I Recreated the Magic of a Restaurant Tasting Menu at Home — Here’s How I Pulled It Off

published Jun 23, 2022
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Happy friends making a toast with prosecco sitting at the table during a backyard dinner party.
Credit: Stocksy | Alberto Bogo

I love a tasting menu dinner. When I look back at some of my favorite trips and moments, there was often a tasting menu experience that defined it. The squid ink hush puppies on the menu at Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. A salmon macaron at a now-defunct art-filled establishment tucked away in an alley in Bordeaux, France. The pork terrine at Little Pearl in Washington, D.C. 

It’s the place, the flavors, and the presentation all coming together in a symphony that makes the memory so strong.

So why tackle a tasting menu at home? It all started with a week off between jobs. I treated myself to a break for the first time in my entire career and I wanted to mark the occasion with a trip. Yet, with flight prices skyrocketing higher each day, it seemed all but impossible to get away. Instead, I decided, there must be another way to create a memory that could transport me without leaving my condo.

And that’s why I wanted to recreate the magic of an indulgently unhurried tasting menu dinner at home. In concept, it might not seem much different from a potluck-style gathering or traditional dinner party — good food, good friends, what more could you want? — but the extra care, hours, and effort it takes to put together a tasting menu translates to an extra-special experience. It’s not an every weekend affair, and that’s what makes it all the more memorable. If you’re also looking to take a culinary journey without boarding a plane, make your friends feel like distinguished guests, and create a five-star meal without having to splurge on a Michelin restaurant, then I highly recommend hosting a tasting menu dinner party.

Here’s how I threw a tasting menu dinner party (and did it successfully!).

Credit: Heather Bien

Start with a theme.

The sky’s the limit when designing a multi-course menu, but often the most creative moments come from a few restraints in place. Start with a theme as a guide to pare down the recipes on the (literal) table. Maybe you want to pick a country and focus on the cuisine of that locale. Or perhaps there’s a singular recipe you’ve always wanted to try, and you’re going to build the menu around that pièce de résistance. 

I wanted to lean into the time of year — late spring — while also drawing on some of my favorite regional cuisine memories of lazy days spent at the river or on the beach. 

Here’s where I ended up for my seven-course menu, which I planned from light dishes to the heaviest, with a bread course thrown in towards the beginning:

  • Smoked Salmon Roll Ups with Cream Cheese and Dill
  • Hush Puppy Over a Dill-Chive Butter
  • White Fish Ceviche 
  • Deviled Eggs with Trout Roe
  • Charred Scallops with a Cilantro-Lime-Butter Sauce
  • Rib Eye with Charred Scallion Sauce and Walnuts 
  • Hummingbird Cake

Embrace the make-ahead mentality. 

Seven dishes don’t necessarily come together quickly, so you have to plan ahead. Now, if you have a gourmet chef’s kitchen and a suburban size kitchen, I applaud you. I do not. I’m cooking in a city condo where I am fortunate to have a large workspace, but my storage for dishes is limited. I have to consider which dishes are in use and take care not to double book a specific skillet.

With my menu, I made the salmon roll ups, hush puppies, ceviche, deviled eggs, cake, and the sauce for the rib eye ahead of time. When it came time to serve those dishes, all I had to do was plate the salmon roll ups, pop the hush puppies in the oven for five minutes, sprinkle cilantro over the ceviche, and plate the deviled eggs. The only in-the-moment dishes were the scallops and the steak, both of which took only a few minutes. 

Credit: Heather Bien

Utilize cold dishes wherever possible.

The devil is in the timing. You don’t want to serve a lukewarm soup or a tepid pork tenderloin, and the easiest way to avoid that dance is to embrace dishes that can be served cold or room temperature. There are endless amuse-bouches that can be prepared in advance and served without heating up. Opt for a gazpacho or a ceviche for one of your first courses. Keep it simple and focus your energy for temperature and timing on your main courses. 

Multipurpose ingredients where you can.

Groceries are expensive! Especially when you’re preparing multiple courses. Plan recipes that can utilize the same basic ingredients and you’ll not only save money, but also the hassle of trying to figure out what to do with a cup of leftover thyme or more jalapenos than you could ever use in one guacamole. For my menu, I incorporated both dill and cilantro multiple times throughout the menu, as well as planned two dishes that could use scallops (ceviche and charred scallops). I also took a look at what I had in the pantry to see what I could sub into recipes before I finalized my shopping list. 

Credit: oneinchpunch/Shutterstock.com

Assume it’s going to take longer than anticipated.

I dedicated almost a full work day to cooking. No exaggeration. I started around 2 p.m. to start serving around 8 p.m. and continued plating and cooking throughout the course of the meal. I initially hadn’t planned to start quite so early, but I wanted to give the ceviche plenty of time to marinate and, once that was complete, I was on a roll and kept going. Thankfully I did because, had I started later in the afternoon as planned, I never would have finished the menu. 

That being said, start the evening on the early side to build in extra prep time. And plan for a few extra cocktails to keep people entertained as you navigate any bumps in the road.

End with a flourish.

Whether your dishes all came out perfectly cooked or not, if you end the meal with a flourish, nothing else will matter. This past weekend, I went to a restaurant where they ended the meal with a surprise — a small scoop of sorbet was presented in a coupe glass and a splash of bubbly was dramatically poured on top creating a sweet, boozy slushy. Do this and your tasting menu dinner party will have your guests talking about your knack for entertaining for months.

This piece is part of Go Slow Month, where we’re celebrating taking your time, taking a deep breath, and taking a step back from it all. From deliberate design ideas to tips for truly embracing rest, head over here to see it all.