Out to dinner with friends and don't want to drink wine? Think the regular ol' tap water they are serving you is déclassé? Still want to feel chic? Then I have the perfect solution for you. In cities across the U.S., a growing number of restaurants are now offering a diverse selection of high quality water from all over the world. Simply ask the waiter for the water menu and you will be able enjoy a refreshing glass of Badoit from France or Berg from Canada. According to water sommeliers, experts who are versed in the nuances of water, the texture and taste of certain brands can complement your meal, just like different wines. You may find this concept strange, but people are actually buying and enjoying this wave of gourmet water.
At Ray's and Stark restaurant in Los Angeles, General Manager Martin Riese is preparing to launch his water menu, which consists of 20 varieties of water from Germany, France, Fiji, Norway, and the U.S. A bottle can sell for anywhere from $8 to $20. Now you would think that no sensible customer would pay $20 for a bottle of water, yet according to Riese, the distinct taste and texture of the varying waters makes a big difference. At his tasting table outside the restaurant, during an interview with the L.A. Times, Riese had a half-filled glass of common tap water from the restroom. "Smell this tap water. It smells like chlorine," he said. "As a restaurant person here in L.A., I can say I would never drink that water. When you have good food, good wine and good spirits, you don't want to contaminate that with this water."
When Riese pours a glass of water, he treats it like one would a glass of wine. Swirling the liquid around, he takes a gentle sip, and savors the flavor. The L.A. Times says he recommends drinking Voss water, from Norway, with salads because of its bitter taste, and Fiji water from, well, Fiji with dessert due to its sweetness. Riese is a certified water sommelier, a certification he obtained after a weeklong course at a German academy. He has worked at numerous Michelin star restaurants around the world. "All waters have unique tastes, and a lot of Americans think water is just water, but I completely don't believe in that," commented Riese. "Water has so many interesting nuances."
In 2010, a water menu, which included water from "ancient" Roman times, was also introduced at the famed Los Angeles restaurant Bazaar, at the SLS hotel. The types of water offered were of "the most microbiologically pure, natural drinking water known to the world."
Last year a small start-up cafe in New York City gained national attention when it began selling 16oz. bottles of NYC tap water for $2.50. The Molecule Water Cafe owners called it "pure H2O." The water has been run through a $25,000 filtration system that cleanses it of all potential pollutants and adds tasteful minerals.
In early 2011, the European Parliament attended its first water-tasting event, titled "Discover the Natural Mineral Waters of Europe." The increased demand in Europe for restaurants to have unique water menus has in turn created a greater demand for water sommeliers like Riese. It will be interesting to see how Americans take to this emerging concept. Though I am very skeptical that people will be compelled to pay such a high price for water, I find it very interesting that different waters could add another dimension to a dining experience. Only time will determine if in fact this new trend will endure.