Multi-course degustation journeys have proliferated in this city over the years, and while an hours-long feast can make for a unique dining experience, the expense can take a toll. Lately, some niche restaurants have offered a solution: four- to five-course menus that don’t break the bank and change regularly, depending on what’s fresh that day. Here are five great tasting menus in NYC, all $55 and under plus tax and tip.
Contra, 138 Orchard Street, 212-466-4633 $55 for five courses At this LES 44-seater from savvy gastronomes Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske, a restaurant signboard flickers in neon and alternative rock hums in the background. The duo offers a $55 five-course menu of thoughtful New American classics that echo dishes of their past. You might find crisp-skin chicken beautifully roasted and placed within the framework of chicken almondine with whole almonds, thin carrots, and a veil of seaweed jus. Or you might have a nuanced broccoli rabe balanced with a lemon confit and whole scallops and sharply garnished with rehydrated dried scallops. Dessert might be a combination of beet, yogurt, and hazelnut cremeux, a play that tastes like it could have been deconstructed from red-velvet pudding; that final course might be preceded by a bright tangerine granita with light-as-air popcorn mousse. No telling, since the menu changes every day.
Sushi Dojo, 110 First Avenue, 646-692-9398 $45 for 10 pieces of nigiri Everything in David Bouhadana’s East Village temple of pristine edomae-style sushi screams upscale — except for the prices. $45 buys you an omakase experience that exceeds most others in the city. You’ll eat two kinds of fatty tuna — otoro and chutoro — and creamy, sweet lobes of uni from Santa Barbara (or, if you’d like, from Maine or Hokkaido) on loosely-packed warm rice. Silvery skin-on kohada (seabream) glistens like armor; sweet amaebi (shrimp) is sweet and supple, deep orange Alaskan king salmon is clean and luxurious, and fatty saba or a satiny fluke might be dotted with monkfish liver. Extra pieces are modestly priced a la carte, so ask for more if you’re still hungry.
Gramercy Tavern, 42 East 20th Street, 212-477-0777 $48 for four courses at the tavern or bar Part of the thrill of dining at Gramercy Tavern’s more casual area is knowing that a terrific four-course meal is half the price of the menu served in the adjacent room, and you’ll still be privy to the faultless attention-to-detail that characterizes Danny Meyer’s restaurants. Chef Michael Anthony turns out a list of seasonal, unpretentious classics. One dinner might feature Connecticut oysters as a prelude — smoky and luscious with roasted kale — and then traipse through a crisp salad of radicchio and sweet honeycomb apples, seared sea bass with salsa verde, meltingly tender duck breast, and a complex chocolate cake, as dense as Christmas pudding. One note: The tavern area only takes walk-ins, which means peak-time waits can take over an hour.
Aska, 90 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-388-2969 $39 for three courses at the bar This small restaurant lurks within Kinfolk Studio’s utilitarian space, which is a cafe by day. Fredrik Berselius puts out a minimalist Scandinavian board, taking staple ingredients and turning them into exquisite objets d’art. His quick menu at the walk-in-only bar features three dishes, although the complimentary breads — one a brittle crepe, the other a warm, nutty carraway loaf — served with local butter could be considered an additional course. The main event includes incredibly subtle briny Rhode-Island squid with sweet whole and pureed baby onions and a bracingly tender pork shank richly braised in its own jus and served with paper-thin lady apples and cabbage.
Barbone, 186 Avenue B, 212-254-6047 $39 for five-course pasta tasting menu Not to be confused with the glossy Carbone, this East Village eatery is a casual charmer, an homage to Rome with brick walls and antique sconces. Choose any five pastas from the regular or seasonal menu; we recommend comforting classics like linguine vongole — deeply accented with pancetta and whole garlic bulbs — the deceptively simple duck ravioli in a velvety red-wine reduction, or the garganelli in a thick, rosy sauce punctuated by heady wild boar.