You know the old story: Man walks into steakhouse. Isn’t much of a wine drinker. Asks the waitress for a suggestion. She points to a bottle. He asks her how much — because he isn’t wearing his glasses. She casually says, “Thirty-Seven-Fifty.” Everyone enjoys the wine with their dinner. The bill arrives. That bottle the waitress recommended to the self-professed wine novice? Just a $3,750 dollar bottle of 2011 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon.
This story, courtesy of NJ.com’s ‘Bamboozled’ column, is a painful one. If it’s true — and this is a case of ‘he said, she said’ — it reinforces every bad stereotype people have about restaurants upselling patrons on wine they don’t want and cannot afford. The bottle, for the record, was the second-most expensive one the entire list (behind a bottle of 1982 Mouton Rothschild!), not counting a few 6 liter Imperials (mostly 1st growth Bordeaux), along with a $5,200 dollar bottle of 1959 d’Yquem in the desert wine section. Even worse, this episode, true or false, will make anyone who reads it think twice about asking a (hopefully) knowledgable server or sommelier for advice.
Here’s how things went down at Bobby Flay Steak at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City:
Joe Lentini, after a business dinner at Bobby Flay Steak at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, experienced sticker shock.
A week ago, he and two others of his party of 10 decided to share a bottle of wine, he said.
The host of the dinner — the guy who would be paying the bill — told Lentini to pick a bottle, Lentini said.
“I asked the waitress if she could recommend something decent because I don’t have experience with wine,” Lentini said. “She pointed to a bottle on the menu. I didn’t have my glasses. I asked how much and she said, ‘Thirty-seven fifty.'”
The drinkers at the table agreed to the price and they ordered, Lentini said.
The sommelier brought out the wine, Lentini gave it a taste, said it was fine, and the wine was served. And then the check came:
The total bill was $4,700.61, including tax. The bottle of wine, Screaming Eagle, Oakville 2011 — cost $3,750.
Lentini said he called the waitress over and said there was a problem. He said he explained that he never would have ordered such expensive wine, and repeated that when he asked about the price, the waitress said “thirty-seven fifty,” not “three-thousand, seven-hundred-and-fifty.”
The waitress disagreed, and a maître d’/manager was called over.
Next, Lentini said he was told the best price the restaurant could offer was $2,200.
Lentini said he couldn’t afford that, but to be able to leave, he and two other diners agreed to split the $2,200 bill.
So we have Mr. Lentini’s version of the story — backed up by his dining companions to his left and to his right (his wife). What does the restaurant say?
“As the leading culinary destination in this region, we consistently serve as many, if not more high-end wine and spirits without incident,” [Borgata] executive vice president Joseph Lupo said. “In this isolated case, both the server and sommelier verified the bottle requested with the patron.”
Lupo said that fact was confirmed surveillance footage. We asked Borgata to share the footage, which does not have audio, but it said it could not.
Lupo said the host of the dinner confirmed the price of the bottle before the bill was presented, yet he chose not to “say anything to management.”
“Due to these factors along with very detailed accounts from multiple sources regarding the incident, Borgata is confident there was no misunderstanding regarding the selection,” Lupo said. “We simply will not allow the threat of a negative story that includes so many unaccounted and questionable statements to disparage our integrity and standards, which Borgata takes great pride in practicing every day.”
Again, this a case of wildly conflicting accounts, but the whole episode seems odd. The restaurant claims they are willing to suffer through whatever may come from the “threat of a negative story,” yet at the same time they were willing to knock more than 45% of the price off the bottle (down to their likely cost for the wine) at the first complaint? If you’re going to come out and say the man is lying, and you have the evidence on camera to prove it, that seems awfully accommodating.
You can head over to NJ.com to read more — yes, there is more — but we’ll leave you with our favorite quote from the whole piece. What did Mr. Lentini think of the Screaming Eagle, a bottle most wine drinkers will never get a chance to sample? “It was okay. It was good,” Lentini said of the wine. “It wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible. It was fine.”
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