Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Bottle of Red, A Bottle of White

It all depends on your appetite,
I'll meet you any time you want,
In our Italian Restaurant!

Billy Joel, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

Long time, I know. Here is the deal. Opening a new restaurant is pretty hard. Most of my summer prime money-making time was spent in competition with other bartenders and servers. Now it is officially "fall" season and our little corner of the world has slowed considerably. I will officially have plenty of time off! That is a good and a bad thing. Our bar staff is now narrowed to the core, and I am right there. The four of us that are left are now going to fill every shift from here til spring break! Oh, and this place is beautiful. People walk around in wonder sometimes. Others pretend like they could care less. It is kind of funny. We have LOADS of rich people who don't care a thing about prices. Obviously freaking great to have. I have thought of writing about them many times, because they are very interesting and often funny. That is part of the problem, too. I love most of them, and would never want to violate their trust and in most cases extreme generosity. One day I will tell some of their stories as I have told some others.

Here is a couple that I feel like I can tell:

I am waiting tables one day, and am given my little computerized chit with the guests name, number in his party and any notes, such as anniversary or birthday. In the note section it says VIP party of six, Mr (so-and-so) wants to sit in the wine room (which had not opened yet, this was the second day that we were open.) and that Mr (so-and-so) was disappointed. A waiter peeks over my shoulder and says "Oh, great, Mr (so-and-so.)" I am a bit paranoid and it is only day two, so I inquire what does he mean. He tells me that Mr (so-and-so) is a big spender and a great tipper, but so fucking fussy as to almost not be worth it. As I approach the table, I see three 30/40-something couples, all seemingly nice looking and fit, etc. I'll make it quick: 4 pound lobster as a group appetizer ($130) 3 bottles of Cakebread Chardonnay ($330) 4 bottles of Silver Oak Cabernet ($520 Alexander, not Napa) and all have food that would make any king satisfied. Mr (so-and-so) is upset because every thing took too long. It is our second night open, and the kitchen was very slow. It has done nothing but improve since then, but hey, this was day two! He had a number of special requests, all of which we complied with. Like I said not majorly upset, but upset enough that when he finds out that we have no more cold Cakebread Chard, he starts spouting off. He waves me away imperiously and tells me to bring him the best that we have by the glass. I bring him a glass of Rosenblum Chardonnay, which we get $14 a glass for. He tastes it and waves it away. "Get me a manager!" I go find the boss, he comes over and he and Mr (so-and-so) go over the litany of mistakes that have occurred. The most serious of course is not having ample amounts of cold Cakebread. Boss simply and calmly states, "Can I buy you some desserts and a bottle of the Far Niente Chardonnay to smoothe things over?" Fine! I go and get the wine, which of course goes over well, they order desserts but he wants his creme brulee to go. I go into the schpeel of how the we can get him the creme brulee to go, but it will lose all of it presentational value, and will not look anything like creme brulee, etc. He looks at his wife, and I shit you not says "I ain't gettin' it for the presentation, I'm gettin' it to lick off of her!" They then begin kissing like they were in a porno, falling over into the plush booth. I have to walk away or else a "vomit in the back of my mouth" would have occurred. They down the last bottles of wine, some have dessert, Mr (so-and-so) gets the check, doesn't even look at it and tips 25%, over a $200 tip. A few minutes later they are kind of chilling near the entrance and chatting, waiting for the valet parking, and something gets said. What it was I will likely never know, but I wish I did for the funny value. The woman who was to have the creme brulee licked off of her storms off. Mr (so-and-so) is lost at this point. He pretends to play it cool, says goodbye to friends, and then sets out to look for her. We close down, noone is left, it is all just a matter of resetting the tables, cashing out, and then time to go home. When all is nearly done, 45 minutes later, in comes Mr (so-and-so) and he asks "Have you seen an angry blonde woman anywhere?" Nope. A couple of weeks later I am behind the bar chatting with another wealthy, self-employed, semi-retired regular who knows Mr (so-and-so) through another way, and also works for him sometimes in his business. Mr (so-and-so) and this dude spy each other in the restaurant and greet each other all friendly-like, chit-chat a few minutes and then Mr (so-and-so) and his wife(who is at his side despite whatever happened that night) leave. As soon as the valet gets their car, the bar guest begins to go on and on about what an asshole he is, and how "much I hate that fucker!"

Another time, I am bartending and in comes a 30-40's blonde woman. Nicely dressed and groomed, nice looking as well. She orders some nice wine, asks me what I think about Duckhorn merlot. I tell her that I am not much of a merlot drinker, but if I would make an exception, it would certainly be for some Duckhorn, and we carry three really good Duckhorn merlots by the bottle. Others arrive, and soon the party grew to six, all drinking premium stuff. I soon realize that she is waiting for a Dr, and he too soon arrives. Then she asks for their bill which is over $100. She hands me a corporate credit card (confirming my suspitions) for a major pharmaceutical company, doesn't blink once at the prices and tips 25%, thanking me. About two hours later they are all leaving, obviously tipsy, they are thanking her profusely as she walks them out. Their server was Dave, a hilarious server who won't stop cracking jokes. It is kind of in his nature to be funny. Dave is probably 40, salt-and-pepper hair, and is known for having a "car-bar" in the back of his truck. He and anyone around go after the shift is over and sneak a quick one in before heading home. I ask Dave if they had hooked him up at all, an he confirmed it with a "hell yeah! Duckhorn Napa Valley ($99 a bottle) is sold out!" A few minutes later the woman is back at the bar digging through her purse. In an attempt to appear attentive, I approach and ask her if she has stopped for an after dinner drink. She says no, and continues looking in her purse. After a few seconds she looks around for me and I make eye contact and re-approach her. She is pretty loaded and almost appears to be struggling with her words.

