seed) make it feel like you’ve dropped in at the chef’s home kitchen. Thanks to the rave reviews, they’ve raised the prices, but all of the vegetables will keep the cost of your dinner down.

6. Blanca
261 Moore St., nr. Bogart St., Bushwick; 347-799-2807

Carlo Mirarchi made his reputation serving his improvised tasting menu to local Bushwick gourmets. This permanent tasting room on the famous Roberta’s compound is still worth a visit. But like many things in Kings County, it’s not quite as improvised as in the old days, and at close to $350 for dinner and drinks, it’s way more expensive.

7. Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
200 Schermerhorn St., nr. Hoyt St., Downtown Brooklyn; 718-243-0050

Chef-owner César Ramirez’s exhaustive (15 dishes and counting), much-praised (three Michelin stars) market counter is usually ranked toward the top of arbitrary, crowd-pleasing listicles like these. But the atmosphere can be a little joyless, the admittedly excellent dinner is increasingly pricey ($306 per person, not including tax or drinks), and the rumored move to Manhattan will be a blow to Ramirez’s street cred.

8. Empellón Cocina
105 First Ave., nr. 6th St.; 212-780-0999

The great taco savant Alex Stupak throws everything but the proverbial kitchen sink into this elaborate Mexican-themed “Kitchen Table” tasting dinner, which takes place at a four-seat bar between the kitchen and dining room of his great East Village restaurant. Pay attention to Stupak’s excellent desserts, and nod politely when the chef says things like, “We’re going to make a salsa out of grasshoppers now, if that’s okay.”

9. Luksus
615 Manhattan Ave., nr. Nassau Ave., Greenpoint; 718-389-6034

Many of the familiar tropes of the Brooklyn dining scene are on display at this pocket-size tasting room hidden in the back of an excellent Greenpoint beer bar. But if you want to experience the remnants of the great Scandi-food revolution (foraged herbs, briny shellfish, bits of protein scented with burnt hay), this is one of the better places to do it, and at $125, Daniel Burns’s carefully edited menu is one of the best tasting deals in town.

The Best Tasting Menu in New York