I started to think about this question because I apparently have an incredibly incredible restaurant in my own backyard. Prix fixe dinner - food only I believe - $225. Or if you, like me, dine with someone, then you are out $450 for a single meal.
I could afford it, as a one time thing. It’s right here, and apparently some people would/should fly to have this dinng experience - one of only 10 such places recommended in a NYT articles from a few years ago. But somehow, I have a hard time justifying it.
So on a metaphysical note, is any food ever worth paying this much for, even if it is the best food, prepared by the best chef? After all, 2 hrs later and you’re done.
In my head, this is a little like the question of CEO pay - maybe they have more responsibility/authority/vision/risk, but is their role 500 times more valuable than the regular cogs in that company, to justify how much higher their salary?
For those of you curious, I’m talking about the Willows Inn on Lummi Island in the very northwestern corner of WA state.
We’ve heard it said that you try a restaurant for the menu; and you return for the hospitality. It then becomes the entirety of the performance – cooking, setting, and service – but that said, even if Angela Gheorghiu sang Tosca with the “community” company, she is the whole package (sings, acts, wears costume well) regardless of sets and surrounding cast. We suppose there might be restaurant chefs regarded in the same way.
@Sasha - for some reason I thought you were from the other coast. I’ve heard of and been to the Willows in Woodinville, but didn’t know there was one on Lummi Island. But I digress.
DH and I spent $700 plus, with additional $$ for 2 nights lodging at The Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We had a delicious meal with wine pairings, some foraged food, some things grown on the grounds, and a chef that reinvents the wheel every night. The restaurant is considered the best in BC. It was a special occasion and memorable mini get away. Could I tell you even one thing I ate that night - no! I do have a menu around somewhere though.
It was nice for a one time thing, but I don’t feel the need to repeat it. We do however go to nice restaurants on special occasions and our bills really get up there if we’re treating the adult children.
So, while I’m a little ambivalent, I would have to say it’s not in fact worth it. Besides, the best food we’ve ever eaten hasn’t been in the fancy places. (With a few exceptions)
Hope this answers your question.
(equal opportunity eater in the NC Triangle)
The sort of dining you describe isn’t typical. And it isn’t simply about food or physical nourishment.
These venues are experiential. You come to be delighted, surprised and dazzled in ways that differ from the usual sort of restaurants. By removing yourself from your usual element you have made a choice to seek newness. That brings with it an escape from reality and a chance to see things from a different perspective. That may be worth a tremendous amount to the right person.
I have not been able to do this much. I couldn’t tell you exactly what was on the menu the times I dined like this. But I will say that each experience was worth it to me - in the delight, the wonder, the combinations/flavors/techniques that I would never conjure up on my own. I recall each experience as distinct and sublime.
A few good points by meatn3, lambchop and rooster. It’s about adventure and to be surprised. I would think more like instead of putting a budget for a trip of several days somewhere, you go for a splendid meal.
You having a hard time justifying it can be a problem. If you want to enjoy, you need to resolve this problem.
Many years ago, when we were young and poor, I decided to offer my now husband a meal on a special occasion in a nice restaurant, note that it was not a retreat. The food was very good, but I had a hard time enjoying. First on the back of my mind, I was still digesting the fact that the meal was expensive. Secondly, I didn’t like the diners or server there, they were either people who liked to show off or well off and famous or well off people with behaviours that belong to their class that I find vulgar.
That say, I have decided from that time onwards, I would never think about price during the meal. But there can be the element that you expect too much and somewhat the experience doesn’t match up. Choice wisely.
Haven’t been to Willows, but I’ve done some high-end dining.
I agree with the adventure, discovery, entertainment, and indulgence all contributing to the value. If you’re sitting there calculating the food cost thinking, ‘wait, half this stuff was foraged that means it’s free’ then it might not be your thing.
Friends and I went to the French Laundry in 2000 when the full tasting menu was $105. We were under 30 and had never done anything so fancy. It was wondrous and inspiring and totally worth the price. By 2005 I was further into my restaurant career and had done more tasting menus, including El Bulli. A friend in tech who could actually afford such things got reservations and I went along. Also wondrous and inspiring, I think it was about US$300. Plus airfare But I think El Bulli ruined me, because I went back to French Laundry that Fall - tasting menu $175 by now - and it was good of course but the magic of the first time wasn’t there.
Now that I’m self employed and a starving artist, I regret all the money I blew on stopping for pizza and a cocktail after work more than those few ridiculous eating trips. But I’m also not going to Willows any time soon.
This is a great discussion. It would be easier if I just couldn’t afford it. But also, I can’t afford everything - it’s all choices. I have one going to college next year, and the work situation requires 2 homes. So. My husband and I have gone and had some tasting menus a handful of times, including Wolfgang Puck’s signature place in Beverly Hills. It’s been enjoyable each time, and I didn’t think about the price precisely because the experience was great, the discovery, the creativity. But maybe I have my limit, and while it is worth it at $150, it becomes not worth it at $225. I think there can be incredibly talented chefs. But I think there is a limit to what you can do with food. You can make it a 10 on a scale of 1-10, but you can’t make it a 20. It is limited to its own self, if you will. You can’t make it something else. A great tuna salad will never be a butter poached lobster. So to pay a lobster price for a tuna salad… I don’t know if I’m making sense to you guys.
I’ve always thought Bellingham is a really nice town, although you do catch some wacky weather at times.
Coincidentally both DH and youngest daughter work in Bellevue. DH is getting tired of the long commute. Luckily he can work in the Tacoma office or at home part of the time. Daughter’s commute is better since she’s only driving from upper Queen Anne.
Do you ever go to Garlic Crush in BV? LOVE that place!
It’s a beautiful place. I love it. No, never been to garlic crush. I should say I work closer to Factoria, so I rarely go to Bellevue for lunch. If I go anywhere, it’s just right around Factoria mall. Commuting is a drag. I do the long drive only twice a week, and listen to books on CD. Hence the need for 2nd home.
I enjoy great food and all, and I’m sure it would be a great experience. However, I’d have a hard time enjoying myself knowing that the food costs many dollars per bite.
(John Hartley - a culinary patriot eating & cooking in Northwest England)
Eating out is our joint hobby. And, as with any hobby, we are happy to indulge ourselves. Not every week, of course - most of our dinners out are to local bistro type places. But there are occasions.
Our most expensive meal of the year will be in a couple of weeks. It’s a fixed price tasting menu costing £185 each (currently 237USD). Add to that drinks and (extortionate 15%) service charge. And 200 mile train journey, hotel overnight and other bits and bobs of expenditure (like the £32 it’ll cost for parking my car at the local train station). It can be an expensive hobby but usually worth every penny.
About 10 years ago a group of friends got together and bought my wife and me dinner for two at The French Laundry and added another $300 cash towards wine. I think the total bill would have come to almost $1000 all in with tip. We would never have spent that much on one meal ourselves. It was a once in a lifetime kind of experience that we will never forget. It also ranks as the best overall dining ‘experiences’ I’ve ever had and I used to eat at some really great places around the world on business trips.
It was just that… more than a meal… an ‘experience’. It felt almost choreographed. Both the food and service were amazing. Highly recommended and absolutely memorable, but ‘value’ is relative to ability to pay. I’m in the wine world and, when I’m asked what the best bottle is for a customer, my answer is the one you’ll enjoy the most, AT A PRICE YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH.