31 December 2005

Happy New Year; Restaurant Rant

I wish everyone who reads this a Happy New Year. I did most of my celebrating the night of the 30th--details on the roast duck might be forthcoming. Tonight I've really kept it low key, drinking rum and snacking on hummus and pita. I've got no desire to fight traffic with drunks and similar ignoramuses. I even passed up on a few parties--the girlfriend is out of town, as are several close friends. Due to an upcoming hellish week at work, I was really wanting a peaceful evening at home with the dogs. And thus I am quite pleased.

I've seen much linking to this rant about how to order wine in a restaurant without looking like an... ignoramus. I think I've touched on this before, but I rarely if ever order wine in a restaurant. Especially here in Memphis, where local wine taxes are ridiculous and, if ordering by the glass, you won't often be able to find out how long the bottle has been open. I'll give an example. There's a really nice seafood joint near my house. Great food. They list the Folie à Deux Menage à Trois White for $35. That's a $10 wine at retail prices; even being generous I assume it's maybe $7.50 wholesale. I'm not a cheap person*, but damn. And prices per glass are often as bad, if not worse--typically around here a glass of wine costs roughly the retail price of the entire bottle. This is discouraging, because if you like the wine you know precisely how much extra you're paying, and if it's a new wine that you're curious about, it hardly seems worth it to pay the cost of an entire bottle for a mere five ounces.

For those reasons, if I want wine with a meal I'm more than happy to bring my own and pay the corking fee. Heck, there are some joints around town that don't charge a corking fee, though they don't really advertise that fact. (One note: whether you charge or not, providing glasses and opening the wine are helpful. Recently I had a waiter ignore the wine through the entire ordering process and through the conclusion of the salad course.)

Now, I understand that restaurants are in business to make money, and there's a lot of profit to be made in the sale of alcohol... But I think that the pricing structure and taxation of wine in the US are crazy, and hinder mass acceptance of wine as an everyday accompaniment to meals. Wine makes food taste better and vice versa; why not price things in order to facilitate this? I'd love to have a local restaurant that had a small but constantly changing wine list, along with a guarantee that wines sold by the glass came from bottles that were open for less than 36 hours.

Since I don't do a lot of eating out with groups--in those situations I really enjoy cooking at home for everyone--a lot of my restaurant experiences these days are solo ventures with a good book or newspaper. And thanks to my recent trip to Boston, I've rediscovered a love of beer, which really works well for those informal lunches or quiet after work dinners when you just want to relax and unwind. And let's face it, when you're eating a Reuben, can any wine compete with a pint of Guinness?

*I'm honestly more willing to spend the money on all the wine and ingredients to feed eight people a fantastic meal than I am to buy myself a mediocre meal with mediocre wine in a restaurant.


jens at cincinnati wine said...

I agree about wine pricing at restaurants. It seems to me that if you priced wines closer to retail (maybe $10 over retail) people would not only buy more wine, they would trade up to enjoy better wine to go with a good meal. I do understand that wine by the glass is more expensive due to spoilage and such, and if they are selling back vintages they can and should charge more. Also, I concur on an interesting and changing wine list. If I go to the same restaurant more than a few times it is good to have new choices.

jens at cincinnati wine

Barbara said...

The majority of NZ restaurants have there wine lists put together by Montana Wines (because they then get their menus printed for free). Unless tourists (or locals) are in "the know" they never get to taste the best NZ wines

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