Determining which restaurants in the nation offer the steepest prices is a tricky task. Most of the restaurants on this list serve the rarest, most premium, and freshest ingredients available, from kitchens run by chefs with expert levels of craftsmanship and artistry, in dining rooms with an exceptional quality of service provided by the front of house staff. But regardless of the justifications, the fact remains that the restaurants on this list are outrageously pricey.
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To arrive at the top 25 we compiled a list of restaurants commonly known for being outrageously expensive (such as Masa, which is known for its $450 per person omakase menu). We started by first pulling data from The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2012, and then expanded the research to include a more comprehensive spectrum of fine dining restaurants across the country. From there we gathered data compiled by Bundle.com (a site that tracks average customer spending at restaurants) and Zagat's price ratings - finally, once the list was narrowed down to 50 restaurants, we contacted each one and asked a series of questions, such as their average party size, the percentage of diners that choose the tasting menu (where applicable), and what the average bill totals. From there, we ranked the top 25.
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Of course, there are exceptions to consider. Some restaurants are known for offering a particularly expensive tasting menu based on seasonal ingredients. For instance, Spiaggia in Chicago offers a truffle tasting menu each December that costs $295 per person. However, during the rest of the year their tasting menu costs $90 a head (not pricey enough to land a spot on this list).
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Furthermore, while it's important to consider how much a meal at these restaurants costs per person, when you're dealing with restaurants of this caliber, which offer diners an experience that transcends what's served on the plate, it's even more important to account for what the total bill costs on average. Most of the restaurants on this list have wines, sakes, and spirits on their menus that could double the price of the meal if you're in a particularly celebratory mood. That being said, the overwhelming majority of the restaurants on this list won't reserve tables for just one person, and many cap the allowed party size at two or four guests. Therefore the rankings reflect the "average check total" for each restaurant - which includes a complete meal (of whatever number of courses) plus one bottle of wine and tax and tip for the average party size (as indicated by each restaurant).
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Whether the restaurant is known for using raw products of outstanding quality, like Urasawa in Beverly Hills, or for treating diners to a culinary experience they've never had before, like Alinea, or for upholding a steadfast dedication to impeccable service in the kitchen and the dining room, like Per Se, what all the places on this list have in common is that they all cost a fortune.
#10 Victoria & Albert's, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Average check total: $552
Located in Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in the Walt Disney World Resort, this iconic restaurant is known for being among the last in the country to still require jackets for men. The modern American fare is crafted by chef Scott Hunnel, who makes a point to source ingredients from the most prime locations, such as truffles from Italy and beef from Japan. The restaurant has received the AAA Five Diamond Award.
#9 Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
Average check total: $556
At the top of his profession, with a well-deserved three Michelin stars, Savoy has translated the best in contemporary ingredient-based French cooking to the world's most famous gambling mecca without missing a beat. The artichoke and black truffle soup, crispy sea bass, cold-steamed lobster, and other such extravagances will remind you why French chefs got so famous in the first place and why the bill is so pricey. In addition to a $258 per person signature menu, Guy Savoy also offers a $750 per person Krug menu (that's served in their private room) and a $120 per person pre-theater menu.
#8 Moto, Chicago
Average check total: $570
Diners at Moto should be prepared to eat anything from "trash" to a "Cuban cigar" - that is, with his sense of whimsy and cerebral molecular gastronomy, chef Homaro Cantu's creative dishes have been known to fool his guests, leading to playful culinary optical illusions like a flowerpot with edible dirt or the Blackout dish on his current seasonal menu - black bass three ways, ranging from "black" to "blackest" on the plate. According to chef Cantu, the average party size is two guests and the bill runs an estimated $285 per person. However the 16-course tasting menu alone costs $160.
#7 Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas ($640)
Average check total: $640
The cooking is simply exquisite in this opulently furnished dining room in the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. As the first restaurant opened in America by the famed, award-winning Robuchon, commonly considered the greatest of modern French chefs, it maintains the highest standards, from its superb service and impressive (and impressively pricey) wine list to such finely crafted dishes as truffled langoustine ravioli and guinea hen with roasted foie gras and braised potatoes. The 16-course tasting menu is a truly memorable experience as well it ought to be at $425 a head, wine not included. However, their most popular tasting menu is the two-course, which costs $120 a head. They also offer six-course and four-course menus.
#6 Alinea, Chicago
Average check total: $693
There's little question that Grant Achatz, whose training includes stints with Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, and Ferran Adrià, deserves the title of America's most creative chef. The menu at his Alinea sounds deceptively simple (bass with black pepper, vanilla, and lemon), but what shows up on the plate is absolutely original. However, there are rumors going around that he and partner Nick Kokonas have plans to make some major changes to the Alinea concept now that they've successfully launched two new ventures, Next and The Aviary. Whether that means adjusting the $210 per head tasting menu has yet to be disclosed.
#5 Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.
Average check total: $750
Chef Chris Kostow's widely acclaimed three-Michelin-starred restaurant recently underwent a full renovation under the direction of architect Howard Backen and designer George Federighi. They debuted their new digs in March, including a kitchen outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment and a five-seat Chef's Counter. The renovation also included a bump up in the meal prices, which now cost $225 per person for nine courses. The restaurant must be a popular date spot, because reservations are overwhelmingly for parties of two.
#4 French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.
Average Check Total: $800
Taking over what had been a good but far simpler restaurant, chef Thomas Keller approached contemporary American food with classical technique, and his French Laundry established new standards for fine dining in this country. In 2012, Keller and the French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, just another honor to add to the pile. Like is true at Per Se, The French Laundry offers a daily rotating nine-course tasting menu for $270 per head.
#3 Per Se, New York City
Average Check Total: $851
This elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time Warner Center remains a must-have experience in New York, even for Sam Sifton, who chose the restaurant for his final review as The New York Times' restaurant critic last year - giving it four stars. Per Se upholds the standards set by Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, winning a James Beard Award in 2011 for Outstanding Service and being named the sixth best restaurant in the world in this past year by Restaurant Magazine.
#2 Urasawa, Beverly Hills, Calif.
Average Check Total: $1,111
This Japanese culinary shrine, with a sushi bar and just enough room for 10 diners nightly, is located in a shopping center off Rodeo Drive. Some might call it the West Coast version of New York City's Masa, which is not surprising considering that not only did Urasawa chef-owner Hiroyuki Urasawa train under Masa Takayama before opening his restaurant, but also the restaurant's spot previously housed Ginza Sushi-ko, where Takayama made his reputation. Urasawa has a nearly 30-course omakase menu that changes daily.
#1 Masa, New York City ($1,269)
Average Check Total: $1,269
This past June, former New York Times critic Sam Sifton pegged Masa down to three stars from the four given to it by his predecessor Frank Bruni. Given that his reasons seemed to be that they asked him to wait outside when he showed up early, some of the dishes weren't explained, and the staff didn't pay him much attention after dessert, you may want to take a magnifying glass with you to discern the "wrinkles in Masa's fine silk." By all accounts, Masa's toro-stuffed maki rolls are still inspiring the lip twitching and eye rolling that characterized Bruni's 2004 review, establishing it as the premier sushi spot in New York City, if not the U.S. The swanky Time Warner Center setting and elaborate omakase-only menu is accompanied by a high bar for entry: the price. At $450 per person before tip, you're looking at a bill that can easily total more than $1,000 for two.
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- Molly Aronica, The Daily Meal