The Tasting Room's new oven becomes the restaurant's focal point and allows patrons to see their chefs in action.

Since 2003, Houstonians have flocked to The Tasting Room at Uptown Park to sip wine, buy bottles in bulk, or listen to the almost constant live music on the sprawling patio. They may not always think of The Tasting Room as a restaurant, but they should.

The Tasting Room at Uptown Park
1101-18 Uptown Park Blvd.
713-993-9800
tastingroomwines.com/uptown-park 

When I think of wine and food, I think of cheese—and while The Tasting Room has no shortage of that, a new gourmet menu created by executive chef Erick Madden and MAX’s Wine Dive’s executive chef Michael Pellegrino is showcasing some formidable dishes—thanks to a new oven—to go with its great wines.

The theme of the new menu here is “pair and share,” meaning all of the dishes are small plates meant for pairing up with TTR's extensive by-the-glass selection. Or, if you're really hungry, pick a whole pack of plates and order a bottle. While you can rely on the staff to make their own pairing recommendations, my mantra is: when in doubt, a little bubbly goes pretty well with anything.

Though tempted by the selection of skewers, I opted for one of the pizzas, since the Uptown Park location is boasting a new wood- and gas-fired pizza oven. I chose the au gratin potato, bacon, and leek pizza paired with the Prodige Blanc de Blancs Sparkling—one of my favorite bubblies.

The au gratin potato, bacon and leek pizza was decadent, but, sadly, a tad burnt.

The "pair and share" menu encourages you pick a few dishes to go with a bottle of wine for the whole table to enjoy.

My first impression is that it tasted like I was eating baked potato pizza. The potatoes were thinly cut and Gruyére is not one of the more potent cheeses, so the result was an interesting blend of onion, salty bacon, and potato on a thin crust pizza.

However odd this sounds, it was delicious, and in keeping with TTR's unusual selection of pizzas—think spinach and Bucheron or Scottish smoked salmon. Although half of my pizza was burnt on the bottom—alas, that’s the risk with a wood-burning oven sometimes—the other side’s crust was so good I ate every bite.

Halfway through that potato pizza, my second pick was brought out. This is part of the new serving procedure that came along with TTR’s new menu: as each item is ready, it’s brought out. No appetizer, entree, dessert structure here.

I thought it was fitting, especially since dining at TTR isn’t exactly like eating a normal meal. There’s something to say about a speedy dish, however—especially with the winter weather.

If you're looking to warm up, I advise one of the cast-iron skillet elections. You can pick from meatballs, goat cheese, and more. I selected the stuffed shells baked with ricotta and spinach in a spicy marinara sauce, served with toasted bread—and in my case, as with the pizza, overly toasted bread.

The Tasting Room's new menu boasts of decadent breads, hot skewers and more: all to be paired with wine and shared with the table.

The shells were filling and delicious, while not being a ground-breaking dish, it held its own. The marinara sauce wasn’t really spicy, but I enjoyed dipping my toast in it nonetheless. Accompanied by a glass of pinot noir from Willakenzie “Estate Cuvee”—a light, yet flavorful wine—it was a successful pair I didn't want to share.

Finally, my friend and I were talked into a Brie cheesecake with a blueberry-red wine sauce. It was crumbly and rich, and the sauce was incredible. I would put that on absolutely everything.

The items on the new menu are so impressively different, I may never again have to rely on the standard—yet delicious—truffle fries TTR is known for. But don’t worry, new menu notwithstanding, they're still available.

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