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A Menu For the People, By the People

The democratic process has never been so delicious. True to its subtitle, Gather: The Food and Wine Experience exposes its menu to experiential development by hosting Tuesday Tastings at 2. The weekly lunchtime event welcomes palates ready to pick up apart a selection of specials slated to appear on the dinner menu. Each chef prepares a plate and presents it for the table to critique, with revisions made in response to tasters’ reviews.

The Tuesday Tastings I attended was a lively mix of folks, from a talented home chef and a seasoned restauranteur to a hospitality student and an ardent vegetarian. Master of ceremonies and Gather co-owner Graeme Swain set a chatty tone for the lunch, inviting comments and questions and supplying info and instructions as needed. The dishes on deck: Rack of Lamb over aromatic white beans laced with fennel and drizzled with a blood orange gastrique by guest chef Cooper; Wild Game Bolognese with housemade pappardelle pasta, ground elk and shaved pecorino by Sous Chef Joel; and Plato de Camarones and Carne – a colorful take on surf n’ turf with a marinated skirt steak, forbidden rice pilaf, jalapeno and mango slaw and grilled shrimp by Executive Chef Richard.

Charged with rating each entrée according to presentation, taste and creativity, we the judges dove into the delectable challenge, spooning our portion of the family-style presentation. Graeme scanned the table for “body movements” as he called them, gestures that signal a homerun. The carne conjured such unconscious physical praise: everyone loved the plating on a long rectangle, the layering of flavors and spice, and the pairing of colors and textures. The lamb, in spite of being perfectly cooked, came up lacking: the table called for more flavor and color – a rosemary rub perhaps?  The bolognese was a hit too: piled atop a plate, the presentation felt fresh for being bowl-less and crostini crowned. There was some debate over a recommendation to add cream; ultimately, the nays seemed to outweigh the yays.

A sparkling wine accompanied our meal, a complement put forth by Gather’s wine reps and also up for critique. As did a new dessert – the first-ever sweet-tooth tasting on a Tuesday. Dessert chef Lauren prepared a lemon rosemary olive oil cake atop grapefruit slices with a dollop of criame freche whipped cream and sprinkled with candied meyer lemon – a subtle, delicate dish that most people liked, though its presentation in a bowl seemed to do it a disservice. A chocolate lover, Graeme had tried the dessert the night before and wanted to expose it to a broader range of tastes. “There’s a method to my madness,” he said. “Nothing about that dessert appealed to me, but I can’t base the menu only off of my palate.”

Gather is the latest iteration in the YOR (Your Own Restaurant) group’s experiential portfolio, joining the existing Nobel Experiment and Neighborhood in San Diego, CA.  In Jackson, YOR set up shop in a former 50s car showroom which had become a revolving door for restaurants (from the 24-hour diner LeeJays to the most recent Garage).  Since opening in December, Gather has seen an 80% uptick in business compared to its predecessor’s stats. “I listen to people,” Graeme said. “We answered a need.”

The Tuesday Tastings, a core component of YOR’s concept, are a teaser of the more involved Chef’s Table, which presents the seven top selling items on the menu paired with wines (an experience that comes with a 10-person minimum and $65/person price tag).

The Tastings happen every Tuesday and cost $15. To make a reservation, visit the Gather website.