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The World's Top Tasting Menus (PHOTOS)

Posted: 05/27/2012 8:30 am

Renowned food writer M.F.K. Fisher once wrote, "First we eat, then we do everything else." That might sound startlingly unromantic at first, but Fisher revered, as all gourmands do, the dual role that eating plays in our lives: physical necessity and opportunity for transcendence.

When it comes to the art of the tasting menu, it's all about elevating the everyday. Simple sustenance takes a backseat as a chef seizes the opportunity to display his or her artistry, versatility and imagination. (And with the number of courses often reaching double digits, basic hunger is rarely on most diners' minds.)

The beauty of tasting menus is how much they vary from restaurant to restaurant and chef to chef. At n/naka in Los Angeles, chef Niki Nakayama's 13-course modern kaiseki riffs on the traditional Japanese kaiseki haute cuisine banquet, which strictly dictates the progression of the meal. (It requires, for instance, an amuse-bouche of "something common and something unique.")

At the Catbird Seat, a new James Beard Award-nominated restaurant in Nashville, the menu changes nightly according to the whims of Erik Anderson (who cooked for a time at Noma in Copenhagen) and Josh Habiger (formerly of Alinea in Chicago). The two chefs team up to create a seven-course tasting menu as 32 guests look on, serving up dishes like arctic char with lardon and clover or spring ramp vichyssoise with violets.

And at La Terraza del Casino de Madrid, the menu -- crafted personally by Ferran Adrià, the creator of El Bulli -- is tapas-style, offering perfect bites like pine-nut marshmallows and oysters with lychee gelée.

Whether found in Cape Town or Brooklyn, the unforgettable tasting menus on this list offer the opportunity to not just eat, but to eat sumptuously.

-- Jordan Kisner

The Catbird Seat, Nashville
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The Catbird Seat is the youngest restaurant on this list -- it opened last October -- but it hasn't wasted any time catching people's attention, having already been named a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. Chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson (who have each worked at some of the world's top restaurants, including Noma, the French Laundry and Alinea) cook as a team, creating a seven-course tasting menu that changes constantly based on whim and seasonality. Recent dishes include a spring ramp vichyssoise with violets and spring greens, pigeon with asparagus and juniper salt and arctic char with lardon, dill and clover. The setting is intimate, with just 32 seats surrounding the U-shaped kitchen, so every diner gets a front-row view. Seven courses, $100; optional reserve wine pairings, $75; 1711 Division St.; catbirdseatrestaurant.com.
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