The worst part of our recent college tour to New York and Massachusetts was the constant rain and unseasonably cool temperatures. But we, really I, as my daughter isn’t yet a citizen of the wine world, ran into enough wine-related disappointments to give the weather a run for its money, or at least compound its discomfort.
Here’s the trip’s anti-Top Ten. Happily, despite these irksome moments, the good elements of our wanderings, non-wine moments included, still outweigh the bad, two to one. See, this list is only a Top Five!
1. The Fitz, the bar and dining room at the Fitzpatrick Hotel Manhattan, is a great place to unwind at the end of the day. Comfortable furniture, a well-stocked bar, a personable and professionally attentive bartender combine to make The Fitz a welcoming room. What’s missing is a decent wine list, one that matches the bar’s other components in quality and imagination. If you’re from out-of-town and want to feel like a big spender in the Big Apple, the wine list there will help you do it. You know that bottle of Robert Mondavi Private Reserve that you can pick up at the store for $10-12? Well, at The Fitz, that’s what one glass will cost you. High prices for low wine. A markup of 400%. And the Mondavi is one of the best labels on the list. Maybe the hotel should start calling its bar The Fleece.
2. If you pay any attention to the NYC food scene, you know that Brooklyn is exploding with quality eateries. Just about every neighborhood can boast creative and interesting dining spots covering a wide-spectrum of cuisines. My daughter and I headed over to Carroll Gardens, where I planned to show her where her mom and I lived before we headed up to Connecticut to spawn, and then I was going to treat her to a good meal at one of the new hotspots. Not a very successful move it turns out. It was Monday, and several of the restaurants I had in mind were closed. After trudging up and down Smith Street in freezing, gale-force winds, we dove into one of the few open spots, Savoia, whose windows full of ratings persuaded us we might be safe inside. Wrong. Savoia’s interior was dark, like a haunted house, and just as empty, just as scary. But we were too hungry to be afraid. The wine list was brief, but did hold a few interesting wines by the glass. Maybe this place wouldn’t be so bad after all. I asked for a nero d’avola. Sorry, all out. Did they have any of the primitivo? Sure, our eager waitress replied, fetching the bottle. I noticed that the bottle was three-quarters empty, and so asked when it had been opened. The day before, she assured me. As she pulled the rubber stopper from the bottle, the room exploded with a cannon-shot of rushing air, as though someone had just stabbed one of Macy’s parade balloons. This was followed immediately by the unmistakable odor of hot, oxidized wine. She asked if I would like a small taste before she poured my glass. I politely suggested she open a fresh bottle. She did. It was warm. I don’t even remember what I ate that night. All I remember is the noisy wine bottle. Maybe Monday isn’t the best day to eat out in Brooklyn.
3. Speaking of hot wine, wouldn’t you expect an establishment that calls itself a vineria to know what it’s doing when it comes to wine? Ciao, a restaurant and wine bar on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village, looks like a cafe in that part of Manhattan should look: worn wooden floors, artsy types reading the paper or scribbling in notebooks, rickety, mismatched furniture. A pretty inviting scene. Well, for a wine bar, Ciao serves a great cup of espresso. That’s what I ordered when I sat down at the counter. The room was warm despite the cool, wet weather coming through a bank of open windows. I figured if I was warm in there on a cold day, how warm did the wines get, standing four deep on the bar next to the cash register, when the weather warmed up? Those wines not lucky enough to be standing rested cozily in a rack above the bar. Cozy. Very cozy. A glass of Chianti? Sure, and a cup of ice if you don’t mind.
4. I love the Massachusetts law that lets diners take their unconsumed wine home in a sealed doggie bag. Instead of being restricted to a restaurant’s by-the-glass selection, diners can dive into the full list, knowing that after a glass or two they can recork the bottle and take the rest home. What I don’t like is when restaurants, like my beloved Boynton, make stuff up and put their own reading of the law into effect. I was told one evening that there had to be “two adults on the bottle,” otherwise I had to order by the glass. Wait, I can order as many pints of beer as I like and that’s okay, but I can’t have a glass or two of wine, and then, in accordance with state law, take the rest of the bottle home? Okay, I agreed, I’ll order by the glass. The next night I asked a waitress at another restaurant if the “two on the bottle” rule was part of the law. She looked at me like I had two heads. Okay, I have a big head, but not like it’s double the normal head size. At least I don’t think it is. Anyway, one less bottle of wine sold at the Boynton.
5. 2007 Stag’s Leap Artemis in Comfort Inn‘s cheap plastic cups. Just not the way to enjoy the last glass or two from the doggie bag. I’m no accountant, and certainly not “green” enough to qualify as a tree-hugger, but I have to think that budget hotels would save money in the long run if they outfitted their rooms with real glasses. They’re already washing dishes from the complimentary breakfast; why not run a few loads of glasses and keep a metric ton or so of plastic out of the local landfill every year? Saves money. Saves the environment. And, most importantly, it saves me a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond for wine glasses. Can’t we all get on the same page and realize what’s important in this world? Please.