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porcupine
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I'm going to feel a bit embarassed asking this, but hopefully you all can teach me somthing.

I have rarely ever orderd wine in a restaurant, because my husband doesn't drink and I can't finish a bottle by myself. But in the past few years I've noticed more restaurants offering wine flights, or expanded selections by the glass, so I've started ordering.

A few months back I asked the sommelier at Maestro to put together a flight for my five course meal. He was wonderful, even pointing out that one dish wouldn't pair well with any wine, and the selections were amazing - truly complementing the food in a way I've only ever read about.

A month later we were at another fine DC area dining establishment (and in the same price range as Maestro), and as we were ordering several courses, and as the menu said something about wine pairings, I asked to see the sommelier.

I was a bit put off when the waiter returned about one minute later and said he'd take care of it. But okay, I'm new at this. I'll play. But he clearly was at a loss, umming and hedging alot. The first wine, nice as an apperitif, tasted...odd... with its food pairing. The next wine was serviceable, a reasonable complement to the dish, but not particularly outstanding. I made no complaints and gave the waiter a good tip, as he did a fine job otherwise. But I was disappointed.

So what's the verdict of you experienced diners/drinkers? Should I have said something, like insisting on seeing the sommelier? Or is a customer ordering two or three glasses just not important enough?

Scenario number 3: another month, another highly-regarded and very expensive restaurant, another menu touting wine pairings, specifically mentioning a three wine flight tailored to the three courses you choose. This time the sommelier did come by, but it was more than 20 minutes after ordering and asking for him, and by that time the first course had arrived, and I'd eaten it, because I didn't want it to get cold. I did politely point out that I meant to get the three-flight pairing, but the opportunity was gone. The sommelier offered "a pinot" to go with the next two courses.

Now, I don't know much about wine, but I did stare blankly as I thought "would that be noir, gris, or blanc?" Because the two dishes remaining could have been paired with either red or white. But after a few seconds he said "um, pinot noir, that is".

This one large glass didn't really work well for either of the two courses, though it was fine by itself.

Again, I said nothing, wondering if my ignorance of this game was the problem.

Is it? Do I need to learn how to play, or is this par for the course? Was my experience at Maestro an anomaly? Or is a sommelier's services reserved for those who order expensive bottles?

Trying not to be an ignoramus (and please don't give me a drubbing),

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Maestro=expectations

Other restaurants mentioned=poor customer service, and false advertising. If they say a tasting flight, thats what you should get.

From my perspective, a sommelier is one who knows his inventory like the back of his/her hand, just like the chef knows excatly what is in the walk-ins.

Wine restaurants are places where people should feel compelled to shower customers with wine suggestions, not sprinkle.

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From my perspective, a sommelier is one who knows his inventory like the back of his/her hand, just like the chef knows excatly what is in the walk-ins.

Elizabeth,

You are not the ignoramus here. I've had similar experiences myself. I think Rabbi1969's comments are right on.

I've been to Maestro a few times, and watching Vincent Feraud work is just as amazing and entertaining as watching the kitchen. He reaches unerringly for each bottle in his glass-fronted cellar, never hesitating. I think he could find each bottle with his eyes closed! Some of Chef Fabio's dishes do present a challenge to him (see my description of our recent dinner here), but his pairings are amazing and sometimes unexpected, and always a brilliant complement to the food. He is also very patient about informing patrons about his selections, showing labels, and helping with spelling if one wants to keep notes. :lol:

As has been pointed out on the criticism thread, when we go to a restaurant of this magnitude, paying prices like that, we do have higher expectations, and rightly so, I think. I've been to a handful of other restaurants in that category, once each. At one, the wine pairings were very disappointing--the wines were good, and the food was good, but not together. I am inclined to think that the Sommelier was not behind those selections that night. At other similar restaurants with fixed tasting menus, the wine pairings were planned ahead of time, and were good matches. However, nowhere have I been treated with quite the respect that patrons get from Vincent. I have usually felt that I was not expected to understand what the wine was. In the restaurant with the disappointing pairings, the person pouring the wines talked down to me about what they were, assuming I couldn't possibly know what and where Madeira is (I've been there, thank you). In others, names were rattled off without a pause, as if they wouldn't matter or mean anything to me. At one they were printed on the souvenir menu, which I much appreciated.

