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Mar 27, 2001 11:37 AM

Just another melisse monday

  • j

Had a the carte blanche menu at melisse last monday, and it quickly became clear that Mr. Citrin was not in the house. Some of the dishes were wonderful-foie gras terrine with celeriac and black truffle was standout, but the seared foie gras, very nice by itself, was slathered with too much jammy sweet stuff (quince, maybe?). Other dishes were close but not quite on the mark. Lightly breaded and fried oysters with a black truffle puree was a nice idea, but lacked the punch fresh truffles should deliver. Lobster looked beautiful on the plate but was overcooked, and my claw still had the cartilage in it. And am I the only person in the world who wants smaller portions? It seems to me that in a meal of eight or more courses, there should be just a few bites per plate so that ones appetite is no too diminished when the weightier courses start to arrive. Halibut with leeks and favas in a white wine froth was fine, Dry aged NY with short ribs and shallot-bone marrow sauce was excellent, but by that time I was too full to enjoy it. I love the table service, and our server (can I say her name? well, it starts with an M) was fabulous. An older gent, who I mistakenly thought was the Maitre D'(sp?), seemed very put off by our presence-almost offended. The sommolier was exceptionally nice. Desserts sat basically untouched-a spoonful or two was all I could manage-again, too full. If our server and the wine fella were not so personable I probably would have complained, but I felt bad because they were so great. Anyway, I realize that I'm taking a risk anytime I dine on a monday because the chef will most likely be absent, but I for one do not find this to be an acceptable excuse. If the staff can't be left alone, then the chef needs to be there every night. Period. In closing, I know I am being very hard on the food, which was not bad by any means, I just know that they are capable of doing much, much better. The cost was about $300 for two with a $60 tip (did I mention I liked our server, whose name is the same as the last part of the name of the city in which the retaurant is located)and they properly waived corkage as I am always very generous with my wine (ex-waiter myself, don't ya know). For that kind of cash, however, I expected more. If I go back I'll opt for the shorter four course menu, which is too bad because I much prefer long and elaborate tasting menus. Oh well, I should have known better. It was a monday, after all.

That is all.
Peace and grub folks.

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  1. a couple of things:

    "properly waiving corkage" - well, i always appreciate it when corkage is waived, but never offended or taken aback if it isn't. restaurants run a business, and i feel lucky to live in a state where bringing ones own wine to a restaurant is acceptable. paying a few dollars for glassware (esp. at melisse, which probably has the finest stemware in the city) is extremely reasonable.

    as for the food, i've only eaten there once and wouldn't go back. the food was ok, the service fine, but the room i found unappealing and for that price, there are better options.


    1 Reply
    1. re: john guerin

      I suppose I've always been a bit unsympathetic when it comes to corkage fees. Paying them once is ok i guess, but $20 a bottle (often more) irks me because its not like I don't buy wine from them in addition to what i bring in. The way I see it, when I pour something nice for a waiter, or sommolier, or both, I am helping in some miniscule way to further educate their staff about wine. Thats just my perspective, and one could easily counter it. But I think the 200-400% markup on the wines they do sell should more than cover the cost of doing the dishes, which they have to do anyway. As far as being lucky to be able to bring in wine, well, I think it is the restaurant that is lucky for having people come in in the first place. Yes, they have nice stemware, but I prefer reidel, which is, of course, totally subjective.

      peace and grub bruthuh.

    2. I had the same impression of the food when I had dinner there and that was after saying hello to the chef.

      1. An exemplary review, with which I entirely agree - and I was there on a Friday, not a Monday. Corkage reflects the common practice of basing profit on alcohol markups so that food prices are kept in a reasonable "value" range. (See my post under the Los Feliz Restaurant heading, above). One wonders about greed, though, when BOTH food and wine are priced for profit, like at Melisse.

        15 Replies
        1. re: Griller141

          The mark-up on food and wine was one of the things that I talked to the chef/owner about (business man to business man) and he told me that they make almost no profit on the wine, a little profit on the food and most of the profit on the bar. When I heard this I figured that their days were numbered. Of course, I was wrong.

          1. re: Larry

            I'm sure I'm being naive about this, but how can he be making no profit on the wine when publicly advertised retail prices are 1/3 of the wine list price (and I doubt very much he is paying retail)? Maybe he is using movie production accounting standards.

            1. re: Griller141

              Most restaurants pay higher unit costs for wine than retailers, especially the big discounters. Also have fewer inventory turns, provide glassware, etc. which eat into profit margins.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                It was my understanding that restaurants pay lower unit prices than retailers do, not higher ones. I could be wrong but I really don't think so (coming from my experience in both retail wine and restaurant work). Anyway, the term "profit" here is probably a little subjective-as Melanie points out there are other costs tagged on besides just buying and selling the wine. But I think I'm closer to grillers perspective on this one.

