Culinary Bill Shock: Beware The Secret $275 Truffle Pasta Special!

There’s a small, innocuous-looking cafe on Madison Ave that you may find yourself considering on your next meander through New York City. Watch out, says BoingBoing, whose Rob Beschizza wandered into the place on a lark, you’re about to get socked with hidden charges. How bad could it be? Behold:

“We ordered a couple of dishes we thought were $30 or so: expensive enough! But a salad turned out to be another $49. Coffee was $12 per tiny little cup. Refill, sir? No, thank you, I’ll just have water. Water was $15.”

The cafe turned out to be so notorious that even the New York Times has written about their dubious practices. I guess you can’t really fail to disclose the price of a $275 pasta special and expect to have a good reputation on the internet.

From the NYT:

“At the end of the meal, I got a look at the check and for a moment I thought I was hallucinating. The meal for the three of us cost $400. How was that possible?

Easy.

The pasta dish cost $275.

No joke. “

And corroborated again at TripAdvisor:

“We went there with out two kids (12 years old) The waiter presented the specials that included Tagliatelle with Truffle. Our kids wanted to taste Truffle, so we ordered that. The price of $275 was not mentioned by a single word.

We was highly surprised when we got the bill totaling $859 – we thought is was a mistake, which is was not. They charged 275 for a plate with pasta and a little truffle…”

I suppose these horror stories can serve as a reminder to go ahead and endure the social pain of asking how much the “special” is going to cost. We can guarantee it will not hurt as much as the bill. Yow.

Headed to New York? Watch out for sleazy restaurant Nello [BoingBoing]

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  1. clippy2.0 says:

    If they don’t tell you the cost, is it okay to dine and dash? I would assume under most circumstances, if you look at a menu with listed prices, that you could be in legal trouble. But if the restaurant specifically hides the costs from you, does that make it okay? Because there is no way in hell I would fork over cash or credit for a bill like that!

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Many fancy restaurants, super fancy, might not show prices. We’re talking restaurants that if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.

      • clippy2.0 says:

        I dunno, I mean, I’ve eaten at places where you will shell over over $300 for two. I find most of the time the super expensive places are really more a set price, and you select from some choices; the only added costs will be beverages, which again will usually have a listing. The only time I’ve seen this not to be true in general is at beer pubs, where the menu would be as thick as a novel to list all the beers and prices, so they simply list all the beers. I don’t think I’ve seen a place that charges $80 for a steak and not tell you.

        And really, my comment is more directed to places like snooty french restaurants that charge you for eating off each others plate, or for eating the bread they had on the table. Fuck those places!

        • clippy2.0 says:

          I should also add, I’ve never been forced the discomfort of dining in either LA or NYC, so I guess I really wouldn’t know what is par for the course in terms of fine dining

          • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

            There are $300/couple restaurants, and $300/plate restaurants. If you were part of the 1%, you’d know about them.

            /not part of the 1%

            • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

              Did the whole haute cuisine thing while living in LA. Laughed when I got my first “air kiss” from a maitre’D. Still preferred Aunt Kizzy’s back porch.

      • ChuckECheese says:

        I eat in middling, not high-end places, and frequently run into waiter-announced “specials” where the price is never mentioned.

        So these days, I interrupt and say, “Would you please give me the prices along with the descriptions? Thanks.”

        Often enough I get a response like, “I can’t remember,” or “I’m not sure.” At which moment I reply, “Then I’m not interested in the specials.” I look down at the menu to give the message I am no longer listening. I also notice that even when the specials are written on a board or separate menu card, there are no listed prices.

        Such pricing shenanigans are clearly manipulative. It sucks that you have to be so assertive with restaurateurs, but that seems to be the way it is now.

      • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

        My thoughts exactly. Just left a comment over at BoingBoing about my own experience eating at a restaurant where the menu listed no prices. We knew that it was going to be expensive but we figured that since it was a special occasion, we didn’t care. If you have to ask about the price, then it’s most likely out of your league. Side note: price for champagne brunch for two ended up being $200 before the gratuity. Food was pretty damn good, though.

