The full topic is on my blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot... but I'll summarize the gist of the question below.
While pondering a recent meal at the prohibitively expensive Masa in NYC, I was wondering whether it offered much value. Masa, while definitely showcasing some technique, felt like much of its cost was based off of expensive ingredients such as white truffles and fish flown in from Japan.
My first thought was that restaurants make money off of food and wine markups. So it seemed to me that Masa, where I felt we were really paying for ingredients, offered the worst value in that the money was going to the part of the equation where the restaurant makes the most money.
Thinking about it a little more, I don't think that's right. Mass produced base ingredients are so cheap that regular restaurants can easily end up with markups that are many multiples of the ingredient cost. However, I don't think that applies to really expensive ingredients. For example, just recently, a bluefin tuna sold for a record 32.49 million yen (just shy of USD$400,000) at auction. I wonder how they will recoup their investment, let alone make money.
Of course a restaurant may sell one rare item, such as the aforementioned bluefin tuna, at cost in the hopes of creating business by generating more wine sales or just increasing publicity. However, a restaurant takes much more risk when dealing with rare, expensive ingredients. You can't just refire a dish because you overcooked it or undercooked it.
So is there a reasonable argument that there is actually more value to be had at expensive restaurants serving expensive, rare, perishable ingredients?
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