Tradition, like many fine wines, does not evolve on the clock. It takes its own time. At The Riverhead Project, Dennis McDermott’s sleek and chic restaurant situated at the first steps of the East End, the time is now. Or, more precisely, every Tuesday, when at 7 p.m. at a long table by a window, just beyond a glass-enclosed fireplace framing The Riverhead Project’s lounge area, The Wine Project commences.
A dozen or so people pull up chairs at the communal table. They may be friends, or they may only have met when they took their seats for the multicourse wine-centric meal—served family style regardless of familial relations. “A lot of people who come regularly know each other, but for people who are complete newbies, it’s welcoming, too,” says TRP marketing director Charmaine Strange. “The maximum we have is 14 people—we never want to go above that because it loses its intimacy.”
But by the time the wine pouring begins, an act that will be repeated throughout the appetizers, main course and dessert, McDermott’s idea of creating an informal, interactive community event at the restaurant—one that will take place every week, 52 weeks a year—is realizing itself.
The intimacy of the evening is underscored by the element of surprise inherent in not having a menu to order from. The Riverhead Project has a regular menu, yes, but not so The Wine Project. “The food is developed by our chef, Greg, sort of as a test kitchen, in a sense,” Strange says. “He uses this to try out new things, and he thinks of them on the fly that afternoon, or it he sees something cool, a product he wants to use, he engineers it for the wine dinner. So the food is sometimes not found on our menu.”
That goes for the vino as well, with a new offering practically every week of The Wine Project. “I never really know what wine is being poured,” Strange says happily. “And that’s sort of half the fun, too, to see how these wines pair up with food.”
A wine dinner at which the wine itself is a surprise guest is a novelty, but a sense of adventure and discovery is the soul of this experience. “It’s not about points or nose or what [Robert] Parker said or an attitude,” Strange says. “It’s do I like this wine or not? Am I going to have a fun time? Wine is supposed to be really, really simple—it’s either delicious or it’s not. And that’s what we like to do. People get to try things they’ve never ever tried, and may not see again, so it’s very ephemeral.
“I think those are always the best gatherings, something that you just can’t really replicate. You can leave the conditions there, but every week it’s something new and exciting. That’s The Wine Project.”
For more information on The Wine Project and The Riverhead Project, visit The Riverhead Project at 300 East Main Street (631-284-9300) or at theriverheadproject.com.