Tax Day Challenge: Can You Spend Your Entire $600 Refund On One Meal With No Alcohol?


Virtually all of you will be getting a $600 tax refund this spring in an ill-advised scheme to restart the U.S. economy. The myopic goal of the refund is for us to spend the money immediately on consumer products and services, so why not blow it all on one epic restaurant meal?

Let us cast aside the $1000 sundae (gold foil) at Serendipity 3 and the $1000 omelet (ten ounces of sevruga) at Norma’s — both in New York — as pure silliness, and instead focus on tasting menus, but sans alcohol. If you added in wine pairings, you could go over $600 on the first sip.

It’s remarkable, isn’t it, that you can spend $10,000 easy on 750 milliliters of fermented grape juice, but it is extremely difficult to imagine a $10,000 meal that doesn’t involve kilos of truffles and caviar and the like. Can a $100 meal provide as much palate pleasure as a $1000 bottle of wine? We’d posit so; the price to quality ratio for wine is logarithmic, but only geometric or maybe even just arithmetic for food. Suffice it to say, a $600 meal is going to be really, really, really good, and a lot less risky of a financial investment than a $600 bottle of wine. So where, on Tax Day 2008, are our $600 meals going to come from?

Well, not too many places in America — sorry, Uncle Sam! Even the most renowned and priciest restaurants in the United States are hard-pressed to get you up to the $600 mark on food alone. French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s landmark fresh/seasonal restaurant in Yountville, CA, charges a mere $240. Alinea, Grant Achatz’s cutting-edge molecular gastronomy spectacle in Chicago is all of $195 for twenty-odd courses; possibly one of the best deals in the country, and actually worth some fraction of your refund.

Superexpensive restaurants tend to cluster in money cities, which is why Joel Robuchon chose unseemly Las Vegas for his first venture in the United States; his eponymous restaurant in the MGM Grand has a $385, sixteen course tasting menu that’s nothing to sneeze at. Right now, the menu includes a dish with abalone (which retails for over $100 a pound) and baby leeks in a ginger bouillon, for example.

America’s ultimate money city is, of course, New York. Where else could those aforementioned $1000 dishes exist without shame, and even find customers! The second most expensive restaurant in the city is Per Se, Tom Keller’s other restaurant. The prix fixe there is $275, not much of a premium over the rural California version.

Our winner today is Masa, the country’s preeminent sushi restaurant (at least if you use cost as your primary metric!) It was opened by Chef Masa (there’s a surcharge for the surname) in 2004, with the only menu option being a $350 omakase, exclusive of drinks, tax and a mandatory 20% tip. The prix fixe has only risen $50 in the past four years (only!), but don’t fret: you can tack on a supplement of Wagyu beef from Masa’s home prefecture of Tochigi to nudge it up to $600, thus fulfilling the mission of wasting your tax refund.

Meanwhile, Wagyu beef is the culprit at the most expensive restaurant in the world, Tokyo’s Aragawa steakhouse. There, a twenty ounce cut of some of the best-quality meat in existence runs a shade over $600, depending on the exchange rate. For a single piece of steak! And the service and decor are shoddy! Still, wow.

French Laundry [Official Site]
Alinea [MenuPages]
Alinea [Official Site]
Joel Robuchon [Official Site]
Per Se [MenuPages]
Per Se [Official Site]
Masa [MenuPages]
Masa [Official Site]

[Photo: your tax refund, in meat form (at Aragawa, via dottyguy/flickr]

Tax Day Challenge: Can You Spend Your Entire $600 Refund On One Meal With No