I don't see a problem with your expectations. I think the questions you raise are valid ones. In this case, I don't know how to raise this problem for resolution as it happens, but I hope some of the other participants here will have suggestions.

From reading the threads on this wonderful site, I now have a list of restaurants I've not yet enjoyed where I am certain to have wonderful wine service, and at least one of the above-mentioned that I'm going to give a second try.

ScotteeM

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Again, I said nothing, wondering if my ignorance of this game was the problem.

Is it?  Do I need to learn how to play, or is this par for the course?  Was my experience at Maestro an anomaly?  Or is a sommelier's services reserved for those who order expensive bottles?

Trying not to be an ignoramus (and please don't give me a drubbing),

A sommelier's service is reserved for those who want help ordering wine, period!

Picking and choosing who should be helped and who shouldn't is most certainly not in the spirit of hospitality.

Just my two cents!

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Again, I said nothing, wondering if my ignorance of this game was the problem.

Is it?  Do I need to learn how to play, or is this par for the course?  Was my experience at Maestro an anomaly?  Or is a sommelier's services reserved for those who order expensive bottles?

It always amazes me that what a customer wants to spend is a measure of their need and/or desire for help. I have been to restauants in DC where I was snubbed for picking out one of the cheapest white wines on the list. I noted that it was from a favirote producer, that only a few cases of this wine were imported to the country, that I had only had the wine at a certain restauarnt in Venice Italy etc etc etc. Instead of being complemented by my choice and my obvious enthusiasm for the wine, I was treated like shit for the meal. Of course the table next to me, ordering bottle after bottle of Robert Mondavi Reserve this or that, a corporate made piece of crap bottle if ever there was one, was fawned over like thay knew what they were doing. Too bad! I will never spend my own money in this place ever again.

If I can take a customer used to drinking the swill that passes for wine in most restaurants (like the Nicolas Pinot Noir bought for about $5.00 a bottle and sold for $7.00 a glass) and turn them on to a Castel Romitorio Morellino di Scansano for about the same price, and I see their eyes light up at how good it is, that is more rewarding than selling another bottle of high priced wine to someone jaded. Yet if I do get a high roller who I can turn on to something they have never had before, then my night is really made. Its just a drink to have with dinner and its just a part of the meal. Everyone who comes into my restaurant deserves our best effort wether it comes to food or to wine or anything else. If I dissapoint them, 9 times out of 10 I have not done my job as best as I could.

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This is a really good discussion. I'm glad you brought it up, Porcupine, and I surely don't think you're going to get any drubbing nor should you feel embarrassed.

I think I'm above the average vino knowledge factor when compared to the American general public, with basic understanding of things such how wine is made, to terroir to tasting basics such as body, sweetness and acidity. When it comes to pairing with food, however, it's like handing me a blunderbuss and asking me to shoot the apple off someone's head. 51% of the American general public is probably worse at it than me, and I can make some educated guesses, but I'm really pretty uncomfortable making a call on a wine with a meal, particularly at a restaurant where I'm picking it for a handful of people eating lots of different things.

The good news is, I'm ballsy enough to do it and you can't win of you don't play, so I learn more all the time. Nevertheless, I rely heavily on the house's opinion and suggestions where/whenever I can.

I don't find myself frequently at restaurants with a dedicated, professional sommelier. When I have, I have never hesitated to turn to them, ask the most basic of questions, nor have I had a problem saying "I would appreciate a choice around $40 or so" or "I'd prefer the best suggestion you could make of your least expensive bottles." (This may not work for every one in every situation, but I try not to hang around with people who are going to judge me for the price of the bottle of wine I buy!)

The question I'd like to throw out to the group, particularly those in the industry, is: In a restaurant without a professional sommelier, am I insulting my server when I look to get wine advice/suggestions/service from the manager? I'd expect servers in restaurants with sommeliers to be understanding about that, but elsewhere?

Example: At Firefly, I trust Derek completely when it comes to wine service. This has come from dozens of meals where he's helped me out. I trust his knowledge and his suggestions. But I feel bad every time I "skip over" the server's offer for help in order to speak with Derek about it. I don't want to be dismissive of the server and his/her knowledge, but I also don't want to have to explain every time that it's not that I don't trust them, but rather I have this existing "relationship" with Derek.

