If you prefer vanilla ice cream over rocky road, or order your pizza with just the cheese, then it's fairly safe to assume that you've never ordered a tasting menu. Aside from typically being the highest-priced item on the menu, your layered courses, albeit carefully selected and meticulously prepared, are risky. Thankfully, they also tend to be out-of-this-world delicious.
A typical tasting menu from L'Espalier, voted "best tasting menu" by Boston Magazine in 2012, starts with foie gras (french for "fat liver"). Other tasting menus I've tried have served various brains and braised pig tongue. I've also had ridiculously tasty (and tiny) grilled cheese sandwiches grilled in truffle oil that were amazing.
You can make special requests. For example, my typical alterations are "nothing raw" and "no seafood", which I'm sure breaks their hearts. That's also probably why I end up with brains on my plate.
While some tasting menus can be seen on the paper menu before the meal, others are served on-demand by the chef and appears to consist of whatever he/she feels like putting together. That's typically a really good thing.
According to a compilation of reviews, best-of lists, and personal recommendations, these are eight ten best tasting menus in Boston, in no particular order:
Ten Tables is considered by Bostonians to have a delicious, but affordable and risk-free tasting menu (as in, no surprise pig tongues). Their tasting menu usually includes items on the main menu, like hangar steak, bluefish, butternut squash soup, shaved fennel salad and profiteroles with banana ice cream. Their original Jamaica Plain location began with just ten tables, but they've now expanded to both Cambridge and Provincetown, which are equally as difficult to land reservations for, so book ahead!
Ten Tables is located at 597 Centre St (between Parley Ave & Pond St) in Jamaica Plain.
Whisk is a new(ish) pop-up restaurant created by three young twenty-something chefs that push the standard on tasting menus. And if you want to eat with them, you'll need to buy a ticket! They offer another inexpensive tasting menu with rave reviews. Really creative dishes like deconstructed sweet corn lasagna, pickled watermelon, asparagus tartare, and pumpkin seed donuts are abound.
Whisk is (currently) located at 3710 Washington Street in Jamaica Plain.
Menton, the highest rated restaurant with a tasting menu on Yelp, was also rated one of "Boston's Best Tasting Menus" by CBS this past July. Oh, and those AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Five-Star ratings too. Their seven course tasting menu offers an optional wine pairing for around $260, but the restaurant has been noted as "less stuffy" than others on the list. No guests have ever left Menton hungry, and past tasting plates have included Hake fish, blood sausage puree and blue cheese ice cream. The foie gras is served in a mason jar and has been noted as "perfect".
Menton is located at 354 Congress St (between A St & Pittsburgh St) in Boston.
Craigie on Main features local and seasonal french cuisine. There are two tasting menus, one with six courses (The Craigie Experience) and one with eight (The Ultimate Craigie Experience). Many reviewers note Craigie as delivering a transformative experience through the best meal of their life. While the menu changes frequently, you can expect to find seafood (like slow-roasted sea trout with peekytoe crab and artichokes) followed by a hand-made pasta dish, followed by protein, like their "Veal Three Ways" which consists of braised short ribs, grilled tongue and roasted sweetbreads.
Craigie on Main is located at 853 Main St in Cambridge.
No. 9 Park has received a James Beard Award, a AAA Four Diamond star rating, amongst many, many other awards. Their tasting menu is French and Italian focused and changes weekly but are typically heavy on seafood and other meaty proteins. Some past dishes have included prune stuffed gnocchi, salmon tartar and pork jowl.
No. 9 Park is located at 9 Park Street in Boston.
Salts Restaurant is another fairly-priced tasting menu that changes twice per season. They're likeable by the less brave because you'll be asked your likes and dislikes before the tasting menu is prepared for you. Some fun dishes have included a pear and mache salad with toasted hazelnut vinagrette, a bergamot cured ocean trout amuse bouche and cotton candy for dessert.
Salts Restaurant is located at 798 Main St in Cambridge.
L'Espalier, as mentioned, is the place you go when you want to get fancy and go on an exotic journey of food for several hours. So, probably not a first date. Boston itself has rated it the best of Boston in terms of tasting menus. Despite how many courses you choose, L'Espalier doesn't skimp on the amuse bouche and palette cleansers, so you'll never wait a moment without something new to taste. Expect belly-filling items like a lobster risotto and more exotic dishes like Katama Bay oysters with American caviar and grapefruit-champagne gelée.
L'Espalier is located at 774 Boylston Street in Boston.
Clio has a 14-course tasting menu. 'Nuff said? OK, let's go on. They also make some mean cocktails and the tasting menu is both creative an expansive. Guests have found much of the extensive food tour to be seafood-focused, but with all of those courses, they certainly don't shy away from items like truffle soup, sunflower risotto or cold tomato soup martinis!
Clio is located at 370 Commonwealth Ave in Boston.
By the way, if you ever wanted to go on a tasting menu roadtrip to all of the above locations, and if you were somehow able to cram every single tasting menu into one day (you couldn't), it would only take an hour and one minute to create the entire loop!
So, what is your favorite tasting menu in Boston? What makes it your favorite?