The Diva's Wine and Dine dinner at Acqua in June left Anna Taylor satisfied on so many levels. The chardonnay. The steak. The hours of camaraderie and networking, and the event's featured charity and entrepreneur – all created a social evening balanced with some civic-mindedness.
Taylor was so impressed that she had friends Jackie Johnson and Joyce Davis accompany her to Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, the place for July's get-together.
"I had to invite my friends because last month's was excellent," said Taylor, a 62-year-old Amherst resident who is retired from National Fuel. "The food, the wines, the charity and the women I connected with – it was a good time."
Diva's Wine and Dine is a regular, all-women dining event, meeting at a different restaurant each month. It started in March, and its five dinners so far have been sold out or near capacity, attracting 30 to 35 women. Three glasses of vino, a three-course meal and dessert are included in Divas Wine and Dine's $45 ticket – even at Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse.
Organized by three African-American women, the wine gatherings are also a hit because they provide a social outlet for black professionals looking to fill a void for nightlife options.
"The response has been amazing," said Nakia Franklin, one of the three "divas" who coordinate the dinners. "Women are excited about getting out and socializing with new people, and it's for a good cause."
College students, professionals and retirees have made their way to the table.
"It's just a way to unwind, and let your hair down," said Tracy Johnson, a 42-year-old higher education professional.
Taylor and her friends were among the 32 women who filled six tables in a private third-floor room at Pearl Street recently.
"It's good food in a pretty venue," said Racquel Johnson, 26, a flight attendant who sat next to her mother, Jackie Johnson, at Taylor's table. "I'm really excited to be here."
"Welcome everyone! Eat, drink and be diva-fied," was the greeting from organizer LaToya Hood, to kick off July's dinner at Pearl Street.
Between courses, a representative from a chosen charity explains its cause, and proceeds from the dinner ticket sales benefit the charity. A female entrepreneur is also selected to attend and may do some vending or offer samples. Daddy and Me and Gerard's Place were July's featured charities, and Jus Fashion was the business. The night also includes giveways, like a 5 0/5 0 raffle, split between a winner and the charities. Before dinner, women mingled among the tables and purused Jus Fashion's spread of jewelry and other accessories.
It was an evening of conversations punctuated with glasses of cabernet, Riesling and chardonnay in between and with complementing courses. Citra Chardonnay, slightly dry with hints of apple and pear, was the pre-dinner wine. Eating commenced with field greens , tomatoes and cucumbers, with creamy balsamic dressing.
For each dinner, there's a choice of three entrees, usually chicken, beef and vegetarian dishes. At Pearl Street, tortellini with sun-dried tomato cream sauce, beer-braised pot roast and breaded chicken marsala with sides of mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables were on the menu. The ladies sipped Canyon Road Cabernet, subtle flavors of oak and berry, with their entrees. Apple crisp with caramel and whipped cream was the last course, and it was accompanied by a sweet and crisp Yellow Tail Riesling.
"Everything is delicious and the wines are perfect with the courses," said Joyce Davis, a retired Buffalo public school teacher, as she tried her chicken entree. "I'm really enjoying the experience."
The "divas" – Hood, Franklin and Genia Collins – are good friends who got the idea for their event after participating in similar charity dinners last year. When those dinners ended, the trio started their own. They had noticed a lack of diversity at the wine-dinner events they had attended and wanted their dinners to be more inclusive. Franklin, who works in the financial field, handles the ticket sales and money, and Hood and Collins pick the restaurants and prices and menu items.
For many participants, Diva's Wine and Dine is an introduction to the city's restaurants. In addition to Acqua, Hyde Park and Pearl Street, the event has been at Eagle House and Prime 490. Of the five, Tanesia Hood, 29, a licensed pratical nurse, had only dined previously at Pearl Street. But she'll most likely return to Hyde Park for the crusted tilapia and the Moscato she had at the March event.
"I feel like I'm getting to know the city better and all it has to offer," she said.
Yanick Jenkins, director of the Educational Opportunity Program at Buffalo State College, was thoroughly impressed with April's Prime 490 – from its service to ambience – and has gone back since the Diva's event. "It's Buffalo's best kept secret," said Jenkins, 47. "It's fine dining at an affordable price."
Regulars, like Jenkins, who haven't missed an event, said they have increased their knowledge of wine.
"I wasn't really a wine drinker," Tanesia Hood said. "But after coming to these dinners, I've learned a lot about wine, and I like some of the red wines."
Tracy Johnson said she has even started to going to wine-tasting events.
"It has sparked my interest in wines, especially the different brands of Rieslings, and knowing what goes with different kinds of meals." She said March's dinner at Hyde Park illustrated a perfect pairing – a chocolate dessert with a port.
Organizers said each event brings new faces, but they plan to keep the number of diners under 35 to maintain an intimate atmosphere. (While they won't budge on the number of guests, after numerous inquiries from men wanting in on the fun, the trio declared June's event "date night.")
"Maybe a couple of times a year we'll do that, because a lot of guys are interested," Franklin said.
The Divas are taking August, off but will return on the third Wednesday of the month in September at Empire Grill and Protocol in October. Tickets are available online at the group's eventbrite.com page.