My family and I decided to dine at a newly opened restaurant, where I had recently interviewed the chef. He was somewhat-of-a-kind man, clearly challenged when it came to articulation. He could not clearly outline what the “vision” of his “vision for the restaurant” was about. He walked that line between sweet, ridiculously creative talent, and snobbish egomaniac. More on obtuse chefs and how they need coaching to talk to the press at a later date.
Our plans in eating there included the intention of figuring out exactly what the definition of the place included – the public billing was “a farm-to-fork woodland retreat, helmed by a lauded chef.” The cuisine was excellent, the prices- astronomical. It was the type of meal that when you are already in knee-deep with your food bill, a $12 glass of dessert wine just adds to the “Will we be able to pay the mortgage?” after-dinner amusement.
Now, I love the Hungarian dessert wine called Tokaji, pronounced like “toe” and “kie” – like “pie” with a letter ‘K’. I was introduced to it while traveling in Europe and a dear restaurateur friend of mine would squirrel away bottles for me on her trips to New York and Hungary. To qualify, I am by no means an expert but I do know this wine.
I saw it on the dessert menu and decided to order a glass.
I asked our waiter, who looked like the definition of post-teenage depression, “What number puttonyos is the Tokaji?” Puttonyos accounts for the amount of sweetness in the wine, graded from 3-6, with 6 being the sweetest.
He looked at me incredulously.
“Tokaji is NOT graded.” he said firmly.
“Yes it is.” I said.
He retorted, “Well we carry the good variety and it is NOT graded. I have NEVER heard of such a thing.”
Now, I know better to never judge expertise. For all I know, he could be Hungarian, and his family may own a Tokaji vineyard. I could have been in a haze every time I had sipped this sweet wine in the past and been seriously mistaken. However, I knew this little shit was wrong – the tension was thick and my husband, knowing my temper and “never back down from a food fight” attitude, looked down at the table, smiled and bit his knuckle. My girls just started to laugh. They knew what this kid was in for.
“Fine.” I said acerbically, “ I would love a glass of your ‘good variety’ Tokaji!” I got up and went to the bathroom.
When I sat back down, Mark was laughing. “Wait until you see what he brought for you!” The waiter had gotten out his copy of “Wine for Dummies” opened it to the 2 sentence blurb on Tokaji and set my glass on top of the page to mark the passage.
You can fill in-the-blank with synonyms you know for exasperation.
This kid must have sensed that he was in for a fight and preempted any argument by providing me with the be-all end-all source of his defense: the patented yellow and black dummy primer. This gave him his mail-order sommelier license, ergo his authority in the world of wine.
I knew at that moment that this would make better fodder for a life story, than it would if I complained and went crazy. “This is a first!” I said calmly to my family – a first that I backed down and a first in seeing this kind of wait staff behavior.
Our waiter got the better part of my manners that night. I drank the wine, said nothing immediately, and we got up to leave with the intention of never returning unless someone else way paying.
Upon exiting, I gave the book back and told the waiter, “This is an education.” He looked smugly at me. He had no idea what I meant.
Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons
- El Bulli cellar to be sold at auction (esperanzavino.wordpress.com)