One of New York’s priciest restaurants is becoming more expensive as inflation continues to rage throughout the country. Thomas Keller’s Per Se, a service-included restaurant that lets patrons feast on white truffle risotto while admiring the billion dollar apartment buildings surrounding Central Park, is increasing its base price for the first time in four years. The three Michelin-starred restaurant has raised the cost of its signature menu by $35 to $390, or $425 after tax.
What’s even crazier is how normal that price feels right now when viewed through the distorted lens of New York fine dining.
Following a year of steep price hikes across the fine dining landscape, a top-tier tasting menu for two won’t run much less than $900 in the city right now, and that’s before wine or pairings. At least four local establishments — Yoshino, Eleven Madison, Noz, and Masa — saw their prices rise by $100 or more per person in the past 12 to 18 months, while others joined the $400 club with smaller increases. All told, the New York area is now home to at least 15 restaurants where a dinner date will almost inevitably cost over $1,000 after tax, tip, and a few modest beverages per person. It’s a nearly unthinkable pricing tier that has at least tripled in size since before the pandemic, a reality that further cements New York’s reputation as one of the world’s most expensive cities.
Rampant food price inflation — a product of Russia’s war against Ukraine, kinks in the global supply chain, extreme weather, and a tight labor market — have forced restaurants across the country to pass along their skyrocketing costs to the consumer. Casual chains, pubs, and street vendors generally try to keep price hikes minimal so as not to alienate a cash-strapped, everyday clientele. More luxurious venues, by contrast, have more wiggle room to raise prices, thanks to patrons with deeper pockets and the fact that no one really goes out for 20-course meals twice a week.
The five boroughs still boast a growing crop of young, innovative tasting menu venues, and ambitious a la carte spots committed to keeping prices under, say, $150 per person. But the aggressive price hikes at our most high profile and celebrated European, American, and Japanese spots have put those venues further out of reach for scores of diners who save up for annual splurges.
Broadway shows, sporting events, and opera houses have long commanded lofty prices, but it’s hard to think of a popular art form other than modern gastronomy where a performance so regularly requires two people to part with $1,000. Even with the cheap seats at a good musical, viewers get to witness the same performance as the folks in the center orchestra. In fine dining, spending less usually means an abbreviated (if excellent) menu in the lounge area or skipping work to swing by during lunch.
Fine dining’s stratospheric price hikes started to gain momentum in late 2020 and early 2021, when rising costs — and perhaps competitive pricing moves — pushed a top-tier sushi meal to $400 and beyond.
European-leaning fine dining restaurants started to jump up as well, sometimes in breathtaking fashion, especially as folks leaving the industry pushed up the cost of hiring and retaining workers. Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison eliminated tipping earlier in 2021 — an effective twenty percent hike — then pushed up the price of the vegan tasting by $30. Translation: Dinner shot up from $364 to about $470 per person. A spokesperson for the restaurant attributed the hikes in part to multiple wage increases for staff.
The troubled Stone Barns, which reopened that $298-$368 in late 2021, moved up to a tighter $348-$398 range — and the venue tacks on a 22 percent service charge after that. Yoshino went up by $100 late last year, coming in at nearly $650. The three Michelin-starred Brooklyn Fare boosted its own tasting by $35 to $430, while the most expensive modern Korean venue, Atomix, went up by $50 per person last year to $375, putting the tasting menu in the $400 tier after tax.
Anyone who wants to try the new degustation menu at Angie Mar’s Trois Chevaux will pay just under $500 after tax and tip (there is also a shorter $250 prix-fixe and more affordable a la carte offerings at the bar). The Chinese Boss Guo debuted at $518 per person. Shion at 69 Leonard went up by $60 to $480. And dinner at Masa rose by a whopping few hundred dollars to $950 at the sushi bar.
So again, Per Se’s hike isn’t that striking by itself. But things start to add up after supplements. The restaurant recently hiked up the price of foie gras by $10 to $40, and truffles from $190 to $200. A single wagyu course shot up even higher, leaping from $100 to $130. Add on reserve caviar and you’re at $820, although at that point you might as well go for the extended “evolution” menu, introduced last year for $850 per person, service included.
Yes, the cheaper bar menus are a nice touch at Per Se, Eleven Madison, Atomix, and Trois Chevaux, and kudos to Onodera and Joji for more accessible lunch offerings. At a certain point, however, one has to wonder how much broader culinary relevance this larger group of $1,000 restaurants can have when an evening meal in the main dining room is accessible to so few.