"There is not another place like Brooklyn Fare on the planet, maybe the galaxy...this is the best restaurant we have in New York. You have no choice but to say that." That's what chef Eric Ripert told Alan Richman back in 2012 upon learning that his own seafood spot, Le Bernardin, was being replaced by Brooklyn Fare, with its 30-course omakase, as GQ's top New York restaurant.
Such high praise from another chef prompts a very obvious question: When will Eric Ripert get into the long tasting menu game? The answer is soon, perhaps.
Ripert told Eater that he's thinking about doing a 16-24 course tasting menu sometime after the holiday season, adding that such a menu could cost anywhere from $240-$280, depending on the length of the meal and type of ingredients involved. Brooklyn Fare, in turn, charges $255, before tax, service, and wine pairings.
The addition of an extended option at Le Bernardin would be important because it would represent a rare jump by an older, more established player, into the field of 14-30 course extravaganzas, which have traditionally enjoyed more popularity among younger American chefs who've built restaurants that are almost entirely dedicated to serving those 3-4 hour feasts, restaurants like Saison, Blanca, Benu, Momofuku Ko, Alinea, Elizabeth and Atera. Such extended tastings make the 8-11 course efforts by chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten seem relatively modest by comparison!
A longer menu would also make Le Bernardin the last three-Michelin starred restaurant in New York to enter the $200 menu club. The temple to seafood, founded by co-owner Maguy Le Coze and her late brother, Gilbert, remains one of the city's slightly more affordable-ish bastions of ultra-fine dining, with seven and eight-course dinner tasting menus currently at $155 or $198 (the four-course option, at $135, is technically the more expensive menu vis-a-vis what Le Bernardin's peers charge for a shorter meal).
Eric Ripert was kind enough to chat with us, via phone and email, about some of these Suttonomical matters, including why he'd have to charge more for an extended tasting menu, why he hasn't raised prices yet this year, and why private dining helps him keep the cost of the regular tasting menus at a reasonable level. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation.
You told GQ that Brooklyn Fare is the best restaurant in New York. Have you ever thought about doing a long chef's counter-style tasting?
Each time I go to Brooklyn Fare, yes, I think about it. A week later I forget.
But people love your food. And all these young kids are serving these 20 course tasting menus. You seem to like it so much, and of any chef I can think of right now, you'd seem best suited to serve that type of menu.
Thank you very much for saying that. We may do that one day. [Of New York's three-Michelin-starred restaurants] we have the cheapest tasting menu, I think, according to you. And I was thinking, wow we should do a menu that is much longer and charge more money, and obviously it's a bigger commitment, but we should do a very long menu, with very small portions. But right now we are focusing on the wine bar opening soon next door. I haven't really put my head into it, but probably after the season we will have something like that at Le Bernardin.
After the holiday season?
Yes, I think so.
How much do you think you might charge for that longer tasting?
I don't know. I have no idea how much 24 mini-portions would cost. But assuming it costs $10 each plate, it's $240 already, but if you use caviar truffles, etc…it could be $240, it could be $280; the products are expensive. It depends how small each course is, and I don't know if 24 courses makes sense. It could be 16-18. Right now, it's just a thought, but I'm very interested in doing this.
On another subject, it's been a while — maybe a year or more — since you've raised prices at Le Bernardin. Will they go up in the fall?
We raise the prices at Le Bernardin when we see the food cost going up. And so far the food cost is not moving up so we're not changing the price. Now, if in one month suddenly we see inflation, or two months we see inflation, we'll change the prices. But so far this year, it looks like we've seen a slight deflation on the price of the ingredients. And that's why the prices haven't changed.
Where specifically are your costs decreasing? From a larger U.S. economic perspective, the cost of fish is up 7.2 percent over the last year, but of course, those are consumer prices, and each individual restaurant has its own pricing relationships with its purveyors.
Since Le Bernardin is a seafood restaurant, most of the costs come from fish and while I can't share what we pay, I can tell you it is same quality or better than last year for same money or less. We don't take a scientific approach but at the end of the day, our costs dictate the menu prices, and since our costs have been pretty much the same, it's why we haven't raised prices so far.
We have noticed a huge increase in operational costs that we haven't compensated for, especially in areas such as insurance. We may raise prices at end of the fall or may wait until next year. Our ultimate goal is always to give a better product and experience for better value, and we're glad we have been able to do so to date.
And it's also worth noting the tasting menus are still pretty good deals at their current levels — $155 or $198.
I think they are very good deals. We can afford to do that because we have the private room upstairs, that generates very good income. And we use a lot of that money, the profits of the private room, to finance downstairs, to be able to keep the prices like that. And also we've been here since 1986, so our expenses are lower than for new restaurants…When you think about it, in the lounge, we serve for $45 an appetizer, choice of main course and dessert, and they are all dishes from last year's menu, and $5 goes to City Harvest, it's the best value ever.