    • longdvsn says:

      I feel like there is blame to go around. Yes, obviously the restaurant owners should be dragged outside and beaten to a bloody mess. $15 for water??? If it was tap water, that should be illegal.

      However, the diners didn’t check prices, didn’t ask about prices, and could have easily walked out if they had simply inquired. There’s some responsibility to be had on their part too (maybe 5% – so maybe they can leave $20 and dash).

      • rugman11 says:

        I agree to a certain extent, but looking at the menu (http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/nello/menus/dinner.html) everything is priced around $30-$50 and the most expensive thing is the veal chop at $60. You can’t run a special out at more than 4x the cost of your highest price dish without giving your customer a warning first. Most people are going to assume that your specials are in line with the rest of your menu. When they’re not, they’ll be pissed.

        • GrimJack says:

          My wife and I was went to a nice, upscale Italian eatery that has very reasonable prices in general. The waitress, who was speaking half English and half really bad Italian (my wife is fluent) went through the specials and spun a tale of this wonderful wine that the owners had brought back from the Amalfi coast in Italy that was their special for the evening. Having honeymooned there, we though it would be a fun thing to try (note that there aren’t really any great wines from that region – all the local vineyards crank out table wines that go for 3 or 4 euros a bottle).

          Well, when the bill came and we realized that each glass cost more than a full bottle of very decent comparable wine, we decided that the owners had brought back back this wine smuggled inside their body cavities (hence the ridiculous markup).

          • Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

            Sounds like it must have been some good shit….

    • taaurrus says:

      If that ever happened to me – police would probably be called. Either by them, because I would absolutely REFUSE to pay, or by me because I would want them to know that I was absolutely leaving without paying and this is why… Unbelievable. Never, EVER would I pay that bill under ANY circumstances and I wish them luck getting any type of law enforcement (police or the Judge should I get arrested for not paying – which might happen in this situation) to agree with them that I should pay a bill like that.

    • Greyfox2401 says:

      Even though I’ve never been to a joint that doesn’t list prices; I would make the same decision as I do at a flea market; if they don’t list prices, I move on.

    • Villnius says:

      Nowhere does it say that they’re HIDING their prices. Did anyone bother to ASK?

      If they didn’t, and just blindly ordered stuff and used their own imaginations to estimate the bill, then they were total morons.

      That said, this sounds like a monty python skit.

  2. atomoverride says:

    Aww snap! I need to use the bathroom, Be right back I swear. *(pssst kids run for the car)

    • nopirates says:

      and parking in that neighborhood probably cost you as much as dinner

    • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

      I picture Bud and Kelly going home for the wallet and getting tickets to a concert instead of going back to the restaurant.

  3. HSVhockey says:

    This is why I don’t meander. (I always check yelp or something first)

  4. Hi_Hello says:

    social pain? I asked for the price of everything.
    How much are these bread on the table?
    how do you charge to use the salt shaker?

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      the salt shaker has both a coin slot and a card reader. it’s pay per shake

      • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

        “it’s pay per shake”

        Like that club, with the dancing ladies.

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      “How much for that blonde waitress? Bring her to me!”

      • 401k says:

        How much for the little girl? How much for the women? Your women. I want to buy your women. The little girl, your daughters… sell them to me. Sell me your children!

  5. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    If a restaurant doesn’t have the prices on the menu, it’s too expensive for me.

    • A.Mercer says:

      It should be law that the prices are on the menu. These guys are using this little tactic to sucker their customers. This is a form of stealing.

  6. Hi_Hello says:

    it starts….

    on yelp:

    Just because I hate thieves in the restaurant business. From now on, post your prices on the menu.

    The prices is on the menu… the special wasn’t priced. people are crazy.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      It could be difficult to list all the specials on the menu, if a restaurant runs a lot of specials. Also, if the special is actually only available on certain days, you might not want to list it on the normal menu.

