BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Michalene Busico has seen $2,700-a-pound cheese and $58 hamburgers in her time at upscale-lifestyles magazine the Robb Report, but thinks even the restaurants and shops that sell such fare know they're usually gimmicks.
"People come up with these wacky novelties all the time, and part of the fun is the crazy price -- the '$1,000 cocktail' or something like that," says Busico, who oversees the Robb Report's restaurant coverage. "But it's pretty clear that a lot of these things are mostly about showmanship, not about the actual quality of ingredients or the intricacy of the preparation involved."
|'Le Caviar' course from Joel Robuchon's $425 tasting menu.|
Of course, there are exceptions -- like a $425-a-person tasting menu that Busico loves at Joel Robuchon Restaurant, three-star Michelin chef Joel Robuchon's eatery at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel."The Joel Robuchon tasting menu is something I dream about having again -- not because it's probably the most expensive meal I've ever had, but because it's probably the best," she says. "If I'm going to spend a few hundred dollars on a dish, I want it to be the most incredible thing I've ever had in a restaurant." Here are some top-dollar dishes that Busico thinks are actually worth their hefty price tags: 16-course menu degustation, $425 per person Joel Robuchon Restaurant, Las Vegas Two people can easily spend $1,000 ordering a good bottle of wine and this menu degustation (French for "tasting menu"), but Busico says it's money well spent. "It's just a perfect experience," she says. "The dining room is really beautiful and the service is utterly perfect. And as for the food itself, dish after dish is just astonishing." Busico's dinner featured a whole guinea hen served as two dishes: light meat first, followed by dark meat -- something she didn't know at the time. So when the waiter started to wheel the exquisite dish away after serving just the white meat, Busico recalls that she "wanted to throw my body over the cart and say: 'Where do you think you're going with that?' " Joel Robuchon varies the tasting menu's contents from time to time. The dish's current lineup starts with l'orange sanguine (blood orange emulsion on a wild berry gelee) as an appetizer and ends with Le Mikad (caramel-chocolate mousse with a poppy-seed crumble and a Sicilian pistachio dome) for dessert. In between, you'll enjoy more than a dozen additional dishes, from spiny lobster in green curry to beef rib-eye steak with baby chanterelles. Bistecca la fiorentina, $160 for two people Carnevino, Las Vegas This restaurant, which is run by famed restaurateurs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, takes steak so seriously that one of its staffers tours Midwest farms and individually selects every head of cattle that the eatery buys. Carnevino then dry ages the beef for weeks at a special facility near the restaurant, which is located in Las Vegas' Palazzo Hotel. Busico says all of that hard work creates "exquisite meat that's unlike anything you can find anywhere else." The bistecca la fiorentina is a 2- to 3-inch-thick Porterhouse steak grilled to perfection, then coated with super-expensive black truffles and carved into two pieces at the table. "It's probably the most massive piece of meat served in any restaurant, but it stays very juicy and rare," Busico says. "It's a great, great steak." Jamon Iberico de bellota Fermin, $42 for 2 ounces The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Los Angeles This simple but costly appetizer consists of thin slices of ham from black Iberian pigs that are fed only acorns (bellota means "acorn" in Spanish). "It's the most fantastic thing you can have," Busico says. "It's got this incredible texture, and you can actually taste the acorns in the meat. It just lingers on the tongue." Lots of upscale restaurants offer this Spanish dish, but Busico says The Bazaar -- located in Beverly Hills' SLS Hotel -- prepares it to perfection. "You have to handle the meat properly or it dries out, and you have to slice it thinly enough but not too thin," she says. "It's a very, very simple dish, but it has to be done perfectly." If $341-a-pound ham isn't your thing, try The Bazaar's cotton candy duck liver appetizer -- $5 for a single bite of fois gras that's coated with real cotton candy. "It sounds ridiculous," Busico admits, "but it's really wonderful."