                1. re: JustinRush

                  i was at melisse in december, and as a wine trader and collector, i am very familiar with retail and wholesale costs (restaurants and retail pay about the same). the wholesale cost for the 1997 araujo cabernet sauvignon was about $85. it was on the list for $500.

                  enough said.


                  1. re: john guerin

                    I thought only the Wine Spectator measured a restaurant's winelist by the price of the collectibles.

                    As you know, wines like Araujo, Marcassin, Colgin, Screaming Eagle, Turley, etc. are made in extremely small quantities, are allocated to restaurants in even tinier quantities, and immediately soar in value when they are released. $500 is admittedly an extraordinary markup, even for a showoff wine, but it's obvious that the restaurant wants to keep the bottle on its list rather than sell it.

                    I'm much more interested in what a restaurant charges for Domaine Tempier Bandol, Schoffit Tokay Pinot Gris or Qupe Syrah -- wines meant to be drunk instead of admired -- than in the price it thinks it might someday be able to fetch for its one bottle of '82 Petrus. One set of prices is about cuisine; the other is more like putting a few dollars into a penny stock in the hopes that it will someday pay off bigtime.

                    1. re: Pepper

                      In defense of Araujo "Eisele" Cab, it is at least characterful and worth drinking, although we can argue about its value.

                      Otherwise, I join you in chanting, "the emperor has no clothes . . .".

                      1. re: Melanie wong

                        I have no particular problem with the wine (although I have to say that I liked the wine Phelps used to make with Eisele grapes better). And if it makes people happy to drink wine that costs four times what it should--better to winemakers than to the Republican Party.

                        I just think that there are better reasons to judge a restaurant harshly than for what is its undoubtedly predatory pricing of a product whose basic reason for existence is to be predatorily priced. In this case, Melisse is giving the customer what it believes he or she wants.

                      2. re: Pepper

                        the 1997 araujo is on various lists around the city for $175-$275, a "reasonable" markup, esp. considering how much it is coveted.

                        $500 is ridiculous.

                        as for the other wines, i found most to be marked up at least 100% retail, most more like 150%. in L.A., with our corkage options, that is too high.

                        fyi, i ordered the 1997 Chateau Montelena Estate Cab for $125 (while i purchased on futures for $45, it is currently retailing for $125), an excellent price. however, i don't like to spend this kind of money on wine, but i find that either i pay an exorbitant markup for less expensive wines, or spend too much money and get a "good" value.

                        at least i don't live in nyc.


                        1. re: john guerin

                          Yep. $500 bucks.

                          All I could do was shake my head and ask them to open the bottle I brough (not an araujo, and older burg, which would have certainly been priced out my reach)

                          Agree with your further comment re list prices. I, too, am happy to not live in nyc.

                          Lastly, a friend and I tasted araujo eisle vs phelps, and we agreed that the phelps was not just better, but far better. (taking into consideration different vintages, of course) glad we weren't the only ones with this opinion. thanks and kudos for your remarks!!

                          peace n' grub

                          1. re: john guerin

                            Excellent choice and great price. Ch. Montelena is the last Napa cab remaining on my must buy list each year. I've tasted every vintage since 1978, which I bought for $12.80 at TJ's in LA when I was a grad student.

                            I was at the winery 3 weeks ago and had a chance to taste the 97 again. Really wonderful. Not something I'd pay $125 for, but I'm happy they still gave me a chance to buy it on futures. Hope you ordered the 99, another wonderful Montelena.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              When do you estimate the 97 Montelena Cab will be ready to drink?

                              1. re: "Fine"
                                Melanie Wong

                                Depends on what character you like in your wines. Of the "modern" Montelenas (post-1989), the only one that's approaching plateau now is the 1992. Otherwise, I think it's best to give these wines at least 10 years, and if you have good storage, there's probably no harm in waiting 15 to 20 years if you prefer aged character.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  montelena is one of the few cal cabs that really benefits from aging. i just had an 87 and it tasted remarkably fresh.

                                  don't touch the 97 for another 10 years.

                                  if you want to drink young cal cabs, try whitehall lane.

                      3. re: JustinRush

                        Well, I guess it would depend on the particular restaurant and retailer you were comparing. In general, restaurants do not buy nearly the overall volume nor quantity of an individual SKU that a retailer will. They just don't have the turnover or storage space. This cuts them out of quantity discounts, overrides and pre-buys, which can make differences of up to 30% in price that retailers can swing. Many restaurants have so little space (or capital) they buy broken cases (less than 12 bottles) and pay extra delivery fees.

                        At the same time, many highly allocated wines are reserved for restaurant accounts only, so the range available to a restaurant will be greater than for a retailer.