Monday, May 16, 2011


Tastings: A Wine Experience and Executive Chef Steve Unrue have parted company. Steve is known best for creating the culinary delights that Tastings served during their weekly Wednesday Night Wine Tasting and Food Pairing events. These events have become quite popular with a lot of local foodies.

No reason has been given for the parting of the ways, but it appears that there was a disagreement over the direction the Wednesday night events should take. Apparently they do not fit Tastings' business model. Special food orders had to be placed each week to accommodate the unique dishes and anything not used had to be discarded since they were not part of the regular menu. Presumably, labor costs for the event were higher than anticipated.

Last Wednesday Tastings held their first Wednesday Night event sans Steve, and to everyone I talked to there, it was a major disappointment. Instead of food pairings, Tastings placed out some cheese plates and a couple of other appetizer trays for the participants to share during the wine tasting. There was no attempt to pair the foods with each individual wine. All the food items came from Tastings' regular menu.

Basically the event was turned into a wine tasting with some nibbles. While I never considered the events to deliver a complete meal - each wine was paired with a sampling of a complimentary dish - the drawing card was always the food. Often the wines we tasted were ordinary, but the foods never were. And there was always a considerable effort made to pair the foods with the wines.

There is every indication that this new wine tasting format is the model for the Wednesday Night events going forward. It may not be. Restaurants part ways with chefs quite regular. You can probably get rich making book that any individual executive chef who is not an owner will change jobs within three years. But from what we were hearing that night, it looks like this is the way they want to go.

That would be unfortunate. They will lose most of the local foodies immediately. And they will find it increasingly hard to find people willing to pay $25 for what they are delivering. What we got Wednesday night was a tasting of five different wines with some cheese, crackers and assorted appetizers. Most of the liquor stores do something similar every week for free.

Consider this, I visited Kahn's last Saturday for a tasting of five wines and two Armagnacs, poured by a representative of the winery in Gaston, France, accompanied by a tray of cheeses, crackers, and another nibble, for free. Why would you pay $25 plus tax and tip and parking for what someone else is going to give away for free?

A couple of my foodie friends, directly as a result of their disappointment last Wednesday night, canceled their Tastings reservation for this coming Wednesday in favor of the Cuisine of the Maghreb dinner at Oh Yumm sponsored by 21st Amendment. Five glasses of wine rather than tastings, five courses rather than samplings, each course paired to the wine, and for $50 inclusive of tax and tip rather than $25 plus tax and tip for what Tasting is serving.

I think you can see Tastings problem going forward with this new model.

If the Wednesday night events are too expensive, I think Tastings would be better off discontinuing them all together. The value of continuing it as a marketing tool may be marginal. They seem to have a decent crowd most nights. The ill will accrued by charging $25 for a commonly free event may hurt their business. People could be so upset they won't return at all.

For my part, I will continue to patronize Tastings whenever I want to just have a glass of wine and maybe a light bite when I am downtown. But don't look for me any future Wednesday nights as long as it's just an exorbitantly expensive wine tasting.

BTW, anyone out there looking for a creative chef to raise their menu to a higher level? You better snap up Steve Unrue while he is still on the market.

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