The thought of wine dinners can spark images of stuffy food, long, intolerable discussions about pairings and hanging with people who have fat bank accounts and narrow minds…
But things are changing.
I attribute it to many factors. Young people have stepped up their game and their world travels and food experiences have sparked an interest in what crosses their palette. In turn wineries have taken notice of this changing demographic.
Have you looked at wine labels lately?
Gone are the etchings of vineyards. In their place, bold graphics and eye-catching photos and art vie for your attention.
And in this economy, restaurants are challenged to find new, creative ways to attract customers. So food wine = a quick boost to the bottom line and repeat customers. Great chefs can take pride in their creations, but restaurant owners know the bar’s where the action is.
All of these factors have led to impromptu wine/food events popping up all over town.
My only wish is that restaurants would be more aggressive about marketing them.
Most of the time you only learn of these events if you’re subscribed to their website emails. Restaurants need to step it up with more collaborative efforts and cross marketing.
Another great tactic is, of course, social networking.
It worked for Nick & Jake’s last week. As I took a seat at Nick & Jake’s Overland Park location I overheard several people saying they were there because of a Facebook post the restaurant had made It worked. The place was packed and the noise levels were like a Kid Rock concert.
Unlike wine dinners I’ve attended at Extra Virgin, Julian or the Bristol, this crowd was younger, livelier and was taking their style cues from The Real Housewives of OC.
I imagined most of the couples at my table might have been throwing elbows for equal mirror time only an hour earlier.
While some of the tennis shoe and Ed Hardy-esque get-ups lacked a certain refinement, out in this part of town you’re talking about people who have money to spend and have gained a great deal of food and wine knowledge through travel.
Nick and Jake’s owners Doug Watkins and Kevin Timmons have built their success on knowing how to cater to the young money out south. In fact, 10 years ago, this area was still new and their foresight is indisputable. Today they are surrounded by some stiff competition, but their concept is still knocking it out of the park every night.
Success has bred a sister restaurant next door that pushes upscale casual in a new direction.
Wil Jenny’s specializes in Texas-style BBQ and southwest inspired entrees. While I have yet to try this location, I was fortunate enough to sample Jenny’s cuisine by executive chef Royal Chevuront at the American Royal BBQ. Chef Royal also cooked alongside Nick & Jake’s executive chef Michael Chang for our wine dinner. Both are young chefs that bring energy to their food – energy that creates a synergy with their equally energetic guests.
At the wine dinner, a lengthy presentation was conducted by Glazer’s Mark Schroeder that educated attendees on Pacific Northwest wines. The geography lesson almost caused a mutiny among the boisterous crowd, most of whom had already polished off the two glasses of wine that had been poured for the upcoming courses. Instead of presenting details with each course the presentation included all 5 courses.
I think only my mom – who doesn’t drink – actually listened to the entire presentation.
An Eroica Riesling
Pan Roasted Seabass- Asian Pear & Jicama Haystack- Lychee Fruit Vinaigrette
This felt like a hearty start for a first course, but the delicate seasoning of the large piece of fish played well against the airy crunch of the jicama. This “starter” course would be a perfect meal in the heat of summer.
Columbia Crest Grand Estate Chardonnay
Braised Pork Belly- Rustica Gala Apple & Sweet Agave Chutney
This was the highlight of my entire meal. Although I would be more likely to order this in the colder months, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on it during this meal. The chef’s skills shined with the perfectly crisp outside skin of the pork and the luscious juicy meat that fell apart on the inside. The sweet apple sauce was just enough to top off every bite. I would come back just for this.
Erath Pinot Noir
Crispy Confit Chicken- Porcini Mushroom Risotto- Truffle & Earth Pan Jus
I would have called the entire meal perfection if not for this course. While it wasn’t wonderful, it wasn’t bad. It just couldn’t shine against so many other well-planned dishes. The texture of the risotto was off and the chicken lacked a definite flavor profile.
Northstar Stella Maris Red Blend
Prime KC Cut Strip- Western Flannel Potato Hash- Jalapeno Blackberry Demi
I have a feeling it was chef Royal that showed off his stellar grilling skills here. While the strip is not my favorite cut, I could almost change my mind after enjoying this gut-busting course. The jalapeno & blackberry glaze was truly amazing. Both bright and earthy at the same time, it cut through the richness of the steak and danced on the tongue.
Patron XO Cafe’ Mousse- Edible Chocolate Espresso Coffee cup.
I wasn’t looking forward to this dessert after reading the description. Maybe too many crazy Patron memories or just the thought of tequila and coffee was too much. How wrong I was to be afraid. The mouse only had the mildest hint of Patron and the coffee/chocolate cup was thin and smooth with only a mild coffee aroma. Dessert is where many tastings fall short, but this was both a welcome surprise and a tasty finish.
I must say, I hadn’t been to Nick & Jakes since they opened almost 10 years ago.
At that time, my order came to the table wrong, not once, but twice. Apparently, one server’s lack of skill has kept me away far too long. The tasting opened my eyes to the thoughtful sophistication of the food now served by Nick & Jake’s and it was all done in a very pleasant, comfoirtable atmosphere.
My only disappointment was the ringing in my ears from the unbearably loud room that could use some acoustical treatment.
As I stepped outside, I breathed an audible sigh of relief in the dark and silent parking lot. And I barely heard my mom say, “They served the whole barnyard in there.”
“Yes, it was good wasn’t it?” I replied.
Nick & Jake’s
6830 W 135th Street Overland Park, KS 66223 (913) 681-8535
Wil Jenny’s Tables and Tap
6700 West 135th Street Overland Park, KS 66223 (913) 897-1114