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Mar 3, 2008 05:49 AM

When the restaurant goes above and beyond what is expected

We have all read the rants here about restaurants that push wine, or that just don't do anything to make the wine experience a pleasent one. I'd like to report on an incident that was just the opposite.

Recently we decided, on the spur of the moment, to have dinner at Mrs. K's Toll House in Silver Spring, MD. The house has been there as a toll house since the very early 1900's and has been a restaurant since 1930. I don't know how I have managed to not eat there in the 25 years I've lived here, but this was our first visit. The meal was excellent for the most part, the service wonderful, but it was happened when I ordered the wine that I want to recount.

The wine list is huge, abet fairly expensive (but it is Montgomery County MD where the county does its best to screw up anything having to do with wine) but has wines in all price ranges. There were 5 or 6 vintages of Ridge Monte Bello available (Jake wanted to order the 1994 but that was outside my price range for this evening) as well as several pages of Bordeaux and even a 1979 Petrus, which did not have a price (but obviously well outside the price I was looking for) It was difficult choosing. After deciding that we would order a glass of Pinot Grigio for my wife to go with her fish, and a bottle of a red for the steaks Jake and I were having, I settled on a 2001 Worthy Sophie's Cuvee, but the server came back and said they couldn't find it, but did I want the 2004. I declined and asked for the list again and ordered a 2003 Chateau la Nerthe CNdP. About 10 minutes later the server came back with two bottles in his hand and again said they could not find that vintage. He had called the owner and was told to offer us our choice, at the price of the la Nerthe. He then presented a 1999 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve and a 1999 Louis Latour Château Corton Grancey to choose from. I was sorely tempted to take the Mondavi, but knew my wife would much prefer a Pinot Noir (she does not like Cabernet) so I chose the Corton. It was fantastic, as only properly aged Burgundy can be. Lots of sweet ripe cherry, casis and plums with fine, well integrated tannins and a fairly long finish. Needless to say, we all loved it. I've often been at restaurants where they offer to substitute a wine for what you ordered at the same price, but I thought the choices of substitutions, considering the wines I had asked for, was above and beyond what I would have reasonably expected. And to top it off, after the meal, the manager took us for a tour of the large, and very cool wine cellars. They were huge, and having just taken delivery of a large shipment of wines, were packed, which might explain the difficulty in finding the original choices.

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  1. I love it when that happens! That's what "hospitality" is all about.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. cheers to them. That's what get people coming back to restaurants and recommending to others. Considering the wine you finally chose, it's nice to see the restaurant staff realized a little extra hospitality is probably deserved and not taken for granted.

      1. There's two ways of looking at this. On the one hand it's very nice that they offer an acceptable substitute...

        On the other hand, who's minding the store? I wonder how many other bottles on the list they don't really have in stock...

        further, at least they point out to you the difference in vintage. some shops just would have opened the 2004 instead of the 2001 you ordered, and the vintages are often night and day difference in quality.

        Understandable that the manager would think "hey we better nip this in the bud and give them something good" after failing to deliver on their wine list twice.

        1. Well done, on the part of the owner, manager and the server. As obvious as such an elegant and easy solution this was to alleviate the frustrations of its customers, a lot of restaurants still fail to realize customer loyalty is worth a lot more than the difference in the price of the Mondavi Reserve and the La Nerthe.

          1. So nice to see a positive story on wine selection, especially in lieu of wines not in stock, but still on the list. I think that they handled it well, and are to be commended, as you have done. While we do not get out of DC too far, when we're there about 4x/year, guess where we'll dine, when in/near Silver Spring. Thanks for the post and the positive bit. Too often we hear of an attempt to substitute a far lesser wine for 2x the price, or just bring a "substitute," with no mention that it is 6x the price of the bottle ordered.


            2 Replies
            1. re: Bill Hunt

              In fairness to the restaurant, I don't know that they didn't have the vintages I asked for, or they were just unable to find them. As I said, they had just received a huge order earlier and had not been able to put it away. As a result, there was wine all over the place in the basement, and even though they had a separate place for the Worthy and Axios, the la Nerthe could have been anywhere. The restaurant was recently remoddled and they are still in the process of trying to get their cellar organized, and considering how much wine I saw, that will be a major job. But it was nice that they went out of their way to make sure that I was taken care of and had a good experience.

              As to restaurants that just open another bottle and served it, I won't drink a bottle that isn't presented to me for approval before being opened. I've been known to send an opened bottle back and ask that they open the one I drink at my table.

              1. re: dinwiddie

                You should have offered to help them in an "inventory reduction" campaign. Less to put away... I've gotta' do one of those in my cellar, just so I can reach the PNs. Luckily, I have a bunch of winos, who will be more than glad to help me.

                Thanks for the clarification. I understand, having wanted a specific bottle at a certain restaurant, and accompanying the server into the cellar, because I knew about where it was. Luckily, my memory held, and we found their last one.