Journeyman Abandons the Menu—What This Means for Diners

Yesterday, the Union Square restaurant decided to get rid of menu options entirely, instead serving diners a flat-rate, $75 tasting menu.

By | Chowder |
JourneymanDish

Journeyman’s dishes will no longer be offered up in a traditional menu format. Photo via Facebook/Journeyman

Yesterday, Union Square restaurant Journeyman announced via its September newsletter that it was going to abandon its current menu format ($65 for a five-course tasting or $85 for seven) in favor of no menu at all; instead, diners are now expected to pay $75 for a meal, without any indication as to what will be coming. As to what this meal will actually entail, the newsletter was vague, stating only:

“We promise you will not leave hungry. We hope each meal will be a purer reflection of time and place.”

I reached out to Journeyman’s husband-and-wife chef-owners, Tse Wei Lim and Diana Kudajarova , hoping for some more clarity on the decision. “The intention is to consistently land 9-12 plates in front of guests, beginning with a sequence of 5 or 6 vegetable-driven dishes, before the omnivore and vegetarian menus diverge,” Wei responded by email.  ”One of the main reasons we’re making this change is that we were finding that there were certain key ingredients that we simply could not rely on a steady supply of. The problem was particularly acute with seafood, but was to a lesser extent true of some produce too,” Wei says. Not being tethered to a menu offers freedom and flexibility when it comes to sourcing, without sacrificing diner expectations.

Before balking at the price increase, consider this: Even if two or three of these plates are of an amuse bouche size, this still means seven or so dishes, under a $75 umbrella. And when you put it in that perspective, this new pricing is fairly reasonable—given that three courses at L’Espalier are $90, and $69 at No. 9 Park. Journeyman is decidedly more casual, which puts it in the wheelhouse of more laid-back, tasting-only spots like Asta ($95 for eight courses) and Whisk’s Hanover Street pop-up ($75 for seven). To be clear, $75 a lot of money for dinner. But it’s not necessarily a lot of money for that quantity of carefully sourced and plated dishes.

I foresee Journeyman’s menu-free decision working well. Their clientele is already used to spending upwards of $100 for a meal there (if we’re including a drink or two and tip), and are typically up for more adventurous eats. Why not up the ante and add some omakase-style suspense (something we can already come to expect at sushi specialists like O Ya, Oishii, and Cafe Sushi)?  And, besides, the restaurant’s menus were already almost comically cryptic anyway, with dishes listed as “Pine nut: chard, roots” or “Bivalves: cucumber, watermelon.”

Those looking for a more inexpensive but similar experience can still dine  on a $40 menu at the restaurant after 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday, or head to the restaurant’s cocktail-savvy next-door sibling Backbar for snacks.

Souvenir menus will be available to diners to take home with them, Wei says, so soon enough we’ll be able to see the full scope of the new menu offerings.