How understanding are servers about this? While I'm sure there are many who will just push a sale somewhere, there are probably many more who take pride in their own knowledge and might be insulted that I want to turn elsewhere for advice.

And, to be honest (porcupine, deangold), I wouldn't mind if you named names on the restaurants you are referring to. The points you raise about the wine service in these restaurants is exactly the kind of information I rely upon donrockwell.com for to help steer me through the dining minefield!

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I agree with Paul on this issue of naming names. One of the reasons I wanted to drop from this forum on many occasions ,was in due because it seemed as if when it was time for someones turn in the barrel, it always or at least 99% of the time came at a restaurant that we already knew was in the second and third tier level.

some of us are in the business, others are close to it, so to be told of a criticism big or small is at least being relayed by someone we trust and know. Not some nuyt job looking to fluff their feathers or to act big in a small way by hiding behind the curtain AKA Wizard of Oz-style. Restaurants need to hear the criticism, read it, and correct it. Without knowing, they may continue the same mistakes over and over.

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Restaurants need to hear the criticism, read it, and correct it. Without knowing, they may continue the same mistakes over and over.

Whenever I'd have my in-laws or others over for dinner that I cooked, I'd ask them "what did you think?" I'd also say "be honest. Because if you're saying it's good and you're just trying to be nice, don't forget I'm going to end up feeding this dish to you over and over when you visit!"

[We now return to this thread's regularly scheduled programming.]

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And, to be honest (porcupine, deangold), I wouldn't mind if you named names on the restaurants you are referring to. 

OK by me to name names usually, but in this case, I feel that there were several issues involved. I never saw the sommelier in the restaurant. My issue was with the waiters who so spoiled the evening for me. The restaurant is not to my taste in decor, service style or food, adding to my vow of not returning. And when we said we were treated rudely to the hostess at the front, she said "Well we're pretty busy tonight" . My reply was to quip then "I guess you don't need our business" to which she did not answer. No attempt was made to get a manager at any time during my complaint.

I don't think it is a general lesson to be learned about this restaurant and its wine service from this incident.

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Example: At Firefly, I trust Derek completely when it comes to wine service.  This has come from dozens of meals where he's helped me out.  I trust his knowledge and his suggestions.  But I feel bad every time I "skip over" the server's offer for help in order to speak with Derek about it.  I don't want to be dismissive of the server and his/her knowledge, but I also don't want to have to explain every time that it's not that I don't trust them, but rather I have this existing "relationship" with Derek.

How understanding are servers about this?  While I'm sure there are many who will just push a sale somewhere, there are probably many more who take pride in their own knowledge and might be insulted that I want to turn elsewhere for advice.

Paul, your example may or may not be exceptional. Those of us who have been to a HH or two at Firefly have learned that John Wabeck has been going through the process of being certified (if that's the right term) as a sommelier. Not that he wants to stop cooking, thank God, but to be more knowledgeable about wine and wine pairings with food. It is inconcievable to me that he and Derek don't discuss all this on an ongoing basis, and probably do a fair bit of tasting themselves, which means you will probably get the very best advice about which wines will go best with any item on the menu. Since I have yet to be served at the bar or in the dining room at Firefly by anyone with an attitude, it seems that if any of the servers are "offended" that you want Derek's advice, there is something wrong. Never having been a waitron myself, I assume it would be a relief to have someone really knowledgeable to make the suggestions. My question: are servers that thin-skinned?

Edited by Barbara
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And, to be honest (porcupine, deangold), I wouldn't mind if you named names on the restaurants you are referring to.  The points you raise about the wine service in these restaurants is exactly the kind of information I rely upon donrockwell.com for to help steer me through the dining minefield!

I'm really in a bind, here. I don't want to be unfair to the restaurants in question, especially as I did not address the issue at the time. I'd rather this discussion stay focused on the broad issues. If I name names, this thread could easily degenerate into one of those nitpicking "but I've been there and always received excellent service!" tit-for-tat story telling threads, which does no one any good and leads to bad feelings all 'round.

On the other hand, you raise a good point: I, too, like internet forums for specific information about restaurants.

Hmmm... tell you what. Let's keep this discussion going, and once it peters out and I've gotten my questions answered, I'll pony up. Fair?

Thanks, everybody, for all the input so far. But please tell me, what would you do when 1) the sommelier won't come to you, or 2) comes too late?

