Friday, November 21, 2014

Could a restaurant charge customers a "bad review" fee?

An English hotel recently charged a couple 100 pounds (about $157) for calling it a "rotten, stinking hovel" on Trip Advisor.

Pressured by the media, the hotel refunded the money. But the idea got me thinking: could a restaurant threaten to do the same?

It's an appealing idea for restaurants bedeviled by Yelp reviews. Most of me -- 99.89% of me -- says, no way, that's a horrible chilling effect.

But it is Yelp, and there are reviews like these, of a few San Francisco restaurants I like:

"They ask you to leave before you finished your food. Very rude! This kind of behavior has never happened to me ever. I can't believe people behave in such a selfish and rude manner. I've been to thousands of restaurants in my life and not once has a restaurant ever ask me to leave before I finished my food. I can tell you the names of thousands of restaurants that will not ask you to leave before you finished eating. Do NOT eat at this restaurant! IT WILL RUIN your night!" -- Fan W. on Terra Cotta Warrior (1 star)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Darth Vader on Wine Spectator's Wines of the Year

I wanted a second opinion on Wine Spectator's 2014 Wines of the Year, so I contacted Darth Vader, a formidable critic and emeritus editor from the magazine. He used The Force to retaste the wines in question.

Wine of the Year (Dow vintage Port 2011), original Wine Spectator review: "Powerful, refined and luscious."

Darth Vader's take: "You are as powerful as the emperor has foreseen."

Wine No. 2 (Mollydooker Carnival of Love McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012), original review: "The finish expands and powers up."

Darth Vader: "You underestimate the power of the Dark Side."

Wine No. 3 (Prats & Symington Chryseia Douro 2011), original review: "Monolithic red, pure and powerful."

Darth Vader: "The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force."

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Florida shoplifter snatches vodka: caption contest!

You may want an antibiotic after viewing this viral photo.

The photo has been making the rounds of the Internet. I love a good booze shoplifting story, so instead of doing the sort of thoughtful reporting with in-depth personal interviews you expect from The Gray Report, I spent much of Wednesday afternoon trying to get some details about this woman's snatch...ing of the hooch.

Shoplift-resistant shape
What I know is scant. First off: it's a 750 ml bottle of vodka, not E&J Brandy as many sites are saying. That's comforting if you know the shape of the E&J bottle.

Also, most sites report that she was arrested. This was not the case. The photo is a screen capture from security-camera tape and was only discovered after she was gone from the store.

It was taken in north Florida, either Tallahassee or Jacksonville. The source of the photo would rather leave some ambiguity, as there was no arrest in the case.

I have small hope of learning more. So let's have a New Yorker-style photo caption contest.

1) "Don't worry, son, I've got room for dinner too."

2) "Mom, is that why you sprayed yourself with Vermouth?"

3) "After giving birth to you, $6.99 doesn't go as far as it used to."

Please enter your captions below. Winner gets one used but unopened bottle of Popov!

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Good wine list idea: one-word descriptions

We dined last week at TBD, a restaurant in San Francisco's mid-market district, and the wine list has a great concept that other restaurants should consider.

I love the TBD list because of the wines on it, the generously small markups, and especially because of the format.

Most of the wines have simple one- or two-word descriptions. That one word adds a lot.

A longtime complaint of mine about restaurant wine lists is that you have to be a wine expert to use them. Sommeliers order great, obscure wines but don't tell us why we should buy them.

Look at the list. The descriptions aren't complicated. "Leaner Cabernet Franc" or "Riper Cabernet Franc." Do we need much more than that?

The by-the-glass list (shown on the next page) is particularly helpful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Diner takes off glasses, suckered into $2200 Screaming Eagle ... or was he?

Rule 1: never take off your glasses
It sounds like an urban legend, or a hoax like this one. A diner in an expensive Atlantic City steakhouse asks the waitress to recommend a wine. She brings him a bottle and says it costs "Thirty seven fifty."

The bottle turns out to be Screaming Eagle and he's charged $3750.

According to NJ.com, this really happened. It's an outrageous story on many levels. Here's the short version:

* Joe Lentini and his wife are at a "business dinner" for 10 people at Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. We don't know what kind of business, but I assume that if he was this state employee, the site would have reported it. Right?

* Only 3 of the diners want wine. The others order Anchor Steam beer, rum and Coke, and diet Coke.

* Lentini is not the host of the dinner, and is not supposed to be paying, but he wants wine, so the host, unnamed, tells him to order something.

* Lentini tells NJ.com that he asked the waitress to "recommend something decent because I don't have much experience with wine." UPDATE: Eater reports that the Borgata now says he "asked for the restaurant's best bottle of Cabernet," which would explain a lot.

* The waitress recommends Screaming Eagle 2011. As one would.

* "I didn't have my glasses," Lentini tells NJ.com. "I asked how much and she said, "Thirty-seven fifty."


Monday, November 3, 2014

Terroir fight! Napa vs. Anderson Valley vs. Finger Lakes vs. Santa Barbara

Napa Valley from Smith-Madrone Vineyards on Spring Mountain
A dirty secret of the U.S. wine industry is that among themselves, many sommeliers disparage Napa Valley wines.

They don't want to rip Napa publicly because that would insult the taste of many of their wealthiest customers. But I overhear all the time, "Napa Cabernets don't show any terroir."

Wine & Spirits magazine staged an interesting competition last month in San Francisco. The magazine asked five teams of sommeliers to investigate a type of wine in a region and then present 6 wines that would represent that region's terroir. In other words, the winners would find not just the best wines, but wines that said something about the place.

Here were the regions/wines:

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Finger Lakes Riesling
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
Washington Bordeaux blends

Looking at that list ahead of time, I expected Finger Lakes Riesling to win easily, Anderson Valley Pinot to do well, and Napa Valley Cab to get trash-talked by a room full of somms and like-minded writers.

Boy, was I wrong.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Sake Confidential" book review: Straight talk about sake

The best sakes tend to come from cold places
Intro to sake books haven't been as successful as intro to wine books, and not only because wine is much more popular.

Sake books tend to get bogged down early in describing how sake is made. It's an important question, but the answer isn't simple, nor does it have much to do with the really key questions about sake, such as How do I buy a good sake? How long does it last on the shelf? Does the region matter?

Also, many people who are interested in sake know something about it already. Very basic intro books won't interest them, but if a sake book is too advanced, the market for it is tiny.

John Gauntner gets around both these problems by writing "Sake Confidential" in a straight-talking, behind-the-scenes style.