Mountain Bird and Tastings
“The spirit that we bring to the restaurant is what makes us special.” After speaking with Alexandra Morris, founder of Tastings, and then members of her staff for quite some time, there was no doubt in my mind that friendship is what makes both of these businesses flow seamlessly. Tastings, a catering company, and Mountain Bird, the restaurant, operate out of the same space on East 110th Street. The teams have a perfect system for sharing the kitchen, but it is the camaraderie amongst them that truly makes it work. The catering staff spends the daytime hours cooking, and then Chef Kenichi Tajima arrives in the afternoon to begin preparations for the evening’s dinner guests in the 31-seat, French-influenced restaurant.
Despite where they have traveled over the years, when Alex called the crew to start this endeavor, one by one the staff came back to her. “We have a long history together, and there is nowhere else any of us would rather be.” As Chef Cédric Durand of Tastings put it, “I have my family in France, and I have another one here in New York.”
For Franck Clodung, Director of Operations & Catering at Tastings, in the end it is a passion for food, wine, and hospitality that has kept him in the business for so many years. “You have this one person who gives you a powerful connection, and you work hard doing something you love.”
After their original restaurant on 145th Street closed, Chef Kenichi and his wife Keiko decided to partner with Alex and open a pop-up on 110th. “Yes we were just a pop-up, initially,” Chef Kenichi told me, “But then people in the neighborhood kept coming back asking us to stay. And here we still are…We have a unique experience, a real connection,” the couple shared with me about their relationship with Tastings. In discussing the poultry-centric menu at their restaurant, they continued, “Our last name is Tajima, and when we broke it down in English, it came out as Mountain Bird.” The name came first, believe it or not, and then the concept. The chef uses every part of the bird – one of the menu choices is the “Head to Toe Sampler.” And if chicken is not one’s dish of choice, there is always a meat-of-the-day for their repeat customers who would like to try something new occasionally.
While I was speaking with the staff at Mountain Bird, the dinner hour crept up on us. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the warm narrow space, that is a French-inspired mix of Alex’s decorating skills and Keiko’s personal touches, become an intimate setting for dining. As people arrived, they were greeted by name and each guest seemed to be very comfortable in their surroundings. There is no doubt that this has become a neighborhood spot. Although I was visiting in the middle of the winter and the fireplace was lit, I was told that they have a terrace in front that is set up for outdoor dining in the warmer months.
As enthusiastic as everyone was to discuss the restaurant, they were equally thrilled to share some of their stories with me about the catering end of the business. Today, they have quite a following. They do events not only in New York, but all over the country. Laughing, they told me that the catering business took off in 2010 in Florida. “Our clients from the Upper East Side were spending their winters there, and they needed to have us catering parties for them, so we head to Miami whenever someone calls.” From LA to Chicago, to New Jersey, and the Hamptons – they go where they are needed. “We purchase the food, rent a kitchen, and get cooking.” They have created Mexican, Japanese, and French menus – from vegetarian options to seafood to chicken dishes, they try to be sure that their menus cover everyone.
A long time ago this group of friends created a bond that seems to continue to thrive. So beautifully put by Chef Cedric, “I’ve worked in many places in my life – but it doesn’t matter where we are, and where we were, we are all connected.”