...and btw, aren't there some pros on this forum? I'd love your opinions!

Edited by porcupine
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question 1. Why won't they approach? Find out. Is it something personal? bad gas? No one is biting on his "Gruner Veltliner is the next great wine." Tired of being asked "So, have you seen Sideways yet?" Maybe they don't actually know table numbers? Are they a Cowboys fan working in a Redskins restaurant?Fresh Grease stain from eating short ribs in between customer visits. I dunno but finding out is important.

question 2. Comes to late? Well, get whatever you can when they do arrive, if they are BSing you, then take it as nothing.But if the info is on point, then politely tell them you wish they had been there earlier for the suggestions. Hopefully they will get the subtle hint that they are indeed there for........THE CUSTOMER.

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Dining at a restaurant that has a sommelier that either does not come to the table or comes to the table too late to provide you with the benefit if his/her skill puts you in the equivalent of a restaurant with no sommelier. In short, you are either on your own or you must trust that the waiter has some knowledge of the wine list. There basically is nothing else one can do, nor is there anything that the restaurant probably can do to rectify the situation.

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And seriously, those little grape lapel pins aren't that expensive. If you, like Jiko restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom, put all your waiters through the MS level 1 training, you can afford to let them show it (then again, the MS level 1 program gives you a lapel pin as well). Then a short blurb on the winelist to let diners know who's capable and who's still in training, and much mirth can be avoided.

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And seriously, those little grape lapel pins aren't that expensive.  If you, like Jiko restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom, put all your waiters through the MS level 1 training, you can afford to let them show it (then again, the MS level 1 program gives you a lapel pin as well).  Then a short blurb on the winelist to let diners know who's capable and who's still in training, and much mirth can be avoided.

Maybe it's Disney and their costumed characters, but for some reason I'm now stuck with visions of the "Grapes" Fruit of the Loom guy trying to serve me wine. :lol:

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Maybe it's Disney and their costumed characters, but for some reason I'm now stuck with visions of the "Grapes" Fruit of the Loom guy trying to serve me wine.    :lol:

I guess we both need to put the bottle down as that is the same thing that popped into my mind! :P

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And seriously, those little grape lapel pins aren't that expensive.  If you, like Jiko restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom, put all your waiters through the MS level 1 training, you can afford to let them show it (then again, the MS level 1 program gives you a lapel pin as well).  Then a short blurb on the winelist to let diners know who's capable and who's still in training, and much mirth can be avoided.

Mirth, or grief, as the case may be.

This makes sense to me. How common or uncommon is it for waitstaff to have taken this kind of training? How difficult or expensive is it, and would it perhaps effect an increase in wine sales to have waitstaff who are trained in this way?

ScotteeM

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Thanks, everybody, for all the input so far.  But please tell me, what would you do when 1) the sommelier won't come to you, or 2) comes too late?

...and btw, aren't there some pros on this forum?  I'd love your opinions!

Elizabeth,

The answer to both questions may be quite simple: the sommelier was way too busy to get to you, or, wasn't told by the waiter that you needed assistance until it was too late. There are also certain scenarios where one table can take up an inordinate amount of the sommelier's time. In theory, the Maitre d' or a captain should be able to pick up some of the slack.

BTW, I haven't jumped into this discussion so far because I'm not completely comfortable with the way the initial post was worded. Sorry.

Edited by Mark Slater
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Mark,

I'm not in the industry, so maybe I'm missing something, but I don't know what the problem is. Her questions were fairly general, more for future reference than for past issues. And I thought they were good questions. I don't think that Porcupine was aiming her quills at any one in particular.

We've talked before on this site about dealing with problems as they occur. I think that Porcupine is simply asking what the best way is to deal with these problems when they happen. I would love to know this also.

I don't think that Porcupine or anyone else is trying to put anyone on the spot here.

What in her wording made you uncomfortable? I'm honestly clueless here.

ScotteeM

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We've talked before on this site about dealing with problems as they occur.  I think that Porcupine is simply asking what the best way is to deal with these problems when they happen.  I would love to know this also.

