'Sample' is right!

We spent the weekend up skiing in the mountains. We stayed in a condo in Keystone and it felt like the good old days as the lift lines were short to non-existent, the snow was good and the road traffic was utterly absent. Divine.

We decided to cook one night and eat out one night. For our cooked dinner, I must compliment my husband's culinary skills with meat - perfectly cooked bison burgers with a dripping, melted cheddar on top. That accomplished without the grill promised in the condo description.

Saturday, I booked us in to Samplings, a wine bar and tapas restaurant in Frisco. I had wanted to go there for ages as I'm a total sucker for tapas as well as wine bars. We had peeked in once before and the room looked really neat and the menu delicious so we decided to go.

Three of us were seated promptly at a table near the fireplace (welcome on this chilly night) and we were greeted reasonably quickly by our server, Melissa. We browsed the menu and the wine list and my husband, a total savant at choosing fabulous wines, even from unfamiliar vintners, made his selection. The sommelier (perhaps one of the youngest in this kind of job by the looks of him) gave the obligatory 'good choice, sir' (or some variant) and went off to retreive our wine. He came back with apologies that the wine was out of stock (something he should have known, not to mention that should have been updated on the wine list. The only forgiveness here was that it was the end of the ski season, but still).

Mistake number two - rather than offer a comparable bottle or slightly better for the same price (which any good restaurant or wine bar would do), he merely made a few suggestions for a few similar wines (and a few not so similar) at a similar price point. We tried one that was available by the glass and ultimately selected another altogether. The wine service was adequate, though after the opening, tasting and the first pour, my husband did most of the service - again, something that I wouldn't expect from a wine bar.

We dove into the menu. We started with the Samplings Caesar, the Mixed Olives and Marcona Almonds and the Grilled and Smoked Artisan Sausages. The salad came out in a cute little bowl, and by cute, I mean small. I know what tapas are, I know they are designed to be small, to share. I also know that the prices at Samplings were over the top.

The flavors in the $9 Caesar were wonderful, with a few, small slivers of blood orange, toasted pumpkin seeds and the garlic and black pepper dressing (though a little less of the latter would have been welcome). I would say that for three people, we each got 3 or maybe 4 bites of salad. For $9.

The sausages were divine. The plate was segmented into little divots and there were three different, tiny, diagonal slices of sausage. With three little dollops of different mustards. Total. The taste was wonderful, one sweet, one smoky, one rich. The mustards were as diverse as the sausages. But at $8, I'd expect more than a few slices of sausage. Really - picture a silver dollar. They were that big (though a bit thicker).

The olives and almonds were the hit (and they lasted more than four minutes). Another neat serving piece arrived with three compartments, one filled with kalamata olives, one with pepitas and Marcona almonds and one with picholine olives accented with fennel. All delicious and at a more reasonable portion size (for $8).

So far, not great. The food itself was delicious, the presentation lovely, the waitstaff service excellent, but we were not ever going to get full at this rate. We ordered more. Proscuitto and asparagus ($8) and a grilled olive bread bruschetta ($12).

The asparagus dish arrived first. Five perfectly grilled, thin pieces of asparagus on a light bed of folded proscuitto and shaved Manchego cheese, drizzled with an olive tapenade vinegarette. A perfect marriage of flavors. The proscuitto was salty sweet and paired with a bit of the crumbly cheese and the grilled veg, it was a match made in heaven.

The bruschetta was also terrific. French bread slices topped with a dried chorizo, manchego cheese, pesto, olive tapenade and a few dots of syrupy basalmic. The flavors blended perfectly and made for a complex package of deliciousness. Four slices if you're counting. $3 each.

So for $100, we had a large snack and a nice bottle of wine. We enjoyed ourselves, but I have to say that I've been to a myriad of tapas restaurants in Denver as well as in larger cities like Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. Across the board, they were less expensive, much better value, and had more diversity in their ingredients (we had a lot of dishes with the same cheese, olives, sausages, pumpkin seeds, etc at Samplings).

The food at Samplings was great. Our server Melissa was great. The room was beautifully designed and had great ambience. The wine that we eventually chose was great. The portions were skeletal relative to the prices. The dishes could do with a bit more diversity of ingredients. The sommelier was not as experienced as I would expect. The wine service was underwhelming. I know there is a market for this restaurant in Summit County. Samplings is promising, I just think they can be better.

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