If you regularly order wine when dining out, what follows may not seem particularly egregious, but each frustrating episode happened to me in the four decades of writing about wine.
At a Beverly Hills café one noontime, four of us were getting lunch. We ordered a bottle of Riesling. The waitress poured about four ounces in each glass.
The next time she appeared, she picked up the dark green bottle, peered at it, decided it was empty, and turned it upside-down into the ice bucket, dumping out nine ounces.
The manager agreed that the act was absurd and gave us credit.
At the Newark, New Jersey, Airport Hilton restaurant, I ordered a glass of the wine “special,” a decent Sonoma cabernet. What arrived wasn’t cabernet, but a poor French Beaujolais.
I told this to my waiter in the tattered tuxedo.
“You ordered the red, didn’t you?” he asked.
What next arrived was a cabernet, but it was terrible — not the “special” on the list. He said the bartender told him they were out of the special. I ended up with a beer.
I can count about 10 times when I knew bait-and-switch tactics like this had occurred, and I have suspicions about another dozen.
Hot wine is a no-go
We were dining at a snooty Italian café in New York’s TriBeCa called Roc one hot August day. The overpriced wine list had a decent Barolo. We ordered it. The bottle that arrived was about 80 degrees. So I asked for an ice bucket.
“Sir,” said the waiter in his most condescending tone, “red wine isn’t served cold.” He said something about room temperature.
I said that European “rooms” were drafty estate dining halls with no central heating. They were cool. This hotbox was not.
He resisted so I asked to speak to the manager, who arrogantly backed the waiter about room temperature reds.
Irritated, I said I’d be happy to pay for “my” wine if it could be served the way I wanted it. The waiter grudgingly brought an ice bucket. (For the record, Roc closed in February 2017.)
At a tony Orange County restaurant with red-flocked wallpaper and gold trim, wine prices were so high we found only one decent value (about $45) and ordered it. Out came with four tiny wine glasses.
One diner, Judy by name, referred to them as “large thimbles,” and asked if we could have larger glasses like those used by the couple across the aisle.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said our waiter, “those are only for wines off the ‘captain’s list.’”
We consumed the wine from the thimbles. Before we left, Judy wrote the waiter a note, saying something like, “Your tip would have been much higher had the glassware been appropriate. Incidentally, we will not be returning.”
A year ago, a sommelier friend said several San Francisco restaurants had paltry crowds on early weeknights. He named a few cafés he knew that were staffing on Mondays and Tuesdays for crowds that ended up so sparse they didn’t need a large crew.
Shortly thereafter, six of us were in the city to celebrate a birthday with a bottle from the celebrant’s birth year, 1975. I called a restaurant my friend had said was having slow Tuesdays.