|Rule 1: never take off your glasses|
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."
|Courtesy David Gard for NJ Advance Media|
* The restaurant knocks the price down to $2200 when he complains, and he pays it.
The standard response to this story is outrage at the waitress, the restaurant and the casino. And if the story is as first reported, it is outrageous.
I have doubts about the story, and so must NJ.com.
You can barely make out the date on the photo of the receipt posted online, but it looks to me like it's 7/28/2014, which would mean NJ.com sat on the story for three months, which is what you do when you have doubts. (To be fair, it could be 9/28. The story doesn't say.)
There's Lentini's version, in which Nina (her name's on the receipt) is the hooker/waitress with the old Barbary Coast switcheroo spirit, and the casino -- possibly Mob-backed -- has the power to demand its payment or else.
And there's the restaurant's version. The Borgata, in the original story, says both Nina and the sommelier verified the bottle, which doesn't mean much if you don't know what Screaming Eagle is. But they also said that the host of the party asked how much the bottle cost before dinner ended, was told, and did nothing. NJ.com talked to the host of the story, and he confirmed that much.
UPDATE: Eater's story has a different tale from the same Borgata employee who talked to NJ.com, and it looks a lot worse for Lentini, including that another diner at the same table asked about the price before the bottle was consumed. Maybe the Borgata is only saying more now that it's being pilloried nationwide. Now I really want to know what business was expected to pay for this dinner.
Nobody should be stuck with a $2200 bottle of wine -- or a $220 bottle of wine -- they weren't expecting. Bobby Flay and the Borgata might deserve the national opprobrium they're getting.
But consider the number of circumstances that came together for it to happen. You have a customer who doesn't bother to look at the price on the wine list, or apparently any prices. While $3750 is an insane price for a bottle of wine, $37.50 is cheap enough to raise eyebrows at an expensive restaurant.
Why does Nina target this group? Just because they're not paying attention? Because Joe admits he doesn't know much about wine? Does she and/or the restaurant target everybody they can fleece?
I decided to check that theory so I read the restaurant's reviews on Yelp. You'll note that a number of people have taken to Yelp to bash the restaurant over the story, without having dined there.
Yelpers are up and down on the place. There are enough reports of bad, inattentive or rude service that it may be an ongoing issue. It's Atlantic City, for Chrissakes, not exactly known for the best service even in New Jersey. But I didn't see any other diners complaining about a similar wine ripoff.
So if this was a one-shot Screaming Eagle scam, why Lentini and his group?
And why did the host quietly ask the server before dinner was over, "How much was that bottle of wine they ordered?" but not complain about it or share the answer with Lentini?
There's certainly a profit motive. Even at the marked-down price of $2200, that's $1400 profit over the mailing-list price, which is probably what the restaurant pays. For Nina, a 20% tip on a bottle of $2200 wine is $440, a lot nicer evening than the $10 tip she'd earn on a more normal steakhouse wine. But again, why them?
I feel like there's more to this story that we might never know. I'd love to hear Nina's version.
In any case, I love Lentini's review of Screaming Eagle. He claims he doesn't know anything about wine, but I had exactly the same reaction every time I've had Screaming Eagle: "It was okay. It was good," Lentini said. "It wasn't great. It wasn't terrible. It was fine."
The real story here is, yes, that's exactly what a $2200 bottle of wine tastes like. It's what "94 points" tastes like translated into everyman diner talk.