Blueberry crumble pie at Pearl Oyster Bar

Tribute to The Tasting Room

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
June 5, 2008

Sadly, one of our favorite restaurants closed last week. The Tasting Room has been a benchmark of excellence in American cuisine since it opened its doors on 1st Street in 1999. Fans of Colin Alevras’ cooking packed the tiny 26-seat restaurant nightly. Simple, innovative and fresh, the daily menu depended on what was available at the market, and the wine list consisted of only American wines. Specializing in high quality food, wine and service, it was a gem of a neighborhood restaurant that seemed to always serve “a perfect meal.”

Every item could be ordered in either a “taste” or a larger “share” portion, hence the restaurant’s name. I preferred ordering taste portions to share in order to try as many of the wonderful dishes as possible. For Cravings’ Summer Vegetables feature in July 2005, The Tasting Room cooked up some of the most delicious market-driven vegetable dishes, especially the razor clams with petit pois, shitake, chives and buckwheat. The freshness of the flavors still linger on my palate today.

Over the years, The Tasting Room outgrew its 1st Street space and, in the fall of 2006, the restaurant moved to a larger location on Elizabeth Street, keeping the original location to re-open early last year as The Tasting Room Wine Bar & Café.

The new restaurant in NoLIta had a bar in front and a hallway leading to the back dining room. Due to the starkly contrasting atmospheres, the hall felt like a secret passage to a different world. I loved both settings; I’d sit at the bar if I was just dining with one other friend, but for larger parties, the dining room had a more rustic and barn-like feel with more open space. The restaurant continued its “food for art” program, where the artists got to eat at the restaurant as trade for their works that hung on the walls. The setting, which was more family-friendly, seemed to suit Colin and Renée, who, by then, were raising two children.

Brunch at The Tasting Room was truly something special. From the homemade sodas to the buttermilk fried duck leg, there were so many highlights. Colin always came up with interesting and delicious pairings, but my jaw dropped when I tasted the fried soft-boiled egg with heirloom endive, roasted cauliflower and croznes in kabocha squash purée. He always put so much heart into his creations. This made my 2007 favorites list.

The expansion was meant to accommodate those that the old space couldn’t, but the new restaurant just wasn’t as busy. Colin and general manager/wine director, Carolyn DeFir, put together interesting programs, including wine maker dinner series and a dinner theater event. Four months ago, they removed the share portions off the menu and only served tasting portions to encourage the sharing of more dishes. But for some reason, this new space just never really worked for The Tasting Room. They kept their chin up and maintained their grace through the end. Neither the food nor the service ever lagged.

When I received news that The Tasting Room had served its last meal this past Saturday, I felt like a friend had just passed. I was not alone in feeling this way, as TTR’s team has amassed a devoted and loyal following. The restaurant was a symbol for community. It had warmth and integrity.

The Tasting Room restaurant has closed its doors but the wine bar on 1st Street will continue service. But the Alevras’ are not defeated. Colin is excited about new projects he now has time to work on. And we look forward to these new beginnings.

This tribute is not to bid farewell, but to honor The Tasting Room’s contribution to the growing reputation of new American cuisine. Thank you TTR! We will miss you greatly.

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