What recession? Bundle just released a list of the 25 most expensive restaurants in America, and you’d never know the economy was still faltering. Your average diner would definitely require a stimulus package to pay the check.
Topping the list is The French Laundry, located in Yountville, in the Napa Valley. Chef/owner Thomas Keller’s three-star Michelin restaurant is ranked among the world’s best (as is Per Se, his New York outpost). An average check is $957 per visit, while Per Se bats $883. Also in the top five: Michael Mina (San Francisco), at $844; Alinea (Chicago), at $736, and Charlie Trotter’s (Chicago), at $666 (ironic, given Trotter’s reputation as…difficult).
To determine the list, Bundle examined spending data, then looked at average check sizes based upon millions of transactions in restaurants nationwide. Interestingly, the most expensive restaurants fell into two categories: French, and Contemporary American. But Robert’s Steakhouse in the Executive Penthouse Club (New York) and Mario Batali-co-owned Del Posto (Italian) also made the list.
So what does a $957 dollar meal taste like? Well, it damn well better be flawless–service included–but there’s a reason these chef/restaurateurs are at the top of their game. Prix fixe menus are a big reason tabs are so high. At Per Se, you’ll pay up to $295 a pop, while at Le Bernadin (New York, ranked 14th) it’s $330 with a wine pairing.
As a food writer, I admire the hell out of these guys for their talent as both chefs and businessmen. That said, I don’t think any meal on earth is worth nearly a grand, especially when said chefs generally aren’t the ones doing the cooking. It’s their hard-working, usually underpaid staff who do the heavy lifting, which is one of the great inequities of the restaurant business. I take issue when the people doing the cooking, serving, bussing, dishwashing, and cleaning don’t have the luxury of eating at their place of employment.
[Editor's note: Bundle's data take only take the average price per check per restaurant in their calculations, meaning some abnormalities may result from particularly large or small restaurants. They also don't appear to include every possible, most expensive restaurant in the country. Please bear the limits of this data in mind -- and try to have a good dinner]