No Passport Required: A Foreign Taste Serves Wine, Food, and World Culture.Apr 26, 2023 03:01PM ● By Chase Murphy
A Foreign Taste is a story of connection, passion, family, and experience. This new fine dining establishment is the antithesis to the lockdown, and proved that by opening with their half-capacity soft launch in June 2020. COVID was arguably the most damaging, business-wise, to small, family-owned establishments as well as restaurants. A Foreign Taste checks both these classifiers, yet their food, service, wine, and expertise sustained them through the soft-opening, and they’ve been charming patrons since, following a steady and continuous uphill trajectory.
Owner JT Agenor has taken himself and his daughter, Noelle Agenor, on an annual vacation for over 10 years. These trips generally consisted of picking a new country and spending two or three weeks immersing themselves in the culture. Experiences such as this change an individual in ways that are not always readily apparent. For JT, conversation and time spent shared with new, fascinating people over dinner and a glass of wine were the core moments that led to the opening of A Foreign Taste.
lowly, these annual vacations became more about traveling for wine rather than travel for a vacation,” Agenor reflected. “France, then South Africa, then Australia,” all to experience different wine, he added.
The three aforementioned locations were visited by JT in 2015, 2018, and 2019, respectively. He discovered the final spark of inspiration while in Australia in a tasting room, humbly set toward the back of his hotel’s lobby. JT observed the decorum and ambiance; a long wooden table accommodating 20 chairs, spacious yet intimate, inviting and hinting at an elevated wine experience.
“I wanted to mimic that tasting room. I wanted to bring that experience back to Omaha and share it with everyone,” JT stated. “I remember texting Noelle. I said, ‘I think we should do this.’”
That thought caught fire, and burst into passion. JT returned from Australia in May of 2019, and the doors to A Foreign Taste opened a mere 13 months later. He envisioned a distinctive tasting experience relative to Omaha, and Nebraska as a whole. JT was going to open a tasting room consisting only of foreign wines. His vision was to not only recreate the inspired setting he found in Australia, but to also incorporate all of the wonder, love, and connection he and his daughter experienced during their travels.
His motivation to bring a unique and elevated experience to the metro was tested, but he never faltered. Noelle continuously assisted in the search for the right location to set up shop. JT’s visioned required a small and intimate space, which at the time was rare, if not absent in West Omaha. Several months went by with JT and Noelle touring, researching, and analyzing prospective locations, but none could quite reflect the precise image JT had painted in his mind.
That was until Noelle discovered a promising spot and shared it her father. However, this time, the communication came attached with the idea of not just serving delicate appetizers, but serving full meals to accompany the wine. After all, meal pairings were central to JT’s expertise and certifications regarding fine wines.
“After finding this location, the idea I had for a tasting room almost instantly morphed into a full-blown restaurant,” JT said with a chuckle.
“The idea was still there originally,” Noelle added, in reference to small plates accompanying your typical wine tasting. “It just was not what we have now, not in this capacity. This takes the skill and help of a full kitchen staff.”
Cutting the ribbon in West Omaha was a carefully considered move, as there’s only one other authentic European bistro fine dining restaurant in the area. Typically, Omahans need to venture downtown for such cosmopolitan fare. JT intended for this specific dining experience to be more accessible for the ever-expanding community west of 90th Street.
“When a person goes to V. Mertz, Le Bouillon, or here, they are going to experience many of the same things. The plating, the presentation, the service, and even the dishes which are offered are all going to share some commonalties,” JT explained.
A Foreign Taste distinguishes itself, not only by its location, but with its concepts as well. The bistro offers selected dishes from various continents, regions, and countries specifically for their flavor profiles, authenticity, and most importantly, to match wine profiles. A Foreign Taste takes its patrons on a journey, a vacation, to several areas of the planet, and that destination is up to the customer.
“We’re trying to de-merge all our different travel experiences. Whether South Africa, Spain, Italy, Australia, the goal was to mirror those regions and bring them together,” JT said. “We’re importing the wine from those regions. It just makes sense to bring the food as well.”
The most defining and popular offering at A Foreign Taste is the master-crafted chef’s tasting menu. The menu exemplifies the founding principles of the restaurant, rocketing the patron to a different location with each subsequent dish—a six-course meal spanning the globe. Diners can choose between the regular or the reserve wine list, and are presented with an explanation for the pairing alongside its regional and cultural history.
“There are interactive portions with the meal and fresh bread served throughout. We say it is a six-course meal, but generally it ends up being around eight or nine dishes,” Noelle said. “We present the food and then let you enjoy it. We understand that not everyone is going to like every single dish, and we are ok with that reality. This truly is an eating experience. You’re going to talk about them with the group and sit and discuss the ideas and what you personally feel and think with each course.”
Executive Chef Gabriel Bowser works closely with JT on the chef’s tasting menu, which rotates every month and mirrors the flavors of each season. Together, they examine every detail of a new menu to make sure each dish and glass of wine are in perfect harmony. This attention to detail is another element which sets A Foreign Taste apart; their ingredients are all locally sourced, and every dish is made from scratch with a fine-tuned dining experience in mind. A Foreign Taste even churns their own butter and serves it alongside warm, artisan bread fresh from the oven.
Chef Bowser has been in the food industry since he was 16 years old. He matches JT’s passion and enthusiasm for wine and food. His drive and expertise are best summed up by the following accolades: he began his cooking career with fast food during high school; he studied under the tutelage of Clayton Chapman, a five-time James Beard nominee and chef at a three-star Michelin restaurant; and he is now the executive chef of a premiere fine dining restaurant, A Foreign Taste.
The final gift the restaurant brings to customers is a lack of urgency. Dinner at a restaurant is an event in Europe—something to be shared and enjoyed with friends, family, and loved ones. A Foreign Taste brings this aspect of other cultures to their tables as well.
“We have no interest in flipping tables,” JT declared. “We want you to enjoy your evening with us. We never rush our customers out the door nor do we make them feel rushed. We intentionally leave you be to enjoy your meal, your drink, and your company.”
These philosophies of food, wine, and community permeate the establishment. A Foreign Taste has collected elements of dining culture from all around the globe, and consolidated them under one roof in West Omaha. For those who’ve traveled to Italy, France, Spain, South Africa, or Australia, and several other countries besides, they can visit them again—or for the first time, at A Foreign Taste.
Visit aforeigntaste.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.