Saturday, December 01, 2007

"A wise leader remembers that everyone views service in their own terms..."--unknown

When I was in New York gorging and drunkening myself last year, I noticed an odd trend during my occasional moments of lucidity. The bottles of wine, and there were very many of them, were almost never left at or near the table while we were dining. No matter whether brunch, lunch, or dinner and no matter whether a casual temple to food and wine or a NY Times four-star juggernaut--the bottles of wine I ordered were generally handled and kept out of sight.

It would never occur to me to not leave the bottle[s] where the guests could constantly see them. It would also never occur to me to open, pour, or decant wines away from the table. However, time after time these very actions were taken well away from my inebriated yet still attentive presence.

There have certainly been times when I have had a cork decompose, or have encountered one of those ridiculous clumps of wax wrapped around the top of a bottle [to supposedly denote quality] and have had to explain the problem I was faced with before excusing myself with the bottle so as to avoid making a mess at the table. But over and over again, I watched perfectly sound bottles whisked away from me after the initial presentation like brides before their ceremonies.

I am no expert. I am not Paul Roberts from Thomas Keller's restaurants or Larry Stone from Rubicon [first the restaurant, now the winery]. I can't out-taste Roger Dagorn or out-suggest Daniel Johnnes. I am, however, competent enough to open, serve, and even decant a wine if needed in front of my guests and without the need of a dedicated staging ground or conveyance of any kind.

I do not expect that any foul play occurred with any of the wines I ordered--I'm sure they were well-cared for and that we received all the wine from each bottle. The servers and wine professionals were adroit and courteous. I just don't understand, personally, why the bottles had to be kept sequestered.

These memories came rushing back to me tonight in the middle of a very challenging Saturday when one of our guests very courteously requested that, "the wine remain on our table". As soon as the gentleman made his request I informed him that such close placement was our policy. Later in the meal, once we had established a rapport, I asked him why he had made such a request. He then told me about staying in a very expensive, very luxurious hotel in Washington DC just a few days before and having his very expensive bottle of DRC burgundy whisked away to behind a Asian-style screen where it was badly decanted and where it remained throughout the meal--he remarked that his guests had no idea they were drinking La Tache until one of the men went to the bathroom and passed the empty bottle on his way. Upon his return the guest remarked as to the great fortune of whoever was lucky enough to be drinking the grand cru burgundy, forcing the host to let the guest know that his cloudy, particulate-filled glass of wine was the very same La Tache.

The best restaurants in New York [and other urban centers, I imagine] can get away with many things I would like to emulate but could never pull off. I would like to serve whites from storage at cellar temp and then politley ask if the guests would like "a bit more chill". I would like to have an inventory so vast that I could serve only mature wines, without apology to those who "don't like smelly old wine". I would covet the chance to refuse to chill champagne glasses and jump at the opportunity to match wines to a nine-course tasting menu. Unfortunately, it ain't gonna happen for me unless I relocate. What I am not dying to do however is kidnap every bottle that deserves a crystal upgrade and hold them hostage till the are empty and useless--if you love your wine, set it free and let me drink it--let me watch it disappear before my very eyes and don't go too far with that list, I might need to make another choice.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Will said...

I'm with you, LOH. Haven't seen that one yet.

I have no issue with a bottle being removed after being decanted at the table, but if anyone tries to remove a still-in-use bottle or decanter from my table, they are going to be politely but clearly asked to cease and decist.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Food Service Ninja said...

i have to say that trend hasnt hit the Metroplex to my knowledge

4:06 AM  

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