Photos by Asia Morris.
Wine tasting. It can be a perilous journey. The first minute, you might be laughing with friends, sipping and conversing with clarity, amidst an ambient room full of other wine connoisseurs, or those who think of themselves as such.
The next minute, the sommelier's face may seem a just a little bit blurred and the words of your once-coherent comrades sound more like hiccups and sound bites than fully-formed sentences.
What do you need right now? You need food.
And not an overpriced, unsatisfying, $15 cheese platter of minuscule morsels that only leaves you feeling bitter and broke; not an overpriced spread of wimpy crostinis to leave you feeling teased and displeased. No, you need an actual meal.
So you're forced to wander out of the adorable nook of a wine bar you chose for your Friday night soiree, hobble down the street or scour your blurry smartphone screen for a decent food option. How completely and awfully frustrating (#firstworldproblems, anyone?).
Introducing a solution to your comprehensive wine-tasting needs, Taste wine-beer-kitchen opened just last week and is humbly hoping to blow your expectations out of the water when it comes to supplying some of the best wine, beer and food there is to offer for a satisfying and safe night out, all under one roof.
From the makers of the Belmont Heights neighborhood staple Olives Gourmet Grocer, an 11-year-old delicatessen and labor of love created by two locals, partners Laurie Semon and Erin O'Hagan, Taste is the couple's most recent entrepreneurial endeavor, located right next door to the locally-renowned deli. It's is a completely different concept compared to Olive's and seeks to fill the void between what wine bars lack in food, and what finer dining establishments oftentimes lack in wine.
"A lot of wine bars have great wines, but you go for one or two glasses of wine and then you have to go get food somewhere else," said O' Hagan, who has over 25 years of experience working in the prepared food industry. "And a lot of small restaurants that aren’t like a five-star restaurant, their wine lists aren’t that deep and aren’t that creative and aren’t that unique. So we’re taking the best of both."
"We’re trying to bring something [to Long Beach] that isn’t here," said Semon, whose culinary school and background as chef fuel her ingenuity for food and running a business.
The dynamic duo bought the lease for the space next to Olives over eight years ago and let the idea for Taste marinate into something outstanding. When they realized they weren't finding fulfillment running their second Olive's location on Second Street in Belmont Shore, they closed that location about a year ago and decided it was time to take a chance on their distinct vision for a community-oriented, wine-centric, farm-to-table, sit-down eatery.
"We finally have the perfect team," said Semon. "The wait was so worth where we are."
And while Semon is the culinary visionary behind the menu at Taste and O’Hagan the wine aficionado, the duo decided to hire experts in all categories to ensure that the quality of the libations, fare and service exceed all customers’ expectations.
O’Hagan says the wine menu will contain a few items guests will recognize and several options most won’t, but the staff will be there to help educate the more curious consumer if they’re open to trying new things. And fear not, brew lovers, you’ll be taken care of, too, with several local craft beers on tap to choose from. Alicia Ajolo, a true teacher in every sense of the word and Taste’s sommelier, will also lead wine tasting classes in the very near future.
“We’re open to wherever the journey is taking us,” said O’Hagan. “We don’t know where it’s going, but we’re opening up something that we personally would love to… the way we like to eat is how this place is created.”
And that includes being able to try several different menu items at once, as a “small, shared plate sort of thing,” Semon added.
Included on the very eclectic menu, which knows no boundaries when it comes to nationality, are bountiful farm-to-table options sitting alongside several items that are meant to passed around the table. For starters, the Roasted Heirloom Carrot Platter is a creatively healthy dish with a spicy kick, while the Taste Caprese is a modern take on the traditional Italian salad with the smoky, yet fresh addition of grilled watermelon cubes.
So far, according to the owners, the Vietnamese Pork Meatballs are a hit, while the Ale Battered Maui Onion Rings with Sriracha Remoulade are a distinct, out-of-this-world type appetizer that’ll render you hard-tried not to order a second serving. And the pizza... enough cannot be said about this Mozzarella, Asiago, House-Made Ricotta & Parmesan perfection served fresh from the oven.
House-spun black pepper ice cream, a caramelized onion mustard, homemade fig and currant jams and the to-die-for sriracha remoulade are just a couple facets of the menu that show off Chef Brad Neumann’s innovative style. It’s an international feast to share with friends and family alike.
“The menu has everything on it,” said Semon. “From the Vietnamese Meatballs to tacos to flatbread to mussels. That’s where the fun gets to be had because we’re not locked into anything.”
When you enter Taste, there’s no hostess to direct you toward a table. You put your name on a chalkboard out front, wait until someone calls it, then hope there might be a few seats left at the communal-style dining table in the center of the room. Made of 120-year-old Colorado barn wood, the table says it all. The table says share, eat, drink and be merry.
“I think the hardest part for us was that we wanted it to have a personality,” O’Hagan said. “What's the feel, what is it? Because Olive's has its personality, you know, so what was this personality?”
Semon described the vibe as fun and funky, yet still nice enough where you would want to stay a while and have dinner.
“There's people that have expectations. We're Olives,” O’Hagan continued. “So we had to make sure that whatever is here is equal or above what we've already done. We want to make sure that we’re giving our customers everything they deserve.”