WEGMANS EXPANDS INTO RESTAURANTS WITH TASTINGS

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Wegmans has opened a full-service, 114-seat restaurant adjacent to its flagship store, showcasing freshly made seasonal foods in an elegant atmosphere that capitalizes on the "market next door."Tastings, as the restaurant is called, made a splash when it opened this month. Patrons interviewed on a local radio station raved about the food and the wine, a local observer told SN."On

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Wegmans has opened a full-service, 114-seat restaurant adjacent to its flagship store, showcasing freshly made seasonal foods in an elegant atmosphere that capitalizes on the "market next door."

Tastings, as the restaurant is called, made a splash when it opened this month. Patrons interviewed on a local radio station raved about the food and the wine, a local observer told SN.

"On the radio today, people were ecstatic about it," they said.

With its red brick facade, Tastings blends in with the regular Wegmans supermarket next door. Occupying two floors, with an entrance separate from the store, the restaurant is broken into three areas, including centrally located "chef's tables" where diners sit communally at tables for eight and observe the kitchen staff preparing the dishes. Light and open, the main dining room on the first floor features several large windows, warm brick and wood surfaces. At the bar, the decor mixes granite with copper and brick. Upstairs, there are rooms for banquets, private dinners and meetings, with a capacity to serve groups of 10 to 100. In the future, Wegmans said it plans to use the facilities for custom-cooking events.

Initial hours of operation are from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, but the company said it plans to add lunch and brunch service soon. And while takeout is not available, Wegmans intends to offer food to-go later this year, the company said on its Web site.

Tastings appears to mix old favorites with creative gourmet fare, according to the Web site, which gave viewers a sneak preview of the menu. Gazpacho with grilled bread, chicken quesadilla and goat cheese ravioli with shaved mushrooms and sweet corn were offered as appetizers. To encourage trial, patrons were offered entrees in "tasting portions" -- smaller portions of the regular main dishes, including seared yellow fin tuna, with a tempura maki roll and ginger-sesame dressing and grilled striped bass with heirloom tomato salad and crispy zucchini. Rounding out the menu were old standbys: roasted half chicken with mashed potatoes; and New York strip steak, served with Tuscan fries and house-made steak sauce.

Menu items will be prepared using seasonal ingredients. Many of the desserts will come from the store's acclaimed patisserie. A homemade gelato and chocolate pave was featured on the Web site.

Tastings also offers an extensive assortment of wine and spirits. More than 900 bottles of wine from around the world are stored in two temperature-controlled wall units in the dining room, according to Wegmans. Custom-infused vodkas and mixers made from scratch are available at the bar.

The restaurant also provides valet parking.

Tastings may be the start of a trend for Wegmans. If it is a success, Wegmans may replicate it at some of the company's other superstores, according to a report in a local newspaper.

One industry observer and former Wegmans chef interviewed by SN said he did not see the supermarket connection as a problem.

Wegmans will fill a niche in this affluent community of white-collar professionals who don't have many fine-dining options, the observer said. That, combined with Wegmans' good reputation in the community, will help the restaurant succeed.

"Because it's attached to Wegmans and the comfort level people have with Wegmans [is high], it won't have that stigma," said Jacob Bonar, now principal of Culinary Retail Solutions, a Rochester, N.Y.-based firm. "It has great potential, given the quality of the food products they have [and] the seasonal products. It's very flexible."