ScotteeM

This is no different from any other service problem, is it? The same advice Tom, and other people here have given is the same: speak up at the time, write a letter or call the next day. Then, of course, there is always the internet ambush. :lol:

The thing about her wording in the initial post was this: she mentioned 3 restaurant experiences. In one of them, Maestro, she praised the sommelier by name. In the next 2 examples of poor service she experienced, she named no names: not the restaurant or the sommelier. She mentioned that all the restaurants were at the same price level. That means exactly 4 places in the DC area: Maestro, Inn at Little Washington, Le Paradou and Citronelle. Do you see where I'm going with this........?

Naming names after the discussion is over to her satisfaction? Something here is not right.

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This is no different from any other service problem, is it? The same advice Tom, and other people here have given is the same: speak up at the time, write a letter or call the next day. Then, of course,  there is always the internet ambush.  :lol:

The thing about her wording in the initial post was this: she mentioned 3 restaurant experiences. In one of them, Maestro, she praised the sommelier by name. In the next 2 examples of poor service she experienced, she named no names: not the restaurant or the sommelier. She mentioned that all the restaurants were at the same price level. That means exactly 4 places in the DC area: Maestro, Inn at Little Washington, Le Paradou and Citronelle. Do you see where I'm going with this........?

Naming names after the discussion is over to her satisfaction? Something here is not right.

I see. "In the same price range" - I ws being vague deliberately, though I guess not vague enough. I apologize for any confusion or consternation. I know you don't know me, but I m not the type to spring an ambush. ScotteeM read me right (thanks for the interpretation!).

I really was just wondering what the protocol is, so if such things happen again I can handle them appropriately.

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I really was just wondering what the protocol is, so if such things happen again I can handle them appropriately.

I see. Thanks for clarifying that.

This is a service issue. The sommelier is part of a team. If any member of the team is not performing to your satisfaction, ask to speak to the manager right away.

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If any member of the team is not performing to your satisfaction, ask to speak to the manager right away.

Mark, I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than complain to management about an employee in the middle of a meal. It may be best for the restaurant (as a business entity) if the customer does this, but it's not necessarily best for the diner.

Changing topics, you don't know how many times I flat-out LIE to restaurants when they say, "How's that pork chop?" Okay, I'm fessing up: here's the truth. Here's what I really mean when I say, "It's fine, thanks:"

"It's pretty weak, actually, but I'll try and enjoy it anyway rather than disrupt the flow of the meal."

And you do it too! I've seen you! :lol:

"But I don't go trotting off to the internet later and saying anything about it!"

Well, that's true. And that issue is discussed in all it's glory (or lack thereof) here.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Mark, I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than complain to management about an employee in the middle of a meal.  It may be best for the restaurant (as a business entity) if the customer does this, but it's not necessarily best for the diner. 

Rocks,

Who said anything about complaining? Ask the manager for a wine recommendation. Busboy forgot to give you bread? Ask the manager if he can find you some bread. These are requests. Complaining is reserved, IMO, for really egregious offenses.

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Rocks,

Who said anything about complaining? Ask the manager for a wine recommendation. Busboy forgot to give you bread? Ask the manager if he can find you some bread. These are requests. Complaining is reserved, IMO, for really egregious offenses.

The problem with this, Mark, is that it makes too much sense. :lol:

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Rocks,

Who said anything about complaining? Ask the manager for a wine recommendation. Busboy forgot to give you bread? Ask the manager if he can find you some bread. These are requests. Complaining is reserved, IMO, for really egregious offenses.

That would be easy and I would tend to agree with you only if, 1) You knew who the manager actually was ( I recommend a fez or party hat, but that's just me) 2) You could actually get the managers attention without looking like one of those pretentious jackasses who want to instill drama in and at the restaurant to impress people he/she's with. But that being said...

I have something to add to this conversation. Why do they take your drink order before you've ordered or had a chance to look at the menu? I know enough to get by with wine selection and food pairings as I've taken the Sommelier Wine & Food Society Wine Captain's Course and enjoyed it thoroughly. Is your initial drink order supposed to be an aperitif and not your wine selection?

At what point do you ask or even know if the restaurant has a Sommelier or Wine Steward or captain and is it rude to dismiss your waiter/waitress and their opinion of pairings? How long should one wait in thirst with tummy growling for the Sommelier? I’m sure if I was on a date, asking a kabillion questions about which wines would go with her vegetarian meal and my beef choice would be rather annoying to both of us and would probably also annoy the waiter who just wants to take your order and go back to the wait station and gossip with the managers and host/hostess.

