In the Mood for Love

V. Mertz has been among Omaha's most romantic restaurants for generations of lovers -- and lovers of great food and wine.

Opened in 1977, the restaurant was one of the first dedicated wine bars in the country. Its very existence is a love letter: Mark Mercer, whose family has been a driving force behind the success of Omaha's Old Market, created it in the then-new Passageway for his European-born wife Vera Mertz Mercer. It's changed hands over the years, but it has never lost its continental heart.

It feels like everyone who's lived in Omaha long enough has a V. Mertz story (spoiler alert: they usually end in a ring), but my enchantment with the restaurant is a relatively new thing. I wrote about its head chef Jacob Newton last summer when he cooked for a Dandelion pop-up, and he could not have been more generous with his time, or more engaging. I loved what he had to say about his idea of quintessential Nebraska street food -- the sandwiches he grew up eating at his childhood home in Papillion -- and his gourmet (but still very recognizable) take on it.

Over the next few months, V. Mertz (like love) was all around. My friend Dana, at Omaha Done Well, is a regular, and I started fan-girling all of her Instagram posts about the place. I finally got my chance to eat there during the holiday season and, as expected, fell immediately, and irreversibly, head over heels.

Radish-culously good.

Radish-culously good.

And, unlike some of the love affairs of my youth, I didn't even have to wait long for a second date. Last week, V. Mertz invited the Omaha Done Well Influencers to a dinner in honor of their partnership with Together a Greater Good (TAGG). Because V. Mertz is on the TAGG app, every time I eat there I can upload my receipt and V. Mertz will donate five percent of my bill to the local nonprofit of my choice. (Since V. Mertz is pretty extra, I like to designate Donate Life Nebraska in memory of a loved one when I dine there, but there are more than 700-and-counting causes from which to choose.)

Over the course of our three-hour feast, Chef Newton walked us through the sublime tasting menu, while manager Matthew Brown, the only person in Nebraska to hold the advanced sommelier certification, guided us through wines, including a 2014 Tramin Gewurztraminer Nussbaumer that was a revelation in its complexity.

I think every chef in the kitchen, and every server (all certified sommeliers) in the dining room, who was there that night came over to meet us. I was really struck by how each and every one of them wore the pride and joy that they take in their work on their chef's whites sleeve -- or som tie. They are a young team, full of rising stars, and the thoughtfulness and care that they show in crafting extraordinary, unforgettable meals will be a gift to Omaha, and wherever else in the world they choose to work, for many years to come.

What we ate...

Roasted chestnut amuse-bouche
Plum Creek Farms chicken liver and wing
Cape Code lobster cocktail

Champignon mushroom, cornichon, ginger, toasted pecan, cured egg

House-made kimchi, smoked Carolina gold rice, hot and sour broth, foie gras
Tamale and black truffle

Braised pork raviolo, butternut squash, steamed mussels, coconut

Spiced egg nog with pumpkin cannoli

Chocolate tartlet, tahini, caramel pudding, mango purée