      However … specials shouldn’t be use as a way to gouge people. If there’s a substantial price difference between the special and the other items on the menu, it makes sense to mention it. (What’s the definition of “substantial difference?” Well, if the waiter does a little jig in anticipation of the tip, it’s probably a substantial difference).

      • OutPastPluto says:

        It’s 2012. We have these things called printers. They can get quite fancy. Buy one that’s on par with the prices on your menu. If you are selling $300 salad, you can afford something that will do better than the local Kinkos.

        • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

          Lol. Very true. I’m guessing that some restaurants just don’t want to hassle with printing new menus every day (or whenever specials change). I know of quite a few places that have “off the menu” specials.

          • erinpac says:

            They could always put the specials & prices on a display at the entrance at least.

            • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

              Definitely – and most of the places I’m aware of locally do just that. Several of them mention the price in their monologue.

              Of course, these are places that are a few steps down from a $375 special.

  7. liam_cos says:

    No fucking way I would pay.

  8. nearly_blind says:

    I may try to find the link later, but I recall reading a law blog a few months ago talking about a related (but not same) issue and the lawyers were basically saying that without an implicit contract, which doesn’t exist if the buyer did not agree on a specific price, then in a civil court a judge will decide what the what fair value of the item should be. The customer is not legally bound to ANY crazy price the restaraunt discloses afterwards.
    If it went to court the judge may look at the cost of the dish’s ingredients as well as the cost of other items on the menu (food cost markup). For example, if the ingredients cost $50 and the other menu items the patron saw were marked up 3 to 1 then he may still assign a cost of $150.

    • sirwired says:

      The thing is, depending on how much truffle they use, and assuming the vaguely standard 3 x Ingredient cost restaurant markup, $275 could end up being the “proper” price for the dish.

      If you have a waiter offer to put truffles on your dish in a fancy restaurant, they charge per gram as the upcharge.

      • Jane_Gage says:

        $15 for tap water?

        • Rachacha says:

          It has been my experience that many restaurants, especially in NYC will ask if you want water, and if you say yes, will serve you bottled water imported from [country], however if you say “Yes, Tap water would be excellent” then they will bring you free tap water.

    • Free Legal Advice! says:

      There was no “meeting of the minds” therefore no contract. I’m not a contract lawyer, but that’s the tactic I would take. For example, you wanted a pasta dish and all the comparable pasta dishes on the menu were $25, you wouldn’t expect the dish to be more than $35. I once ordered fish off the specials menu. It was Chilean Sea Bass, the real stuff, and damn good at $50.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      By ordering the item, aren’t you are agreeing to a specific price? Just because you didn’t ask about the price, doesn’t mean you didn’t agree to pay it by ordering the meal.

    • TheGreySpectre says:

      This sounds very reasonable to me that in court they would set a fair price. That being said I think even then that would not favor this family as truffles tend to be really freaking expensive. We are talking about something that costs ~$500-$2000+ per pound.

      I suppose it is possible that the OP didn’t know what a truffle was or that they were expensive, but I always thought that was reasonably common knowledge even to people who don’t eat out or eat expensive knowledge. I would never order a truffle dish without asking the price as truffle anything is going to be super expensive.

      • Timbojones says:

        At most restaurants I’ve visited that serve truffle dishes, the price is on the order of 50% higher than a comparable non-truffle dish, or on the order of double the price if the truffles constitute the bulk of the dish. I’m thinking of truffle vs. chicken mac & cheese in the former case; truffle vs. pork dim sum in the latter.

        600% markup is ridiculous.

  9. mister_roboto says:

    A friend of mine had gotten into Scotches, and at a bar noticed one that he hadn’t seen before, and ordered one neat. When the bartender rang him up, he immediately apologized- because it was a $60 for his one Scotch, and had apparently been the first person to order it in years and didn’t know the price off the top of his head.

