Aug. 14, 2013 at 3:01 PM ET
Wine sommeliers, move over. There’s a new drink expert in town, and he’s serving up water.
Martin Riese, general manager and certified water sommelier of Ray’s and Stark Bar in Los Angeles, has created a water menu of 20 mineral waters from 10 countries. The water menu, which debuted August 5, is presented to diners just like a wine list or food menu.
Guests can read a thorough description on each bottle, including a detailed account of the taste, the mineral content, and the “TDS”— total dissolved solids — which, Riese says, affects the taste of the water. A low TDS means a smooth, clean drink and high TDS ensures a bitter, salty and often metallic taste.
“This is the next movement in food and beverage,” Riese told TODAY.com about the water menu, which has taken him two years to develop. “It’s the same way there’s been a lot of attention on crafted cocktails and beer — water is the next evolution, the next step.”
Riese hails from Germany, along the Danish border, and says that in his home country, learning about water is an art form (there are 580 brands of mineral water in Germany alone). He has long been passionate about water and received his Water Education certification from the German Mineral Water Association.
“Serving water in this way is not pretentious at all,” he said, addressing critics. “Just go to the Shell gas station up the street … they sell 18 different brands of water! People realize they have a favorite brand. This is just presenting the water in a more formal way, while educating guests.”
The most expensive bottle on the water menu is $20 and made by Canadian brand Berg.
Those skeptical of how well a water menu will do with patrons may want to swallow their doubts. Since launching the water menu, the restaurant has sold out of 10 different brands. “People are really excited about the variety,” Riese said. “I thought they would go with the familiar like Perrier, but they are curious about other brands. Many women are even asking to keep the [water menu], because it has so much information in it.”
But not all patrons are buying into the hype.
"I don't really go for things like this," Ronit Nabi, who was having lunch at Ray's and Stark, told TODAY.com. Because she is five months pregnant, Nabi tried the water service instead of wine, but she said it doesn’t hold a candle to wine tasting: "It's cute and creative, but I can't tell the difference between different brands of water."
In the name of research, I tried several brands of water and was able to taste the difference between some of them after learning about how mineral content and TDS affect the taste of water. The 90H20 brand was remarkably refreshing, as was the French brand Badoit, but I couldn't help but notice I was particularly swayed by the design of each bottle. While the experience is somewhat decadent, by its end it was clear to me that, like wines, waters from various regions can taste different depending on environmental factors.
Could this become a trend? It's too soon to tell. Last year, a water cafe opened in New York City, and there are various books and websites dedicated to pairing water with food. But Ray’s and Stark is the first restaurant to create a specifically dedicated menu, full of such robust information as the source, flavor profile and background of each bottle. Upon request, Riese will also suggest pairings between specific foods and waters.
“Giving people options is what’s important to me,” said Riese, who aims to keep adding more water brands to his wet menu. “So far there has not been one brand that’s been the most popular. People are being adventurous and trying water they’ve never had before. The process is fun for them.”