December 3, 2023

The New Wave of Tasting Menus Is Affordable and Approachable

Her Place shares qualities with Mosquito Supper Club, the New Orleans restaurant where food from the Cajun coast of Louisiana is served family style around communal tables. Beyond offering creative freedom, the tasting menu allows Melissa Martin, the restaurant’s chef and owner, to pay higher wages.

Similarly, at Juliet, in Somerville, Mass., employees are paid a minimum of $16 per hour — plus tips or service-charge revenue — and guaranteed a raise after a year on the job, said Joshua Levin, the restaurant’s co-owner. The tasting menu is what makes such benefits affordable, he said, even if it has occasionally confused diners who are surprised to find the restaurant in a former coffee shop.

“People show up dressed in a suit, because it’s a tasting menu,” Mr. Levin said. “It’s cute.” (Last week, Juliet opened in a new building next door to its original space, which Mr. Levin said will become a wine bar.)

Mosquito and Juliet both opened in the mid-2010s, following a path forged by stripped-down tasting-menu restaurants, like Dirt Candy, in New York City, and Schwa, in Chicago, that emerged in the decade before with inventive takes on the form.

Washington, D.C., also has a rich modern history of paradigm-busting tasting-menu restaurants, from chefs including José Andrés, Johnny Monis, Aaron Silverman and, more recently, Yuan Tang and Chetan Shetty. Last year, Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post’s restaurant critic, named Oyster Oyster his favorite in the city. The 28-seat restaurant, which opened in 2020, serves a $95 tasting menu of chef Rob Rubba’s idiosyncratic, mainly vegetarian food.

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