Just a few questions, and naming names here doesn’t seem to be appropriate as I really don’t enjoy comparing wait service between restaurants and don’t think it does justice to the owners, chefs and others who read this board.

Any input would be appreciated. Thanks.

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Mark, I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than complain to management about an employee in the middle of a meal.  It may be best for the restaurant (as a business entity) if the customer does this, but it's not necessarily best for the diner. 

Changing topics, you don't know how many times I flat-out LIE to restaurants when they say, "How's that pork chop?"  Okay, I'm fessing up:  here's the truth.  Here's what I really mean when I say, "It's fine, thanks:"

"It's pretty weak, actually, but I'll try and enjoy it anyway rather than disrupt the flow of the meal."

And you do it too!  I've seen you!  :lol:  

"But I don't go trotting off to the internet later and saying anything about it!"

Well, that's true.  And that issue is discussed in all it's glory (or lack thereof) here.

Cheers,

Rocks.

I have to add my favorite. a friend and I have the same habit of saying good with a slight up and down nod and a higher inflection. This means not so good, and I know when a dish of mine needs tweaking.

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Mark,

I'm not in the industry, so maybe I'm missing something, but I don't know what the problem is.  Her questions were fairly general, more for future reference than for past issues.  And I thought they were good questions.  I don't think that Porcupine was aiming her quills at any one in particular.

We've talked before on this site about dealing with problems as they occur.  I think that Porcupine is simply asking what the best way is to deal with these problems when they happen.  I would love to know this also.

I don't think that Porcupine or anyone else is trying to put anyone on the spot here. 

What in her wording made you uncomfortable?  I'm honestly clueless here.

ScotteeM

Not being aware that there are only 4 places within the area with a sommelier, I can completely understand where Mark's coming from. If one knows the 4 places, by process of elimination, there's a 50% chance porcupine's concerns are falling on one of our ventworms.

But I didn't perceive any agenda from porcupine. If she was on a mission, I'd have seen the "And I'm never going back there again!" foot stomping going on.

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Not being aware that there are only 4 places within the area with a sommelier, I can completely understand where Mark's coming from.  If one knows the 4 places, by process of elimination, there's a 50% chance porcupine's concerns are falling on one of our ventworms.

But I didn't perceive any agenda from porcupine.  If she was on a mission, I'd have seen the "And I'm never going back there again!" foot stomping going on.

That is true!

Since she was not slamming the place so I see no reason why the places could not be named at the beginning. It was made clear, to me, that she was not comfortable and did not know what to do. I see no harm in mentioning places as it would give others a chance to provide input as to whether it was the norm or an isolated incident.

My $0.02.

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Not being aware that there are only 4 places within the area with a sommelier, I can completely understand where Mark's coming from.  If one knows the 4 places, by process of elimination, there's a 50% chance porcupine's concerns are falling on one of our ventworms.

But I didn't perceive any agenda from porcupine.  If she was on a mission, I'd have seen the "And I'm never going back there again!" foot stomping going on.

Paul,

You misunderstood me. There are plenty more than 4 places in DC with sommeliers. I was referring to 4 places in the upper price brackets, although, now that I think about it, there are more than 4 places that cost that much.

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It's kinda interesting coming home after a 14-hour work day (no internet access) and reading eveyone's interpretations of what I wrote. :lol:

I am not a freeloader or complainer. I was genuinely baffled how best to handle two situations I'd never encountered before, so I asked the groups' advice. And I got some very good advice, for which I'm grateful. Especially yours, Mark, in post #27. Of course. It's that simple.

Although Don, you raise an interesting point in your reply. I think that's why I've never complained - it wasn't worth disrupting the meal.

And ScotteeM and CrescentFresh, you're right: no agenda, no foot-stomping. Just in search of good advice. And that's why I didn't state where the incidents ocurred - really immaterial to the discussion. This could've been an inflammatory and incriminating thread, but that does no good to anyone (except to trolls who find that sort of thing entertaining).

Thanks, all, for a good discussion and good advice.

And in case anyone's interested... both restaurants in question had outstanding food, and very good service, and I had no complaints otherwise, and I would probably go back to either one. And I did leave a tip (about 20% before tax).

