The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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Page 129 of 132

{ } 113 The collective gravitas of it all seemed poised to demand highbrow affects, but then it happened. Right before dinner com- menced, I looked at the opposite end of my table and spotted a woman taking a giant gulp of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut from a red wine glass. The champagne flute in front of her sat empty, clean, and forlorn. So much for pretense—thank Bacchus. The evening's presenters captured the spirit of my table part - ner's copious swig throughout the event. Dame repeatedly chided Neptune for cheating, his tongue firmly wedged in his cheek, before Neptune dropped into a Beavis and Butthead impression as he talked about sealing a wine's bung. Between these snippets of breezy candor, they broke down each wine in an informative yet unpretentious manner, making the selections themselves even more approachable. This snooty-free zone is precisely the atmosphere TAPS has aimed to create through its wine dinners, which occur in its private event space every other month. "We want to show our guests that wine dinners are exciting, fun, and educational," General Manager Masaya Yamazaki says. "The response from our guests so far have been amazing. They've been spreading the word that we are the go-to place for wine dinners." Bringing in luminaries like Dame and Neptune to talk wine—in such an accessible manner, no less—is just one of the ways the restaurant earns this reputation. Like all of the wines featured in TAPS' semi-regular wine-pairing affairs, the bottlings the Master Sommeliers highlighted were procured in conjunction with Pavil - ions, an upscale grocery chain that delivered an artisanal market experience to Southern California residents long before Whole Foods dominated the public consciousness. The partnership produces consistent excellence in TAPS' wine selections, as well as a few other bonuses. To wit: Phil Markert, Pavilions' Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing, initially hatched the idea of making Dame and Nep - tune's Master Somm showdown an interna- tional incident. The wine dinners also afford Executive Chef Ryan Robertson and his crew the opportunity to stray from the restaurant's typical surf-and- turf milieu, which results in epicurean voodoo like the truffle and foie gras trangoli and the mind-bending niçoise salad served to us at the dinner. It's a diversion Robertson relishes. "We have so many talented culinarians here with diverse backgrounds and experiences that it's easy to be creative," he says. "Although these dinners take an enormous amount of time, effort, planning, and teamwork, it's also a chance for us to show what we are capable of and do some really cool dishes." The evening ultimately ended in a draw: Dame's French wines scored in the first two courses, with Neptune's Italians emerging victorious in courses three and five. The cause of the deadlock was Robertson's lamb neck, potato, and chive gnocchi; half the room felt it worked best with the Château Pesquié 2013 Quin - tessence Dame picked out, while the other half preferred Nep- tune's idea of pairing the dish with the 2012 Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino . (I was part of this latter half. Sorry, Fred). Of course, there's only one thing to do in the event of a prop - er stalemate—hold a re-match. According to Yamazaki, it's already green-lit. "We're working on another five-course, ten-wine pairing dinner with Fred and Peter," he says. "If legends of that magnitude are talking about doing another wine dinner with us, then I think we're doing something right." The TAPS Team: General Manager Masaya Yamazaki and Executive Chef Ryan Robertson.

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