Bet you’ve heard this one before: One of New York’s most affordable tasting menu restaurants has become decidedly less affordable. The cost of a fully-loaded dinner date at Semilla, a vegetable-centric chef’s counter spot in South Williamsburg, is now almost $100 pricier than it was two years ago.
When I awarded four stars to Semilla in 2015, dinner was $75 and the wine pairing was $50. Later that year, the menu creeped up by ten bucks, shortly before it received its inaugural Michelin star, and then by another $12 this February, bringing the tasting up to $97. The wine pairing is also higher, at $65.
Or to put it practically: After pairings, tax, and tip, dinner for two is currently $418, up from $322 in 2015. That’s a heckuva difference.
Is Semilla still a solid value — in a city overrun with tasting menu spots and omakase options — where a night out can surpass $700? Of course it is.
But even though young establishments often keep artificially low prices to lure in crowds — and even though more mature restaurants typically raise their prices to source better products and better compensate (frequently underpaid) staff— Semilla’s clientele will justifiably ask themselves: what has demonstrably improved at this restaurant if they’re paying so much more?
Chef-owner Jose Ramirez-Ruiz did not respond to a series of inquiries by this reporter.
The critical-acclaimed venue suffered its biggest setback to date late last year, when co-owner Pam Yung, who was responsible for Semilla’s acclaimed breads and desserts, split with her partner, Ramirez-Ruiz, and left the restaurant.
For a bit of context: Semilla’s closest culinary surrogate is Contra on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, another Michelin-starred venue that takes its cues from the fashionable neo-bistrots of Paris, venues that typically serve 6-11 courses in stripped down settings with few or no choices for under $100. A six-course meal at Contra is $67, or $70 with bread. After wine pairings, tax, and tip, dinner for two at that restaurant runs $314
To be fair, Semilla’s prices aren’t out of line with other ambitious Brooklyn establishment. Take Root, which is closing, filled up its tiny Carroll Gardens restaurant, charging $120 for a long tasting, while Smith Street’s Battersby currently asks $95 for seven-courses (or $75 for five).
Here’s a list of restaurants that offer six-course-plus tastings for under $100 and what you’ll end up spending at them.