Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tastings Journal

A few months ago, one of our friends tipped us off to the Tastings Journal. The Tastings Journal isn't really a journal at all but claims to be "Washington DC's Premier Prix-Fixe Dining Society." The concept is simple: a fixed price menu (usually $40 to $50) at a different D.C. restaurant every month. The menu is 4 to 5 courses and includes a glass of wine.

You sign up for their email list or Facebook group and they send you an email every month to let you know what the featured restaurant is. You can make your reservation by phone or on Open Table, but you don't get any Open Table points for these reservations.

We've tried the Tastings Journal menu at two different restaurants (Mio - review here and Odeon - review here) and weren't blown away. We might just be getting off to a slow start, so I think we'll hang in there and try it again. I like that the Tastings Journal takes care of setting the menu and finding a new restaurant every month. It's a way for us to try new places that we might not otherwise think about.

The drawback for me is the lack of two-way communication. If this is a dining "society," shouldn't there be a forum to discuss the restaurant experience? The Facebook group doesn't seem to allow wall posts (or at least I didn't see any) and there is no forum on the Tastings Journal website. I think it would be a nice addition to let people exchange ideas and thoughts on the restaurants or the DC dining scene in general. As it is, it doesn't feel much like a society at all.
To their credit, I did use the feedback form on the website and received a response very quickly. I explained that we were not impressed with Odeon, and the Tastings Journal guy (who, by the way, has the longest name ever: James Augustus Seymour Gregg Van Wynen) emailed me back and said that he was going to share our blog post with Odeon's owner. I appreciated the quick reply.

So, while I'm not sure I get the "journal" part of Tastings Journal, I look forward to seeing where it takes us next.

Second Thoughts From B

We're all about exploring new restaurants and we both love a deal, so it seems that the Tastings Journal is right up our alley. But as J mentioned, the destinations have been less than impressive. Personally, I think this is a result of short-sighted management. Any restaurant owner who signs on to a deal like this must see the immediate benefit of the inevitable influx of new business. However, it concerns me that in both of our experiences, it has been painfully obvious that we are not seeing the best that these businesses have to offer. Whether it is perplexingly odd service or sloppily prepared dishes, there has been no observable effort demonstrated to make us want to be return customers. Instead, I feel like they know we'll be paying our $45 and will cut any corners necessary to just make it through our visit.

I'm sure that whenever the arrangements are made that restaurants fall all over themselves to impress. Case in point, look at the Tasting Journal website's photos from Odeon and compare them to the ones we took. Even putting aside the studio lighting, the dishes are completely unrecognizable.

Looking past the fact that we're not getting these restaurants' best efforts, I'm still not convinced that J and I would be getting our $45 worth. Neither of us are big drinkers, and it is not uncommon for us to enjoy fine dining without wine (they are rather short pours too...). Also, we seldom both get an appetizer and both get a dessert, preferring instead to share one of each.

Basically, the Tastings Journal looks great for us on paper but it has yet to fulfill its potential. I'm cheering for it to come through on our next experience but as our esteemed former President once said,
"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

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