    If there’s no price… it doesn’t hurt to ask.

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      I was at a horror convetion in a hotel (friends brought me along). I ordered a double Grey Goose and 7up (moved on to better vodka since then). It came to $36. Now I ask

      • chizu says:

        That reminds me of my friend’s birthday last year. We were hanging out at the bar before we were seated, so we got the birthday girl a drink — vodka and cran, it was about $4.50? or $3.50? (I really don’t remember) It wasn’t very expensive and definitely under $5.

        Once we were seated, the birthday girl ordered three more drinks (same thing) but when the bill came, it was $9 a drink because they decided to use Grey Goose instead. She felt really bad because her drinks were more than her dinner. I thought it was sleazy that they would do something like that to jack up the price of drinks as soon as you sat down at the table.

      • CalicoGal says:

        Wow and I thought the fact that I just found out that this place I have been going to fairly regularly for about the last 10 months has been charging me 9.50 for a Pinnacle and Coke was ridiculous!

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      That’s about right for a 25-35 year old single malt. Your friend that was into scotches should have (may have?, not sure how to interpret your post) known.

  10. Blueskylaw says:

    Bob: You know you boys owe me a lot over money for that beer you drank tonight goddammit.
    Jake: Bob, we loved playing here tonight. My brother’s writing out an American Express travellers cheque to cover the extensive bar tab.
    Bob: Well, I sure would appreciate it.
    Jake: I’d better check up, see how he’s doing, see I have to sign it too. I usually sit in the car and write it out on the glove compartment lid. Okay?
    [Jake walks towards the car and feels his jacket pockets.]

  11. valkyrievf2x says:

    Er… Didn’t these people ever ask for the price? Hell, for me and my family, a warning sign for a restaurant is when there are no prices listed…

  12. DrRonster says:

    Did they also add an 18% grautuity? There, probably 25%.
    Lesson learned from this. If there are no prices listed, get a menu with them and if they wont cooperate, leave. Sure they would claim you walked out from a seating charge, purified air charge and table rental charge and if near a window, the scene charge.

    • Difdi says:

      And if they claim those, feel free to charge them undisclosed fees that involved no meeting of minds right back.

  13. Bagels says:

    We was highly surprised!!!

  14. alternety says:

    I got sucked into something like this is Hong Kong. I ordered from a “special” display on the table – sharks fin soap.

  15. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    I asked how much the truffles were and they said “two seventy-five”, but instead of the $2.75 I was expecting, we were billed $275.00!

  16. consumed says:

    Judging from these photos of the establishment I am not surprised at the prices. https://foursquare.com/v/nello/4b048e66f964a5202a5522e3/photos

    • justhypatia says:

      Really? Maybe I’m missing the sarcasm.

      Judging by the restaurants I frequent I would never guess prices were that high by the decor.

      The places where I can get fresh butternut squash ravioli for $18 look better, and according to all the reviews, probably taste a lot better as well.

  17. Alan says:

    It really depends on how it compared to everything else on the menu, is everything on the menu 30 bucks with maybe the steak being 100? And then the “special” with no price being 300… Or were there mulitple items at teh 300 range so it could be expected that the special would be at that price range?

    • TheGreySpectre says:

      It’s going to be hard to compare with other items as truffles cost so much by them selves. I can’t think of any other ingredient that is even remotely close.

  18. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    This place deserves mention in the “3 ways people fall into debt” article.

  19. HowardRoarksTSquare says:

    This is why I go to places that have a nice prix fixe menu and a wine list that has the prices along side of said drinks.

    That way I know it’s $ for my 3-course meal and $$ for the bottle of wine. No sticker shock at the end.

  20. impatientgirl says:

    This is why you ask UP FRONT. My husband and I have left before ordering when the prices -which weren’t printed on the menu card- were disclosed.

  21. Jules Noctambule says:

    This reminds me of the story about the $14 (or thereabouts) nectarine that was posted here years ago. Still one of my favorites!