Do you...uhm
Do you...have...
do you have....any....any....uhm
ME: "What?" Shocked look on my face
HER: "You know...some coke" she says the final word out the side of her mouth
ME: "Do I look like I could afford habits like that?"
HER: "You could probably get some, right?"
ME: "I don't know how!"
HER: "Can you ask someone?"
Just what I wanted to do! Geez, it's like she could read my mind. Lemme just get George Jung from my speed dial! So luckily it was late at night and there wasn't anyone else left at the bar, and only a few left at all in the restaurant. I can pretty much avoid her until she gets the point. I leave the bar entirely and head for a different section of the restaurant. I run into Dave her server and he is jovial as always.
ME: "Hey Dave, your girl needs some coke..why don't you hook her up!?"
Dave: a little bit nervously "What...What do you mean?!"
ME: "The pharmaceutical rep chick. She came back to the bar and is looking to score some coke. You wanna hook her up?"
Dave leans around the corner, looks her up and down, big smirk arching accross his face. Without missing a beat quips "Great. Just what I need in my life...another coke whore." He walks away shaking his head and laughing. "Lemme' make a call" he says laughingly when he is almost out of range. I can't tell if he was for real, or just being Dave.

And that brings up my final thing. I am not a druggie. I am not inncoent, and don't judge people who are or are not. I have tried enough drugs in my 36 years to ultimately find them pretty lacking. I last got high when I smoked some weed before a big football game with some friends in 2001. I can't see doing it all the time. I know people who do the "wake-and-bake." For anyone who doesn't know, that is a peron who lights a joint or does a bong hit as they wake up. I have had a few opportunities to do some of the really hard drugs, but have never done them. No coke, heroin, crack, crystal-meth. Some pot, some acid, some mushrooms. Call it immaturity, call it experimental or whatever. These people are people with money, serious money as well as some problems. We have had people that drank three bottles of Chatuea Laffite Rothschild at $375 per bottle, and then soon after caught them in the bathroom doing coke. Or the ones that ordered some Opus One and then grabbed it from the server so that the host could pour it and spilled it all over the place. Did he get upset? No, he said "Fuck it, I'm rich, get me another one!" High. More than one of these people are local/regulars.
It makes me wonder how did they get their money? Our ends meet, but we live modestly. I feel like we make pretty decent money and all. How the hell do they have so much and are able to do so much drugs, booze and fine food. It almost makes me feel like for the first time like I work in a place that I can't afford. Is that right?
Alli and I went out to eat there, and even with my 50% discount, it was still about the third or fourth most expensive meal that I had ever eaten. It was a really great time, but one thing that I have learned that it isn't about the food for most people. It's is about the company. The service. The experience as a whole. I have had some really great meals for less than half the money because the company was so great. This meal was the best one though. A bottle of wonderful wine, some awesome food. A great atmosphere, and service enough to spoil anyone. Best of all, I had my best friend, Alli, and the daughter who shares my birthday with me (who behaved/endured through a two-hour fine dining meal on her [and mine] fifth birthday.) I couldn't have asked for more on a birthday. Thank you Alli and June Bug!

If you ever have any doubts what a fine meal can mean, please, I urge all of you to rent Babbette's Feast. It is slow at first, and a "gasp, shock and horror" a Foreign movie with subtitles! Any food lover will love it, and I often blame this movie and a place called Jaleo's in Washington DC for the marriage to my wife. These were things that I showed to her that she had never heard of before, and damn, but we had a fine time at each of them. I think that it would be difficult to have gotten Alli to marry me had I not known a lot about food and wine. I will always remember going to Jaleo's with Alli, and how we spent hours there drinking sangria and stuffing ourselves. Possibly the only better meal than the one we had at my new place. There was no June Bug back then, there was only two people realizing how much they knew about life without knowing each other. And it was a match. A real one. When I first watched Babbettes Feast, I really liked it. Alli insisted that I tell her nothing about the movie. NOTHING!! I tried to give her a little warning, about how incredibly happy , AND sad that this movie was. I almost insisted, but her will was stronger. About half way through, she began to sob...2/3 of the way it was almost blubbering. By the time the movie was over, she was so sad and happy at the same time that she was MAD AT ME, for not telling her how emotional it was. Her eyes were swollen from the crying for two days. We have watched it a few times since, always pushing it on som unseuspecting person. Alli's Dad, when the movie first came out (1988) actually went to a restaurant that duplicated Babbette's Feast! Anyways, more blubbering. When Alli's Dad came to DC, we took him to Jaleo's. He stared, mouth watering openly at the menu of TAPAS. He asked the server if he could bring us "THE ENTIRE SECOND PAGE." The server happily complied, and spaced it so that we never had more than three tapas on the table and they were always recharged when we were done. It was the perfect mixture of food and service, and if you ever go to DC and have the chance to go, please go! They are the best TAPAS this side of Barcelona. Anyhow, all that I know is that when we went to my place we spent $300 even with my 50% discount. We could have bought some stock? Put it away for a rainy day? Provided some school clothes for our daughter? Given it to Charity? No. We had a fine dining meal. We had USDA Prime, Bone-in-ribeye and some wonderful lamb-chops. We had some amazing potatoes, some uber premium veggies, fall of the face of the earth they were so great appetizers, and some of the most delicately prepared desserts ever. Not to mention, an exquisite bottle of wine. I have since asked my local wine retailers if they could get us some of this wine, and all agreed that the best way was to get it through the vintner, "if it was available." My restaurant had it. We loved it, and drank it as it slowly changed flavors over the course of an hour and a half...I have since had it a couple of more times. It was best when I drank it with Alli. She, and our daughter are the ones that I live for.