Renowned food writer M.F.K. Fisher once wrote, “First we eat, then we do everything else.” That might sound startlingly unromantic at first, but Fisher revered, as all gourmands do, the dual role that eating plays in our lives: physical necessity and opportunity for transcendence.
When it comes to the art of the tasting menu, it’s all about elevating the everyday. Simple sustenance takes a backseat as a chef seizes the opportunity to display his or her artistry, versatility and imagination. (And with the number of courses often reaching double digits, basic hunger is rarely on most diners’ minds.)
The beauty of tasting menus is how much they vary from restaurant to restaurant and chef to chef. At n/naka in Los Angeles, chef Niki Nakayama’s 13-course Modern Kaiseki riffs on the traditional Japanese kaiseki haute cuisine banquet, which strictly dictates the progression of the meal (it requires, for instance, an amuse-bouche of “something common and something unique”).
At the Catbird Seat, a new James Beard–nominated restaurant in Nashville, the menu changes nightly according to the whims of Erik Anderson (who cooked for a time at Noma in Copenhagen) and Josh Habiger (formerly of Alinea in Chicago). The two chefs team up to create a seven-course tasting menu as 32 guests look on, serving up dishes like arctic char with lardon and clover or spring ramp vichyssoise with violets. And at La Terraza del Casino de Madrid, the menu—crafted personally by Ferran Adrià, the creator of El Bulli—is tapas-style, offering perfect bites like pine-nut marshmallows and oysters with lychee gelée.
Whether found in Cape Town or Brooklyn, the unforgettable tasting menus on this list offer the opportunity to not just eat, but to eat sumptuously.