  22. andsowouldi says:

    I feel like there has to be some limitation on a price when it is not listed. He order a dinner and I assume (didn’t see it specified how the salad came about being ordered) that the waiter asked if he’d like a sald with that and the salad was 165% the price of his meal? I wouldn’t pay that. Could they charge me $300 for the salad and I’d be obligated to pay? $3000? I would not pay for the water unless they mentioned the charge. I believe it is the law that free water must be offered to any patron (much in line with restroom faciltiies, etc.)? I’m not sure this is true in all states though.

  23. tinmanx says:

    This happened to me once, we got the appetizer special and it turned out to be a $60 appetizer. It was more expensive than our whole meal combined. I always ask for the price now.

  24. SeattleSeven says:

    Hmm… Dinner can be expensive…

    I suppose if I really thought I was getting ripped off, I’d just pay with a credit card, not sign the slip at all, hustle out of there and dispute the charge forever and ever.

  25. vastrightwing says:

    Went to China, some guy solicited me to go to his restaurant. Go there, order a few tings on the menu. Later, “we are out of… would you like to have .. instead?” Sure, why not. I’ll tell you why, Because the substitute was way more expensive, that’s why. Again, he never mentioned the price ahead of time. My bad. Fortunately, things were so cheap there, that even being ripped off, wasn’t too bad.

  26. AmPriS says:

    UCC Article 2 Provides that if the price isn’t bargained for, you look to the fair market value of the goods in question.

  27. billpendry says:
  28. ellemdee says:

    I hate when a restaurant not only fails to list a price for something, but the server doesn’t know the price either when asked. Instead of checking, they usually expect you to just order it anyway. Restaurants really have it made in that the more expensive the establishment, the more uncouth it is to ask about prices. In what other industry is it expected that a customer will accept (and consume, therefore not being able to return) an item without having any clue what price they’re agreeing to pay?

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      They want you to feel uncouth so that you order their expensive food. In reality, it’s not at all uncouth as long as you are polite about it. It’s smart. Really, who cares what a server thinks of you? The server is not the one paying your tab.

      • ellemdee says:

        I always ask (nicely) if the price isn’t listed. I get the feeling that the people I’m with might think it’s tacky sometimes, but I don’t care because I refuse to agree to an unspecified price.

  29. sparc says:

    What kind of idiot doesn’t look at prices on the menu?

    if there’s no price, don’t buy

  30. jpdanzig says:

    If the OP charged this to a credit card, I’m pretty sure he could have gotten his card company to intervene and negotiate a more reasonable price with the restaurant. Some years back, I arranged for a caterer to deliver a Thanksgiving dinner for four. They charged us something like $400 for what was enough food to feed ten or twelve people. After the caterer refused to budge on the price, we got American Express involved and wound up paying only $200 or so.

  31. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    I blame all OPS for not asking how much things cost. Fear of being embarrassed is no defense.

  32. Brenell says:

    The phrase “…with Truffle” should have been the giant flashing neon sign that you’re about to order something that might just be expensive.

  33. Qolotlh says:

    “The price of $275 was not mentioned by a single word” Did you ask? You can’t assume just because the Olive Garden is $10-30 a plate that all places with pasta will be. You can’t blame them for your assumption.

  34. JollyJumjuck says:

    And the servers probably DARE to expect a 20% tip…

  35. Tunacrab says:

    This was my personal policy back when I was waiting tables:

    If it costs more than the two or three highest priced items on the menu, disclose the price. If it falls in line with most of the the menu prices, I wouldn’t mention them.

  36. CPC says:

    $275? Did they get the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe?

  37. makoto says:

    I would leave the kids behind as collateral and never come back.

  38. Jane_Gage says:

    $15 for tap water?

  39. dush says:

    “We was highly surprised”

    Sounds about right.