No hard feelings. :P

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I have something to add to this conversation.  Why do they take your drink order before you've ordered or had a chance to look at the menu?  I know enough to get by with wine selection and food pairings as I've taken the Sommelier Wine & Food Society Wine Captain's Course and enjoyed it thoroughly.  Is your initial drink order supposed to be an aperitif and not your wine selection?

At what point do you ask or even know if the restaurant has a Sommelier or Wine Steward or captain and is it rude to dismiss your waiter/waitress and their opinion of pairings?  How long should one wait in thirst with tummy growling for the Sommelier?  I’m sure if I was on a date, asking a kabillion questions about which wines would go with her vegetarian meal and my beef choice would be rather annoying to both of us and would probably also annoy the waiter who just wants to take your order and go back to the wait station and gossip with the managers and host/hostess.

The drink order is separate from the wine you're having with dinner. In many a fine upscale restaurant, you won't even see the menu until after you've had a chance to sip your aperitif for a moment or two and allow the cares of the day to slip quietly into the background. One of my many annoying habits is that I generally refuse to even open my menu before I taste gin; waiters who expect me to have food orders ready before they have brought my drink get an evil look and a mediocre tip.

Mark may know better, but if I were eager to to discuss pairings, I'd ask the waiter as soon as the wine list was dropped on the table who the best person to talk through it with me with was, and if they could drop by in a couple of minutes.

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The drink order is separate from the wine you're having with dinner.  In many a fine upscale restaurant, you won't even see the menu until after you've had a chance to sip your aperitif for a moment or two and allow the cares of the day to slip quietly into the background.  One of my many annoying habits is that I generally refuse to even open my menu before I taste gin; waiters who expect me to have food orders ready before they have brought my drink get an evil look and a mediocre tip. 

Mark may know better, but if I were eager to to discuss pairings, I'd ask the waiter as soon as the wine list was dropped on the table who the best person to talk through it with me with was, and if they could drop by in a couple of minutes.

Interesting strategy re: getting the best wine advice. I'll have to try it. I also appreciate the aperitif strategy! :lol:

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The drink order is separate from the wine you're having with dinner.  In many a fine upscale restaurant, you won't even see the menu until after you've had a chance to sip your aperitif for a moment or two and allow the cares of the day to slip quietly into the background.  One of my many annoying habits is that I generally refuse to even open my menu before I taste gin; waiters who expect me to have food orders ready before they have brought my drink get an evil look and a mediocre tip.  

Mark may know better, but if I were eager to to discuss pairings, I'd ask the waiter as soon as the wine list was dropped on the table who the best person to talk through it with me with was, and if they could drop by in a couple of minutes.

Waitman,

I like the way you think! I have that very same annoying habit! Hendrick's or Old Raj, please.

Any place that employs a dedicated wine person will tell you so right up front.

Edited by Mark Slater
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Mark may know better, but if I were eager to to discuss pairings, I'd ask the waiter as soon as the wine list was dropped on the table who the best person to talk through it with me with was, and if they could drop by in a couple of minutes.

If you use OpenTable.com to make your reservation, you can use the "comment" section to let the restaurant know in advance that you would appreciate the assistance of the sommelier or another appropriate person to help you with your wine selections for your meal.
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It's kinda interesting coming home after a 14-hour work day (no internet access) and reading eveyone's interpretations of what I wrote.  :lol:

I am not a freeloader or complainer.  I was genuinely baffled how best to handle two situations I'd never encountered before, so I asked the groups' advice.  And I got some very good advice, for which I'm grateful.  Especially yours, Mark, in post #27.  Of course.  It's that simple.

Although Don, you raise an interesting point in your reply.  I think that's why I've never complained - it wasn't worth disrupting the meal.

And ScotteeM and CrescentFresh, you're right: no agenda, no foot-stomping.  Just in search of good advice.  And that's why I didn't state where the incidents ocurred - really immaterial to the discussion.  This could've been an inflammatory and incriminating thread, but that does no good to anyone (except to trolls who find that sort of thing entertaining).

Thanks, all, for a good discussion and good advice. 

And in case anyone's interested... both restaurants in question had outstanding food, and very good service, and I had no complaints otherwise, and I would probably go back to either one.  And I did leave a tip (about 20% before tax).

