Two of the country’s most-expensive culinary establishments, Masa and Per Se, will soon become even more inaccessible as the oligarch-friendly venues push the costs of their most-luxe offerings — along with their steep cancellation fees — further into the stratosphere. This is the story of two $800 tasting menus, a restaurant pricing tier that appears to be without precedent in the U.S.
Wine is extra. That means dinner for two can easily hit $2,000 at either venue, a price tag that’s surely out-of-reach even for patrons who like to save up for special-occasion meals, the way theatergoers or sports fans might splurge on great seats.
Rising food and labor costs are causing restaurants across the country to bump up their prices; fellow tasting-menu spots Aska, Atomix, Le Bernardin, Sushi Noz, and others have all hiked the costs of their dinners — by anywhere from $20 to $70 — as the city emerges from the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aggressive new prices at Per Se and Masa, however, speak to the desire of both restaurants to lure ultrarich clients who saw their net worths spike during the pandemic — a jump in wealth that stands in stark contrast to rising U.S. poverty levels, especially among Black Americans.
The two Midtown West establishments are located next to each other on the fourth floor of what used to be known as the Time Warner Center. That building is now called the Deutsche Bank Center, an appropriate name given the vast sums of money that change hands here.
Lunch or dinner at chef Masa Takayama’s eponymous sushi den, the country’s most-expensive restaurant, now starts at $650, a jump of $55 per person over the venue’s pre-pandemic pricing.
Masa also lists a new $800 “chef’s counter” offering on its bookings site; a receptionist explained that this pricier option includes a wagyu tataki course, a toro course, and a reserved chair at the 10-seat hinoki counter.
Those who opt for the less-expensive menu can still request a counter seat, but it won’t be guaranteed.
Many high-end sushi restaurants eschew traditional dining rooms in favor of bar seating. Such policies let patrons enjoy the sight of chefs constructing intricate dinners right in front of them, but even for those who don’t care to watch, bar seating also results in a better culinary experience. Good nigiri sushi or maki rolls — which depend on delicate temperature contrasts between gently cool fish and warm rice — can deteriorate within seconds, changing drastically as the pieces are ferried from the bar to a table.
Masa is somewhat of an outlier in this regard; it seats more than half of its patrons in the small dining room.
An omakase for two at Masa will now run at least $1,415 after tax, or $1,742 for the chef’s counter menu. Adding on cocktails, sake, or white truffle ice cream can easily push up the price of a dinner date by another few hundred dollars.
Masa’s prices, like at Per Se, are reflective of service.
In case anyone’s wondering whether there will actually be demand for the $800 counter option: Masa’s reservations site shows all of those exorbitant dinners, which require a $250 per person deposit, as fully booked up through August. A handful of lunch seatings remain for parties of 2-4. The marketing experts at Masa likely knew that this super spendy option wouldn’t have trouble finding buyers; the restaurant offered sushi boxes for two at that same lofty price during the pandemic; they regularly sold out.
Here it’s worth noting that earlier this year, Masa received the maximum allowable grant of $5 million from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the U.S. government’s chief lifeline to the struggling hospitality industry. Approximately 65 percent of New York state restaurants who applied for that program did not receive funding. Many of them could close as a result.
Thomas Keller’s Per Se, a French-American tasting menu palace that received a duo of tough reviews in the 2010s — followed by a more positive pre-pandemic writeup — will keep its regular nine-course menu at $355 per person. But like Masa, it will add a more-luxurious option for those who have the money.
Starting in August, Per Se will begin serving an “evolution” menu, which will include a number of classic dishes and new ones as well, according to the reservations website. The menu will cost $850 per person and will, per a receptionist, span 15 to 20 courses.
A party of two ordering the evolution menu will spend at least $1,850 after tax. Add on wine — the cheapest Champagne by the glass is $35 — and you’ll likely spend $2,200 or more. At these prices, one could snag a pair of tickets to Hadestown, have a long dinner at Le Bernardin, and still have enough money left over to buy a new MacBook Air.
Dinner for two at a more run-of-the-mill ultraexpensive tasting-menu spot in New York will generally run in the $900 range after wine, tax, and tip.
Per Se’s website teases that a new menu page is coming soon, though in the past optional add-ons like foie gras, truffles, and wagyu — some of which are included without extra fees at competing venues — can push the price of the nine-course menu to $700 per person. Per Se also offers a shorter $245 menu in its salon area.
Keller is also doubling the deposit necessary to secure a Per Se reservation to $200 per person for the regular chef’s tasting. Folks choosing the evolution menu, by contrast, will have to put up the full price of the menu in advance. Those who don’t cancel their reservations within 72 hours of their meal will forfeit the full deposit, which is a much more lenient policy than, say, Eleven Madison Park, whose reservations are non-refundable the second they’re booked.
Per Se is Keller’s only remaining culinary establishment in New York. The chef-owner closed TAK Room, his beefy midcentury steakhouse at Hudson Yards, during the pandemic, as well as his local collection of Bouchon bakeries. The chef did not appear to receive Restaurant Revitalization Fund aid.
Keller also runs the French Laundry, a Napa Valley tasting-menu establishment that became an avatar of sorts for Bay Area elitism after California Gov. Gavin Newsom attended a birthday dinner for a lobbyist there during the pandemic. The chef also attracted a bit of unwanted social media attention last April when he called out the “haters and cynics” who criticized one of his tweets about being honored to join an all-male White House council on restaurants, under then-President Donald Trump.
Neither Per Se nor Masa, both of which hold three Michelin stars, responded to Eater’s formal inquiries on the new menus. Le Bernardin and Eleven Madison Park also received $5 million grants from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.