October 22, 2012
Taste Restaurant invited to cook at James Beard House in NY

The highly praised Taste Restaurant in Plymouth recently received some news that floored nearly everyone on the staff: It has been invited to cook a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City.

This is a tremendous honor for the restaurant and it will surely bring more much-deserved attention to the restaurant. It's also great for the Sacramento region's culinary scene to have one of its best restaurants showcasing its food and wine in the Big Apple.

I recently chatted with Tracey Berkner, who co-owns Taste with husband Mark, about how she got the news.

"We got a phone call. A woman identifying herself from the James Beard Foundation said she was looking for Mark. I said, 'I'm his wife. Maybe you can talk to me.' She wanted to make sure I understood what the James Beard House was and, of course, anybody in this industry is familiar with it. She said one of the James Beard Foundation members had dined here frequently and recommended us.

"My heart was going to beat out of my chest. The James Beard Foundation is like the Oscars of the food world. It's one of the most coveted recognitions in this industry."

The Beard House is a beautiful setting for a dinner, nestled on a cozy residential street in the heart of Greenwich Village. Lynn and I have eaten there twice and found both experiences to be amazing, from the food to the ambience to the company of the other diners, many of whom are Beard Foundation members. The evening begins the moment you walk in the front door of the large townhouse. On your way out to the back patio, you pass by the open kitchen, where the restaurant chefs are busily preparing dinner. While they do that, guests have it easy - appetizers and Champagne on the patio served by roaming waiters.

After a good bit of mingling, dinner is served upstairs in an intimate library-like setting. Someone from the Foundation hosts the evening, then a restaurant representative, usually the chef, introduces the food and talks about wine pairings.

The famous "mushroom cigars"

Berkner says Taste will follow a traditional format for such dinners: three to four appetizers followed by five dinner courses paired with wines, along with a dessert and an additional wine pairing. It's too soon for specifics, she said. The menu must be submitted by early December for the April 30 event. I can still recall the seared duck breast topped with foie gras (now a no-no in California but perfectly legal in New York), and the mushroom cigars (three kinds of mushrooms wrapped in phyllo dough with goat cheese).

"Everybody's faces have been beaming," Berkner said of Taste staffers since the news hit. "They're all so proud. At this dinner, we want to show who we are - we're regular, everyday people who really love food. We want to show what the season has to offer, show our creativity and our passion for what we do."

Prestige like this doesn't come cheap. Taste will have to provide transportation to New York, buy the food and wine for the evening, and find lodging in very pricy Manhattan. Who knows how much all that will cost? $15,000? $20,000?

Along with the Berkners, Taste's chef, James Ablett, will make the trip. So will Micah Malcolm, the sous chef from their other, more casual restaurant, Volcano Union Inn and Pub. The James Beard Foundation provides the wait staff, a kitchen crew, dish crew and a maitre d'.

"We've already started saving," Berkner said with a laugh. "We're hoping we can save quickly enough, but we really feel this is a great investment for the future of our community and for the people who work for us. It's an invitation you can't refuse."

If you're curious about a restaurant operating at this very high level in a tiny town in Amador County, be sure to visit soon. Taste is at 9402 Main St., Plymouth. For reservations, (209) 245-3463. For more information, visit

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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