TAVERNIER -- The Upper Keys' most prolific restaurant duo have opened their newest creation.
Chef George Patti and business partner and sommelier Tom Smith have reimagined the former Tasters Grille in Tavernier Towne into Tasters Taco Emporium.
"We saw the need to have a nice little taco place," said Smith, explaining that Taco Emporium's less formal vibe is a better fit for its shopping center locale. "People aren't coming in for a dining experience in the plaza, they're coming in for something quick."
Patti and Smith, who also own M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom on Plantation Key, closed Tasters Grille on Oct. 14 after a 4-and-a-half-year run. Its Latin/Asian cuisine, which appealed mostly to gourmands, won't be gone for long, however. The duo plans on opening a similar, but slightly more upscale, restaurant at the former Bentley's building on Upper Matecumbe Key early next year.
Meanwhile, Tasters Taco Emporium got its launch on Oct. 24. Patti and Smith used the brief 10-day down period for a partial retrofit of the space, which sits on the back end of the Tavernier Towne Plaza, next to the post office. Among other cosmetic changes, they exchanged square tables for round ones, built a window counter and replaced the wood bar surface with industrial metal.
"We wanted to make it comfortable in here," Smith said. "The goal was to make it casual, but also to make it a little more hip."
Quick and casual though it may be, Tasters Taco Emporium shouldn't be confused with the standard taco shop, the owners say. Patti said he's putting an emphasis on quality ingredients and careful preparation, just as he does at his other restaurants.
The lamb taco, for example, features pickled red onion, black olives, feta cheese and rosemary aioli -- not your everyday taco fillers. The lamb itself is slow braised for approximately six hours in a red wine, chicken stock, onion and garlic mixture.
Patti also uses slow braising in his pork taco, which is augmented with manchego cheese, cilantro, jalapeno and black beans. The shrimp taco features sautéed shrimp and pineapple-enhanced cabbage kimchee.
Tacos cost from $2.95 to $4.50, with two to three being enough for a standard meal.
True to his sommelier roots, Smith is also maintaining a healthy selection of wine and beer at the reshaped restaurant. Craft beers are available along with a newly added line of standard Mexican favorites like Modelo and Dos Equis. Among the more unique wines are Albarino, a Spanish white, and Priorat, a Spanish red.
Tasters Taco Emporium is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 853-1177.