So You Want To Be A Waiter

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You know you’re a foodie when…

…you’re watching Tony Bourdain in Vienna and you say, “He’s drinking out of a Spiegelau wine glass! It’s an “Authentis” Burgundy glass! Why is he drinking white wine out of it? And hey, I’ve even got one of those glasses”!

That’s when you say to yourself, “Have I’ve gone too far? Am I a lost boy”?

That’s on top of me going to a new Vietnamese restaurant this afternoon and being disappointed with the  Bánh mì sandwich and the vermicelli dish that you find in most Viet restaurants (you know the one – it’s got cut up pieces of spring roll, cilantro, grated carrots, “BBQ pork”, ground peanuts and a side bowl of sweetened fish sauce. First of all, the Bánh mì barely had any crunchy bits like cucumber and carrots, and had some very stalky cilantro stuck in the middle. The pork was the requisite reddish color but had hardly any flavor. Plus, it wasn’t even cut in the middle. Sad. Then, the vermicelli dish had some sad bits of cilantro and a sprinkling of carrots and almost indiscernable cucumber, the fish sauce tasted more vinegary than sweet, and the spring rolls were basically Chinese spring rolls (I don’t know what makes them different, but the Vietnamese spring rolls you usually find in the dish are far more succulent and tasty). But the final insult was the fact that the vermicelli was overcooked and comprised most of the bowl instead of having a good ratio of noodles to “good bits”. Oh wait, I forgot – I had to send back the lemonade because it was a commercial mix  instead of that really good “homemade lemonade” that you find in a good US Vietnamese restaurant. Hell, it even said “homemade lemonade” on the menu. I told my waiter that it tasted like Countrytime and she told me that it was actually Minutemaid.

I turned into one of those passive-aggressive diners that we waiters all hate, only I dropped the “aggressive”. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the very nice, accommodating waiter that it wasn’t her fault but her restaurant’s cuisine sucked eggs. I was hard enough for me to send the flipping lemonade back ($2.75 – are you kidding me??!!??)

I feel badly because I won’t be going back, especially since there are three good Vietnamese restaurants within 3 blocks of there. I feel especially bad because I didn’t have the heart to tell my waiter. I’m a baaaaddd diner.  But even worse, I feel weird that I had such emotions over a $10 lunch. I guess that makes me a foodie of sorts – a foodie on a budget.

God, somebody please help me…

Gifts for waiters – pt. 4

Get access to your favorite waiter’s wine list where he or she works.

Establish a dollar amount that you want to spend for a gift.

Let’s say that you want to give them a $100 gift. Either buy multiple bottles whose retail prices total that amount, or buy one bottle that equals that amount. The first way gives them exposure to more of their wine list, bottles that they might not ever get to sample, and the latter gives them exposure one really nice bottle that they are unlikely to be able to try.

When you put together the gift package, a nice touch would be a description of the wine, taken either from the winemaker’s website’s tech sheet, or, even better, Wine Spectator’s capsule review. Wine Spectator has some reviews available on-line without a subscription, so you might be lucky and the wine might be reviewed. Failing that, you could always Google the name and you might come up with somebody’s review. If you do, copy it and print it up and paste it to a card which you enclose with the bottle/s.

Another nice touch would be providing a wine-appropriate Riedel glass for each wine. This will drive up the price of the gift, so calculate this into the amount that you want to spend. Riedels come in different price categories and each is specifically and scientifically designed for the type of wine. They start at about $8 a stem and go up to $100 a stem. Let’s say that you decide to go the high-end bottle route and you have $150 to spend, you might want to cap your bottle price at $50 and go with a glass from the Sommelier line. This is a very impressive glass, especially if you are getting a red wine glass. The “Bordeaux Grand Cru” is a huge hand-blown work of art. It’s a 30 oz. glass and it will set you back $100. Obviously, this would be a great gift on its own as well.

Riedel has a nice series for much less, the Vinum. You can get two glasses for around $60 (smaller glasses like Riesling or Chardonnay glasses are cheaper in both series). It’s a smaller, more manageable glass than the Grand Cru, more of an everyday glass (the Grand Cru is very fragile due to its size). If you are really on a budget, or want to put more of your gift money into the wine, Riedel has an even cheaper series, the Ouverture, which runs about $8 – $10 a glass. They are still better than most average glasses out there.

Spiegelau is another maker of nice crystal. They usually run a little less than Riedel but offer similar quality.

both brands have a new category of glass, the “tumbler”. Basically, it’s a flat-bottomed stemless wine glass. I actually have a set of these and they’re pretty cool. They’re good for drinking wine on the sofa. You can actually put them on the armrest, which you can’t really do safely with a stem.

There’s always the decanter route as well. A nice decanter can be a work of art. If you go to Amazon and search for decanters, you’ll see a wide variety, not only in style and shape, but in price as well. Obviously, Riedels can be expensive, but they too have some affordable models. Plan to spend anywhere from around $30 up to $150. I wouldn’t spend any less on a decanter sight unseen because you  really can’t be sure of the quality. Even at $30, you can get a decent quality lead crystal decanter.

Here’s one from Riedel for between $30 – $40. It’s a good visual example of what Riedel’s all about. It doesn’t look all swoopy and modern, in fact, it looks sort of ordinary and ungainly. Well, there’s a purpose to this. It’s a decanter designed for Burgundies (Pinot Noir). Pinots are notoriously fragile and normally don’t need to be decanted at all. A lot of aeration can actually do them harm. Aeration is the exposure to air that some big wines like Cabernet Sauvignon need to go from the bottle to consumption. This decanter minimizes this exposure by being tall and narrow, unlike other decanters which generally get very broad at the bottom to expose more of the wine to oxygen.

If your waiter friend actually keeps a lot of wine at home, something like this fancy wine opener from Metrokane, the Rabbit, might be just what the doctor ordered:

Runs about $50. 

Also, you can go the tabletop route with something like this “”Quest Products Connoisseur Vintner’s Reserve Tabletop Wine Opener, which runs in the $70 price range:

Of course, all of this assumes that your waiter friend drinks wine. You wouldn’t want to consider these gifts to anyone in recovery, now would you?