No hard feelings.  :P

Elizabeth,

Thanks for the nice post, but I also have to say: Not so Fast! :D The point I made to Don, and will make again to you, is that speaking with a manager (Floor Manager, Maitre d', Captain, GM) in a high end restaurant is not the same as complaining. In most high end restaurants that I've worked in and eaten at, those people are around all the time. Their job is to come behind all the staff and make sure you have everything you need and are also happy. We're not talking about Outback or Ruby Tuesdays or some bogus Darden Restaurants venture. You used Maestro as the Gold Standard, and I agree. Maestro is an amazing restaurant from start to finish. I had the most delicious, enjoyable and sophisticated dinner I've ever had in Washington there last July. So when the manager in an expensive restaurant walks by and you say "Excuse me", and ask for wine advice/bread/water/more coffee/food, it is not complaining. It is making a request that can easily be filled, willingly. Get my point? In the case of wine advice, it is the manager who will grab the sommelier by the ear and drag him right to your table. Complaining in restaurants is a whole different thread.

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I think that Waitman's strategy is the real way to get prepared for an enjoyable and relaxed meal -- first letting an aperitif work its magic and then starting to think about what to eat is a natural progression.

On the waiter versus sommelier issue: Has anyone noticed, particularly with all the new places that want to be noted for their wine as well as their food, how many servers are pretty darned knowledgeable about the wines served on the premises -- given tastes as part of their overall training, etc. When I dined at 1789 (not a newly opened restaurant, I realize :lol: ) a few weeks ago our waiter was truly expert in the wines offered there and unerringly steered us to a couple of good bottles as well as several different wines by the glass.

Edited by FunnyJohn
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On the waiter versus sommelier issue: Has anyone noticed, particularly with all the new places that want to be noted for their wine as well as their food, how many servers are pretty darned knowledgeable about the wines served on the premises -- given tastes as part of their overall training, etc.  When I dined at 1789 (not a newly opened restaurant, I realize :lol: ) a few weeks ago our waiter was truly expert in the wines offered there and unerringly steered us to a couple of good bottles as well as several different wines by the glass.

I also enjoyed a very knowledgable waiter at Oceanaire a few weeks ago who extensively with wine pairing and actually some background information about the Chateau's etc. I guess it really expedites things when the waiter/waitress knows these things and increases his/her worth to the customer.

-------

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selections were amazing - truly complementing the food in a way I've only ever read about.

Seems like this is poetic license - how could you know if the wines you were served "complemented" the food in a way you "read about" if you don't know much about wine? If you want to comment on wines that complement food then you need to learn about wine and food pairing, and I think pretty intimately. The service issues are a different point, there is never any excuse for bad service, but Maestro is more than a cut above most other restaurants in the DC area, I mean it is top 5 rated every year! And when a server says just "Pinot", they mean Pinot Noir - not Grigio or Blanc, that's just a thing you need to know as a diner - can't hurt to ask though, but it confirms that you're new to wine, and the concept of wine and food pairing is going to take you some experience. I think a question that no one ever asks because they're too embarassed is if the restaurant has an experienced wine professional. High-end restaurants usually do, but what about a Thai or neighborhood Italian restaurant, does anyone on their staff know about wine? Maybe call the restaurant in advance...And if a 21 or 22 year old is your server, you can assume that they don't know much, so maybe ask if there is anyone else in the restaurant that can help you with wine choices?

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how could you know if the wines you were served "complemented" the food in a way you "read about" if you don't know much about wine?

I read this in the first sentence of your post and was going to reply, but then I read the rest of the post, and I'm pretty sure my reply won't be necessary.

Get out the KY, hoss! :lol:

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Seems like this is poetic license - how could you know if the wines you were served "complemented" the food in a way you "read about" if you don't know much about wine? 

I thought I made it clear that I don't know much about wine. What I meant was that the lingering taste of the wine made the subsequent food taste different, and better. And the lingering taste of the food made the wine taste better. Together they were something more than the sum of the parts.

Apologies if I can't write well enough to explain my meaning. Guess this is where the drubbing comes in. :lol:

I think a question that no one ever asks because they're too embarassed is if the restaurant has an experienced wine professional.

Yeah. And point number one was that the two experiences I described made me feel more embarassed. As does your post.

This has been a very useful thread up to this point. I really hope it doesn't degenerate into a cross-examination.

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