Ahhhh the life of a food journalist. The repeat and multiple visits to restaurants of all shapes and sizes, booze and food paid for by expense accounts, all in the name of research. I remember reading a review by Frank Bruni about Per Se, Thomas Keller’s New York sibling to French Laundry. I was so envious, that not only did he get to go there once (at the time it was virtually impossible to get through to the reservation line, let alone an actual reservation) but he went back, multiple times, allowing him to firmly establish his opinion about the place.
I'm not complaining, I’ve been lucky enough to eat well and work in one of the loveliest boutique restaurants in Manhattan, which allowed me to cultivate my own opinions about food and educated me on the basics of kitchen etiquette and culinary terminology (“Tonight we are serving seasonal spring ramps as a side dish or to accompany the whole grilled dorade.”What is a ramp? “A ramp is a spring onion, similar to a leek. Has almost an herbal quality to it…).
So not to bore you with my hyper-enthusiasm, and inability to discuss taste and flavor in a coherent manner, let me say this: The Tasting Kitchen in Venice is fucking awesome. The drinks, the food, the service, the non-descript sign adorning the front of the restaurant, the young chef, friendly and conversational with my co-diners, everything was just better than it had to be, making it a special place.
The bar was crowded with people scouring the boutique, custom drink menu, full of “signature,” floral cocktails, homemade soda pops and custom garnishes.
I was getting sick and ordered one of these signature drinks, made with Tequila, Serrano peppers and lime.
Though I’m generally underwhelmed by mixologists' concoctions, this drink is the exception to that ideology. It was incredible. If this says anything about the drink, I would revisit The Tasting Kitchen, if only for that cocktail, which, was not even close to the best thing I consumed that night.
We sat down and looked over the dinner menu. There is a “Regular Dinner” option, which is essentially a tasting of the most seasonal and popular dishes selected by the chef.
The only caveat with this option, is that the entire table has to participate. The pussies I was eating with feared that the kitchen might send us something we wouldn’t like, so we opted to order à la carte.
Per our earlier discussion with the chef, we ordered a special prosciutto and 3 cheeses (all cow) to start.
We also ordered a butter lettuce salad, garnished with blue cheese, radish and tarragon that was outrageously awesome.
For drinks, we chose a bottle of Spanish white wine, similar to the summer favorite, Albariño. It was reasonably priced, crisp and delicious.
Next, we redundantly ordered another salad, this one served with burrata cheese, prosciutto and long green beans, which were tossed in finely chopped peanuts.
Holy shit man, the is one of the most elegant and exciting dishes I’ve ever tasted. The burrata was creamy and full of flavor, neither too milky nor bland like they can be. You could enjoy the beans alone, however, served with the salt and oil of the prosciutto and the fat of burrata, the dish stands out as incredible.
As a mid-course we ordered two pasta dishes. I’m generally unimpressed by pasta; I mean, how many ways can you make it, right? (Um like a million, stupid). But these small plates of carbohydrates were delicious. The classic, hollow buccatini tasted like it was made by a Venetian grandmother, garnished with the perfect amount of spice.
The other pasta dish was “Loops” and foie gras. I’ve never heard of “Loops,” morbidly described as little nooses, but I imagine if it were sold by the box at Trader Joe’s, it would be a perfect base for a grown up, Goth-inspired mac and cheese.
The foie gras torchon was added as a finishing element and melted through the pasta like butter. Insane.
The halibut, served with beans and crème, was the main course. People loved this dish and ordered it at all of our surrounding tables. It was delicious-- however, it stood out least amongst everything else we gluttonously consumed.
Finally came dessert. Our awesome server Maxwell suggested the sticky toffee pudding and seasonal peach gallette, which he described with impressive detail and clarity. We'll take it! (Then I ordered another tequila drink, which is most likely why I don’t really remember dessert).
Fellow diners, boozers and Pacific Northwest enthusiasts should be thrilled to know that Maxwell is the GM of this fine establishment and his knowledge and excitement about everything on the menu is not only delightful, but inspiring.
I just read a review about the difference between great restaurants and extraordinary restaurants (the latter generally developing over time), in tandem with “prolonged artistic risk and managerial attention.” While I’m not sure that the cuisine at The Tasting Kitchen can yet be defined as “artistically risky,” it definitely embraces an artistic approach to food while never compromising the taste of the dish for its composition.
Now that I mentioned Maxwell, I’d like to double back to the other necessary ingredient of a great restaurant: “managerial attention.” A crucial and essential component to the performance quality and production value of a high functioning restaurant is the management. Herein lie the details, the style and the aesthetic tastes that look outwards to those whose palates aren’t yet refined enough to notice the lavender finish of the pre-dinner cocktail.
I do agree with the aforementioned reviewer’s proclamation, however, for a great dining experience for me is where everything comes together just right; where the food, the ambiance, the drinks and the service all harmonize with one another in both organic and choreographed ways.
Perhaps one day the Times will pick up my tab for this sort of dining experience. But until then, I can practice the routine of revisiting a restaurant multiple times to validate my initial feelings about it, and that’s why I’m going back to The Tasting Kitchen tonight.
(Note the menu is out of date as it changes often, however it gives you a good idea what to expect.)
*Photos by Thomas Young.