Monday, April 8, 2013

Server says, "Let me take that wine away" and disappears

We were eating the $65 pasta tasting menu at Flour & Water in San Francisco, and I had ordered the wine pairings for $45.

On our last pasta course, the server came over and asked, "How are you enjoying that?"

I answered honestly, "I hate this wine."

A 2003 Calabretta from Mount Etna, it was tired and tasted merely of ash, wood and tannin. Calabretta ages their wines for a long time in neutral oak tanks and Eric Asimov raved about the '02, calling it "lively, energetic and pure, with deep, rich mineral and fruit flavors." I guess the '03 was uninteresting because of vintage variation, but after reading Asimov's note, which bore no relation to the wine I tasted, now I wonder if it was flawed.

She said, "Let me get that away from you." She snatched the wine glass and disappeared. That was it. No replacement, no question, no conversation. Nobody ever asked why I hated it.

My wife and I were stunned. "Wow," was all we could say.

This is modern wine service, I suppose. Flour & Water isn't cheap, but it's selling a casual experience, not a formal one. And $45 for the wines I received was rather cheap, in the good sense, even with the one dud. The pours weren't generous, but most of the wines were interesting and went well with the food. I particularly liked the 2009 La Biancara di Angelino Maule "Pico," an orange wine with great mouth presence and flavors more like dried apples and mangos than what you expect from grapes, with the rabbit raviolini.

At a high-end place, I would expect the sommelier to offer a taste of something else I liked better with the final course. (I would have been happy with a small repour of the previous wine, the 2011 Cascina Val de Prete Barbera d'Alba.)

Here, I suppose they don't have any obligation to replace the wine, or even to discuss it. I didn't say the wine was flawed; I said I hated it. I was surprised by what followed, enough to blog about it. But I'm not sure what they should have done differently.

What do you think? Should the server have done something differently? Should I have?

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25 comments:

sidewaysandtotheleft said...

The server should have offered you a taste of something else. There is a delicate back and forth conversation always going on with you a the server and it's the server's job to check in with you and make sure your happy and be aware of the "flow" of your experience.

chilecopadevino.com said...

I would have told them it was “off”, and ask for another glass from a different bottle.

As you were,I would be totally gobsmacked if the wine was pulled and nothing put in its place.

rapopoda said...

They should have engaged you in discourse and given you a different offer. However, after nothing was forthcoming, you should have politely, but firmly expressed that your expectations in service had not been met.
Mistakes need to be pointed out for people/organizations to learn

Jack Everitt said...

Chile is best right.
rapodopoda is quite right.
sideways is right.

W. Blake Gray said...

Rapo: I know what you're saying, but Flour & Water is always packed. The service was brusque all night and it doesn't seem like it's hurting them.

Once when I lived in Tokyo I asked a huge Thai restaurant if they had a no-smoking area. The manager waved his arm to indicate a completely full dining room. "Why I need no-smoking room?" he said.

ColoradoWinePress said...

If they don't care and aren't going to change, why write this post? It won't change anything...

W. Blake Gray said...

Geez, Kyle, you've been watching too much "Mad Men." Why get up in the morning?

SteveinOakland said...

I just wish I had been at the dinner. Looks like a nice menu.

W. Blake Gray said...

Maltagliati with rabbit sausage was the highlight.

Chicago Pinot said...

I can't defend the (lack) of service from your "server", and maybe I am getting too PC in my middle age. But I wonder if "I hate this wine" is the best way to start a conversation with any restaurant team member.

Jo Diaz said...

#badserver

W. Blake Gray said...

Chicago Pinot: That's a fair point. Perhaps if I'd said something different, she might have acted differently. But she did ask. I wondered if it was one of those questions people don't really want answered, like "How are you?" I almost always answer that one honestly too.

Charlie Olken said...

Fair point or not, this is a restaurant in the service business.

Everyone who has called out the restaurant on this is right. Not acceptable.

And, if that is the standard that is going to prevail at F & W, I suggest that you stop going there because the next time it might be the pasta that is flawed and you will wind up with no dinner at all.

DAPZ said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe Trick Dog is owned by the same group. I was there the other day and saw the manager behind the bar offering to change someone's drink because the patron had not liked it. He said it was their philosophy that everyone is happy with what they are having.
The server clearly made a mistake; but I don't think it at all, represents the restaurant's philosophy.
The server should have apologized and given you something more to your taste. Bad things can happen in service, though, a number of different things could have happened to cause you not to get your replacement.

