There are plenty of restaurants where a great wine list only supplements an even more impressive meal. But until now I've never thought about The Tasting Room as that kind of place.
The concept that began as an up-market but low-frills wine bar has consistently evolved, especially since Voice alum Michael Kramer came in as the corporate executive chef. I liked how Kramer retooled the brunch menu at Uptown Park, but it wasn't until he settled in at the spacious new Tasting Room at CityCentre that I really saw the kind of understated excellence he's bringing to the restaurant.
Let's start with the pizza. TTR brought in a rare wood-burning oven and put it front and center and sent Kramer and his sous chef to be trained in the art of Vera Pizza Napolitana at the VPN Americas Pizza School in California. So the pizzas are simple and elegant, with a perfect "00" dough that gets just charred enough.
I tried one version with grapes, plum tomatoes, red onion, mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and garlic. The crust was thin and doughy (just how I like it) and the ingredients added just the right blend of tart and sweetness while always staying light. It's perfectly authentic and outside the mainstream while also being really approachable and avoiding the scarlet letter of "artsy pizza."
I also really liked the small dishes, like a beautifully restrained beef carpaccio so thinly sliced it was hard to pick up in one piece, topped beautifully with olive oil, red onion, and micro greens. The salumi menu includes standouts from prosciutto to chorizo, but I fell in love with the cheese offerings, which included Cabot cheddar (a personal fave), garrotxa from Spain and local favorites from Veldhuizen and Cheesy Girl.
For a more traditional entree, Kramer brought out a duck confit gnocchi with Brussels sprouts and duck cracklins. I have not eaten Brussels sprouts since the age of 11, when I was served a plate of hard, bitter sprouts at a friend's house and I forced myself to eat them to be polite. (Damn my flawless Southern manners.)
I've held a grudge ever since, so I was floored that they are in fact delicious, at least in the hands of Kramer. Against a rich backdrop of duck and potato gnocchi, the ever-so-slightly crunchy twinge and bitter counterbalance of the Brussels sprouts was really tasty — Kramer says he drops them dry in the fryer for an ideal flavor.
The food was excellent, but more importantly it seemed perfectly calibrated to complement the wine The Tasting Room puts front and center. Can I say that this is a menu of great food to eat with wine without taking away from the food? Because it is.