In a sign of the times (ha ha), New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni has initiated a blog feature, “That Costs WHAT?!?” Dedicated to notably high-priced menu items, it kicks off with a $7 cup of tea from BLT Market. That $7 “was for one tea bag, and my companion, the drinker of said hot tea, hadn’t asked for any special tea,” Bruni writes. He continues, “A publicist for the BLT restaurants said it’s because the selection is broad; because the tea brand, called T, is excellent; and because the tea is purchased loose and bagged for service at the restaurant.” It’ll be fun to watch restaurateurs try to justify their prices in future installments.

Although “That Costs WHAT?!?” is tagged on the blog with “Manhattan, Prices,” the phenomenon is bicoastal, as San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer notes in his blog this week. In SF, the trend is that prices at midrange restaurants are inching up into fine-dining range. For example, Bauer notes, five years ago, an octopus salad at the North Beach stalwart Rose Pistola cost $6. These days it’s $15. As a result, prices at fine-dining places, such as Gary Danko, are beginning to look positively reasonable.

Bruni, I think you’ve got yourself a catch phrase.

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