“Was that a nice restaurant?” Eitan, my driver, asked me. He was talking about Mélisse in Santa Monica, Calif., where he had driven me the night before. Now he was driving me to the airport so I could fly home to New York.
“It was terrific,” I said, because it was. I wasn’t surprised by that fact: Mélisse was inducted into Nation’s Restaurant News’ Fine Dining Hall of Fame in 2010, and we try not to induct bad restaurants.
“How much did it cost?” Eitan asked.
“I don’t know, I didn’t pay” — I was a guest of an Australian truffle company — “but dinner there’s probably around $150 to $200 a person,” I said.
“That’s what it costs, with wine.”
Eitan was scandalized.
Subsequently looking at Mélisse’s web site, I realized I had underestimated the price. Dinner there starts at $125, and there’s no shortage of optional supplements.
I didn’t bother to tell Eitan that my dinner would have been considerably more expensive, since each course included copious amounts of truffles that sell for between $500 and $1,000 per pound, according to my hosts’ press materials.
Executive chef Josiah Citrin had been told by them to “make it rain,” and believe me, he did.
“What’s the most expensive restaurant you’ve ever been to?” Eitan asked.
“Probably Alinea in Chicago. Dinner there is around $400.”
“Is it a lot of food, like a buffet?”
Oh Eitan. Thank you for reminding me how rarefied the world I sometimes get to move in is.
“No,” I told him. “It’s about 25 small dishes prepared by a team of experts. It’s like an artistic performance.”
“Do you have Sizzler in New York?” he asked. “They have a buffet of salad. All you can eat. It’s excellent, and it has fruit, too. It’s like $10.”
“We don’t have Sizzler in New York, but I’ve been there before. It’s good,” I said, because it is. It’s a different experience from Alinea, or Mélisse, and it’s important to manage expectations about things like that.
Sizzler CEO Kerry Kramp would be pleased by Eitan’s enthusiasm. I’ll be sure to tell him about it next time I see him.
June 8 update: This blog entry has been edited by the author for clarity.