It's just after 10 a.m. on a typical Wednesday at The Tasting Room at Uptown Park. Bartenders are filling the wells with ice, servers are prepping the patio for what will be a gorgeous, 68-degree November day, a busboy mops the floors carefully before lunch and chef Jonathan LeBlanc calmly gives his kitchen staff instruction for the day ahead.
However, it's not just another "ordinary" Wednesday, as later today LeBlanc presents his new menu items to the executives that have the power to either sign off on or veto individual dishes. If they are as excited as he is about the changes, the updates could grace The Tasting Room's menu as soon as the first week in December — that's when the real excitement begins.
Of course, there's already plenty of excitement over The Tasting Room's current lunch selections like the creative salads, sandwiches made with fresh-baked Slow Dough bread and The Tasting Room signature burger with its own calculated blend of beef. And then there's those signature shareable plates for the wine pairing crowds like Tuna Two Ways with pan-seared tuna alongside a tuna tartare or the guilty pleasure of the Potato Chip Nachos with cilantro ranch dressing, jalapenos, tomatoes and cotija cheese. However, even among all these favorites, LeBlanc has conceptualized a few entirely new dishes and revamped some old favorites for a fresh take on the winter menu.
Thinking of the holiday season and all the heavy eating it usually brings along with its glad tidings, LeBlanc wanted to include some lighter dishes as well as vegetarian items as a counterpoint. Along those lines are crab sliders meant to share and pair with white and sparkling wines and a grilled portobello mushroom with sauteed spinach and balsamic honey gastrique also meant to share.
Other lighter additions may include a new Mediterranean-inspired salad with options to add blackened salmon as well as an upgraded vegetable panini which will now include grilled portobello, grilled red onions, pea patch tomatoes, hummus and provolone. Lastly, a white pizza with marinated, roasted artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, thyme and sauteed spinach atop an asiago alfredo sauce rounds out the vegetarian selections.
LeBlanc is also pulling from his family heritage for inspiration on the new and delectable menu items, specifically for the crawfish beignets with a spicy remoulade, Louisiana barbecue pork ribs with his family's barbecue sauce recipe and a Louisiana barbecue pizza with some of the same elements. With the Cajun personality in these dishes, it's not surprising to learn that LeBlanc (in addition to his giveaway of a last name) and his family have deep roots in Acadiana, where their barbecue sauce features unusual ingredients like orange zest, roasted pecans, bacon, butter and a whole lot of spices.
While LeBlanc's family barbecue sauce has quite a personality, so do the last few possible additions to The Tasting Room's Uptown Park menu: a grilled steak pizza with caramelized onions, mozzarella, blue cheese, portobellos finished with arugula and truffle oil as well as a Vietnamese calamari sandwich with spicy sriracha mayo, crisp and herbal cilantro, cucumbers and fennel. That is, if they make the cut...
Asked if he's nervous for the big day of tasting ahead, LeBlanc remains as cool as glass of pinot grigio.
"They give us free reign. Each chef, each location," he says. "We've got core items on the menu and we don't take those off. They really let us be creative and do what we want."