  40. shufflemoomin says:

    Look, I agree with most that what the restaurant is doing is unethical, but what they’re essentially doing is taking advantage of morons. You ordered a special with truffle on it and didn’t ask the price. It’s your own fault for not asking. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to ask anyway. If you buying something and the store offer to throw in some extras, you’d ask what you were paying then. If someone offered a service to you, you’d ask how much. Why order food and not ask how much? Unethical: yes. Illegal: no.

  41. lvixen says:

    If there are no prices ask. However, truffles are super expensive. I found this: White truffles cost $5900 per pound. Black P√©rigord truffles cost $575 per pound from farmer’s markets and $2000 per pound from retail sellers. Black summer truffles cost $670 per pound. So that “little bit” of truffle is what jacked the price. If you are going to order something, get a clue. Did they order a side bowl of caviar too?

  42. nopirates says:

    as a new yorker, i can assure you that there are places like this all over the city

    caveat emptor

    NYC is full of predators, and not all of them are armed and dangerous

  43. Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

    I always wonder about people who do not ask for the pricing of the specials AND about a restaurant that will not offer the prices when stating the specials. What’s so dirty about talking about money? Anywho, I will ask and am amused when servers seem embarrassed to disclose the prices. Where else would you just buy something without knowing the price???

  44. nallanos says:

    This is crazy because Beijing (and possibly other parts of China) are known for this scam. But it’s worse here. People will approach you in the street (usually very beautiful Chinese women) and ask you to have tea and snacks with them. Once they lure you in they order stuff without you seeing the prices and they give you the bill in the end and it’s like $300-400. But here if you run away the shop owner’s thugs will catch you or the police will since technically it is legal and you should have asked the price. Although I think if you made enough fuss the police would let you go.

  45. etu001 says:

    Well, if you take a look at the menu online, the most expensive item is $60.00 (and that is a lamb dish). I think everyone would be surprised to be charge more than 4x the most expensive item on the printed menu for a special.

    I assume that a predatory practice like this must pay for itself if Nello is still in business with its horrible reviews.

    http://menupages.com/restaurants/nello/menu

  46. Trance says:

    I eat lunch at fancy places in NYC a lot for work events. I was at this one place and they had a list of specials, including one with truffles. While the waiter didn’t list out the price of every special, he did make a point to warn us that the truffle dish was $80 dollars.

    It’s good form to issue a warning when one special is significantly higher in price than anything else on the menu.

  47. MylesMDT says:

    Pay with a good credit card and call the bank as soon as you get home and refute the payment.

  48. ripoffnation says:

    Looks like they reopened under a new business entity in the state of New York.

    Apparently the place was shut down by the IRS in 2008 for non-payment of $1.8M in taxes by the
    owner.

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/regional/item_C6sscQoxVtyjbh34ykx5CN;jsessionid=D75A5FFAF834DBB51B4E967CC9B52AA9

    Indeed, the State of New York division of corporations shows the prior business as “Dissolved”
    in 2009:

    Selected Entity Name: 999 RESTAURANT CORP.
    Selected Entity Status InformationCurrent Entity Name: 999 RESTAURANT CORP.
    Initial DOS Filing Date: MAY 07, 1992
    County: NEW YORK
    Jurisdiction: NEW YORK
    Entity Type: DOMESTIC BUSINESS CORPORATION
    Current Entity Status: INACTIVE – Dissolution by Proclamation / Annulment of Authority (Apr 29, 2009)

    Principal Executive Office
    999 RESTAURANT CORP.
    696 MADISON AVE
    NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 10021

  49. RayanneGraff says:

    This is one incidence where the good old dine & dash would be completely acceptable.

    WTF is the big deal about truffles anyway? They’re just underground fungi, and frankly they sound gross.

  50. kimmie says:

    While that’s a huge number, I generally won’t eat anywhere that doesn’t list their prices. Even the fancy places in my price range list a number, though it seems chic now to not list the dollar sign. Even truffled mac n cheese at fancy places in DC doesn’t cost that much though – that’s insane. Sounds shady, but not illegal…