A recent article in The New York Times reported on an emerging trend that I support: Some high-end restaurants are discontinuing the practice of asking customers to taste wine and approve of the selection.
Instead, the article said, these restaurants are relying on the sommelier (French for “grape guru”) to do the sampling for you.
As the article noted:
“Wine is intimidating enough without saddling it with pointless rigmarole. Of all the anxiety-producing moments faced by consumers who simply want to drink some wine, the age-old restaurant ritual of tasting a bottle before it is served may be the most awkward. The purpose is not always clear, yet the pressure is high. Even for those well schooled in the formalities of restaurant wine service, performance anxiety may set in.”
I applaud this shift because “tasting a bottle” sounds like you are licking the glass container and “performance anxiety” is not something any guy wants to hear.
But mostly I support this because my experiences with high-end fine dining, while limited, have not gone very well.
Two memorable ones: I was about 18 and treated my then-girlfriend to a fancy restaurant in Manhattan. When it came time to order wine, the sommelier poured a thimbleful in my glass and stood off to the side and waited.
My reactions were twofold: First, geez, could you spare it? And two, you can go away now.
Instead, my girlfriend hissed at me that I was supposed to taste and approve of the wine.
Oh right! I got it!
So I sipped it, swished it like mouth wash and maybe even gargled before I pronounced it to be “fine” and, by the way, could I just get a glass of Coke instead anyway?
A few years later, I was invited by my boss to a Park Avenue restaurant for lunch along with several co-workers.
The menu was largely indecipherable to me, but I could make out what looked like soup so I told the waiter I would have beef “consume.” Without missing a beat, he scribbled on his pad and said (correctly): “Beef consommé? Very good, sir.”
I take solace though in knowing that I am not alone in these fine-dining disasters.
When my wife was a college freshman in Manhattan, she had a boyfriend who took her to an elegant Japanese restaurant.
She had not seen, let alone used, chopsticks before but that was not going to stop her. She decided to have a go at a pile of rice shaped into a ball. She poked at it with her chopsticks. It resisted her subtle moves, so she redoubled her efforts.
The ball rolled out of its shallow bowl, across the table, onto the floor and continued until it nearly reached the stocking foot of a diner. The maître d’ wordlessly swooped in with a napkin, scooped up the renegade rice ball mid-roll and the diner was none the wiser.
Another time, Meg was on a first date with a guy who got tripped up on the spelling of Welsh rarebit (rabbit). Thinking he was more advanced and sophisticated than his years, he ordered it.
When the somewhat soupy, pale glop arrived in a bowl, he poked at it with a fork, lifted up the slice of bread in the center, called the waiter over with an imperious forefinger and asked: “Where’s the rabbit?”
Welsh rabbit is a concoction of melted cheese and other ingredients and served with toast.
There was no rabbit harmed in the making of that dinner.
The only thing hurt might have been his ego.