W. Blake Gray said...

Dapz: I went to Trick Dog after the meal -- I guess I hadn't fulfilled my alcohol quotient -- and had Pennies from Heaven. Even though it was super crowded, we got friendly service.

One problem with a budding mini Mission gourmet empire: management can't be everywhere at once.

ColoradoWinePress said...

Blake, I never said you shouldn't have written it. I was just inquiring why you wrote it. We're you hoping the restaurant would notice? We're you hoping to warn potential customers? Just sharing an anecdote about your meal?

Of course the restaurant should have done something. Just because you hated a wine doesn't mean they should deprive you of the glass you paid for...

W. Blake Gray said...

Kyle: It's really simple, I wrote it because it seemed interesting. It seemed like a blog post. And it seemed like a conversation starter. Has restaurant service changed this much?

I'm flattered that you think most of my blog posts accomplish something, or have the power to. But sometimes a blog post is just a blog post.

ColoradoWinePress said...

Fair enough. Many blog posts are just that. This one seemed like you had more of a specific goal...

DAPZ said...

Gray,
I suspect your incident was just one of those unfortunate coincidences.
I had dinner about a month ago at Central Kitchen and ordered the beef tartare without noticing it came with a quail egg (hate eggs). Even though it was my fault the server was really nice about it, took the tartare away and brought me the alternative dish i ordered really, really fast so I could eat it along with my friend.
No charges for my error, super stellar service.
On your situation, I feel that either your server does not do that consistently or will not last long there.

Jonas Landau, everydaywineguy said...

Your brusque response notwithstanding, they should have brought you another glass. I avoid '03s like the plague. My wife and I have eaten there as well and liked it a lot.

elratoncolorao said...

Love your take on the "modern wine service" - it's so true.

Every time I order wine pairings to tasting menu (actually, now "ordered" in past since as I won't do it anymore) it has fallen flat, makes me feel like I'm at a "clip joint" and is not of same value as if I buy a single bottle off list.

Speaking of proper wine service - just returned to SF from a trip to Bern's in Tampa. Unreal wine list and service. Took me an hour to finally declare (after it being my initial reaction - and only after I ordered an additional bottle) that a 1981 Cornas was corked. Delay probably because I had already consumed a glass of 1986 Crozes-Hermitage ($6) plus a bottle of 1981 Cote Rote (still fresh and only $52.25 on list) and my palate/senses were all over the place.

No questions asked - immediately off the bill - even with my saying they didn't have to because it took me so long to declare. Oh, Cornas was $37.35 - unreal pricing.

So - great wine service at low price at iconic restaurant vs. expensive pricing and service with a "not so much" at F&W.

Modern day wine service (as well as newer entrants to wine business) is becoming pretentious with feigned mantras of "lack of pretension" in wine - feels like just another scam.

W. Blake Gray said...

Bern's is the greatest restaurant for wine in the world, so that's a tough comparison. Going there later this month myself, and for an app can't decide between the black truffle steak tartare or the chateaubriand carpaccio.

elratoncolorao said...

Given our lack of foie gras-ness here in California, we went for the foie app, the regular steak tartare, and split a steak for one (Plenty for two).

Afterwards my fiancee says she wished she had gone for the truffle steak tartare instead.

howard ting said...

Hi Blake,

Agreed with some of the others--definitely the server should have said something or at least asked you a question. F+W is casual, sure, but it's not a burger and fries joint (i.e., no excuse for not trying to better manage your experience and make it better).

My interpretation is a bit of Mission, hipster arrogance...

Michael Burke said...

I am reading a lot of "blame the waitstaff" in these remarks. Your comment of "I hate this wine", I would have taken it away too, knowing that there would be another glass with the next course, and with a generous poor, there is really no obligation to replace it with something off "tonight's offering". If you had said, "I think this wine may be off" that might have resulted in a conversation or another bottle opened. Wine is funny that way, and the staff can not check each opened bottle, it is your responsibility as the consumer to point out a possible flaw in the product, and with your experience, not only should you already know that, but you are also better equipped than the average Joe to spot the difference between a bad wine and a bad bottle.