“Excellent choice,” the server, who introduced himself as Victor, appeared impressed with my choice of wine.
As someone who is not opposed to picking a wine from the right side of the menu – based on price – I was quite pleased with myself.
My wife and I were at an upscale Thai restaurant attached to the 60 Thompson Hotel (now Sixty Soho) in New York City, celebrating Valentine’s Day. My daughter had picked the spot based on the chef’s reputation.
“It won’t be cheap,” my daughter had warned me. “But, it’s Valentine’s Day.”
Though I am not a big fan of showing affection to loved ones on specific days, I had decided to go along.
The restaurant was dimly lit, with an exotic club feel to it.
Once we were settled in our seats, the server started with the water test, “Would that be sparkling or flat?”
We picked tap water.
My store-bought reading glasses didn’t seem to be much help in reading the glossy wine list and menu. A flashlight app would have helped. Unfortunately, my phone – at that time – didn’t have one.
Picking the wine was harder. The wine list was big.
Big wine lists throw me off; especially when the wines are not listed in an ascending order of price – low to high. Trying to land on a wine that you would like and also fits your budget can be tricky when restaurants don’t stock up on brands and grapes that you recognize.
I must admit that I like my wine. But, I have no illusions about my knowledge of it.
By no means would I consider myself a connoisseur. At best, I may be an oenophile – I know what I like but cannot vouch for its pedigree. Once I get past the more commercialized wines – Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay – I am in unfamiliar territory. I personally believe that a lot of wine drinkers are like me and don’t understand or care about primary, secondary, and tertiary flavours in a wine, as long as they like it.
As a rule, I make some basic assumptions while ordering wine at a restaurant.
I assume that all the wines in the list are good enough to be served at the restaurant. After all, someone hand-picked each one from the thousands of producers and vintages out there. So ego aside, ordering a cheaper wine on the list is acceptable to me.
However, we were on a date night. I was willing to break my “keep it under $50” rule.
After prolonged scouring of the wine list, I picked a Pinot Noir with a name that I could not pronounce. At $72, it was priced substantially below the median price of the wines on the list.
I was ready to taste.
Victor brought the wine to the table and presented it to me with a flourish. I nodded in approval. By that time, I had forgotten the name of the wine that I had picked and only remembered it was a Pinot Noir.
As I went through the whole “nose, legs, body” routine, I wondered how he would react if I said I didn’t like it. I dismissed that thought since I had read that you can only return a bottle if it is “corked,” the official term for wine going bad. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem.
The wine indeed was excellent! The server was right. I mentally patted myself on the back as we proceeded to order our meal.
The food was less complicated.
Creative appetizers followed by gourmet seafood mains were testament to the Chef’s skill and fame. As we moved on to coffee and dessert, I leaned back and savoured the experience. All told, the evening was a success. Clearly good for some brownie points with the wife.
As we discussed our post-dinner plans, Victor brought our cheque.
There appeared to be something wrong.
I had done some mental math as we were ordering. The bill was almost twice the amount of what I had expected it to be. Pulling out my reading glasses I went through the bill line by line. Everything appeared to be in order except for the Pinot Noir with the unpronounceable name which was billed at $240 – over three times the price than what I had seen in the wine list.
Finally, as Victor came by to collect my credit card, I pointed out the error. Apologizing for the confusion, he quickly went back and fetched the wine list and flipped the pages to the offending item. He pointed out the price to me, it was $240! I looked at the bottle which was still at our table; sure enough it was the right Pinot Noir!
Perplexed, I looked at the wine list again. Then, I realized my error. Just below the one that I had ordered was another Pinot Noir – the one I thought I was ordering – listed at $72. Somewhere along the ordering process, we had gotten our wires crossed! When the wine was presented to me, I had not paid attention. I was too cool and nonchalant about it.
A costly mistake!
As we paid and headed out to a nearby bar for a night cap, I wondered if it was completely my fault.
Should Victor have reconfirmed my wine pick with me?
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Disclaimer: The Thai restaurant referred to in this post has since closed.The dollar figures shown in the post are from my memory and may not be exact.