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Apr 27, 2014 11:54 AM

Baumé (Palo Alto)'s exotic wine policy?

I didn't see this discussed, to speak of, in mentions of Baumé found here. I have still not been to this restaurant, which is in my part of the Bay Area. Yet some very food-and-wine-savvy friends had dinner there recently, much enjoyed the food, but came away describing an aspect truly eccentric. I'm curious if this has always been true, or if anyone knows of exceptions. (Note, I'm only concerned here with the policy for _dinner._)

They said the tasting menu was some $198 p/p, but the only wine option was by-glass pairings: two formats, smaller and larger. No corkage option and more surprisingly, NO wine list for ordering bottles. The larger pairing format that they opted for was very pricey, hundreds of dollar per person. From my friends' description, it seems even one diner going for tasting menu and requesting the full wine pairing would pay $198 for food, $398 yes $398 for wine. Basically 600 p/p.

I checked the web site: all I saw is the "recommended" wine pairings and no BYOB. I'm a bit of a wine geek, and would hope to have some options to order bottles at dinner -- that was what my friends assumed too, but they were surprised.

Anyone else have experience with this?

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  1. The prices include service charge and tax.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks, I've accordingly edited out the "++" from the prices quoted above.

      Do you have experience at the restaurant, and this unusual dinner wine policy?

    2. Let's see, I think I ate there about 2 years ago. Maybe 2.5. I remember getting a pairing, and my dining partner getting a glass. There's no way I would have paid $400 for wine pairings, I remember an option that was $100 or $150 or something. I do not remember if there was a bottle list or not.

      1. Do they disclose what the pairings will be on the menu? If not, there's no way I'd ever do this. I use either the pairings list or the wine list to identify whether it's a good wine program or not. Without either indicator, I would be loathe to walk in so blind.

        1 Reply
        1. re: goldangl95

          I don't believe they have a menu. What I've seen posted on the front of the place is a grid of maybe around 50 ingredient names.

        2. They had a great wine list when we were there, though we went with the pairings. I find it hard to believe it would be gone. I don't recall anything about corkage. But why not call them and ask rather than have us speculate?


          23 Replies
          1. re: mdg

            As far as corkage, it says right on their web site, "No outside wine permitted." It's a recent change in policy, it was previously $68.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              So no matter matter how astronomical the corkage, they won't let you bring in your own favorite wine? Maybe there should be a Bay Area Hall of Fame for Restaurants with an Attitude and Baume could be the second inductee after Saison.

              1. re: nocharge

                @nocharge "Maybe there should be a Bay Area Hall of Fame for Restaurants with an Attitude and Baume could be the second inductee after Saison."

                LOL ... I nominate French Laundry with their $150 corkage fee as charter members too.

                1. re: nocharge

                  Hey -- to be fair, restaurants, including Saison and TFL, must make tough business decisions, under constraints far outside the daily consciouness of many customers or online commentators. If someone thinks that they can do better, and avoid these wine policy compromises, then I'll applaud their demonstrating it, and will be among the first to try out their own new restaurant, once it opens.

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    I totally understand restaurants wanting to make money from serving wine, but Baume banning any outside wine no matter the corkage seems a little over the top. Just charge enough for corkage, goddam it! And the general eccentricities of the chef at Saison, including blasting Phil Collins in the dining room, are well documented and have little to do with running a profitable restaurant.

                    1. re: nocharge

                      Oh come on. Plenty of restaurants (lower end) allow no outside food or drink. A high end tasting menu - where you don't know the food that will be served - is a very reasonable case for banning outside wine. As to the Phil Collins, in my dining at Saison 2.0, I wouldn't call it "blasting" but did find it odd. NoCharge, what was your experience at Baume?

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        "NoCharge, what was your experience at Baume?"

                        I was wondering that too.

                        1. re: eatzalot

                          Never been to Baume, so I have absolutely no opinion about the food or anything. My problem with the whole thing is the general concept of a restaurant preventing a patron from bringing that unique bottle of wine that the patron had saved for a special birthday. Makes absolutely no economic sense for the restaurant to do so given that it can crank up corkage fees arbitrarily. Just creates bad will rather than goodwill. A matter of irrational eccentricity on part of the restaurant. Nothing to do with Baume specifically. It's a matter of "the customer is always right" vs. "my way or the highway" attitude on part of the restaurant.

                          1. re: nocharge

                            In this case, they've just made the wine match what they've been doing with the food for a while. No menu, no choices, you just get what they give you.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              My definition of an arrogant restaurant. Do they give you salt if you ask for it?

                            2. re: nocharge

                              What if that special bottle of wine doesn't match well with the food being served that day? Then it will have been -- to some extent -- wasted. Better to save it for a different restaurant where you know you can order food that will be complementary. There's no shortage of special occasion restaurants where you can bring a bottle of wine.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Two comments on that:

                                1. It's your decision. You bring in a bottle that doesn't go well with the food and it's your problem. People have different tastes in wine just like they have in sodium. Banning people from bringing in their own bottle of wine, no matter how hefty the corkage, shows ridiculous hubris on part of the restaurant on par with refusing to provide you with a salt shaker.

                                2. There are some types of wines that go with a wide variety of foods. Champagnes come to mind. Or maybe you just want to have that 1979 Pol Roger Cuvee Winston Churchill from your wine cellar for a toast before dinner in which case the food pairing issue is irrelevant. (I actually have a bottle of the 1979 purchased from Beltramos in the 1980s. Still has the $69.99 price tag on it.)

                                Bottom line: Let patrons do what they want whether it's doing the restaurant wine pairing or bringing their own special bottle and paying corkage!

                                1. re: nocharge

                                  I guess I just don't find it that outrageous. As has often been noted in BYOB discussions, there's almost no other consumable that a restaurant will allow you to bring (the other major exception being a celebratory cake) -- you wouldn't feel justified in bringing your own food to a restaurant and asking them to plate and serve it.

                                  Allowing people to bring wine is traditional courtesy, but not an obligation.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    I agree that it's not an obligation. Restaurants can have whatever policies they want. But those policies can also be a factor in judging a restaurant. Having an attitude? Arrogant? What not.

                                    1. re: nocharge

                                      1. This subdiscussion has been mainly among people without experience at Baumé; none of us has pursued this deeper, heard from the restaurant, investigated informal exceptions to the policy, etc etc., so we don't really know. California restaurant corkage policies often entail nuances and exceptions, a perennial Wine-board theme .

                                      2. nocharge, if your "definition of an arrogant restaurant" is Ruth's "No menu, no choices, you just get what they give you," then many modest local restaurants in Europe will also strike you as "arrogant" because their custom is to offer a daily special, called "le menu" or whatever, which changes day to day by what's fresh and available. That format helped inspire the fixed daily offering at Chez Panisse (the original, the restaurant, downstairs) in 1971 at a time when many more Americans ordered from diverse restaurant offerings built on frozen ingredients. Many people who have enjoyed that daily-menu format in countries where it's the norm find it to be humble and effective, not arrogant.

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        I heard from the restaurant through their web site, which includes the message, "No outside wine permitted."

                                        Chez Panisse publishes the week's menu in advance, so you can cancel your reservation if it's not appealing.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          "I heard from the restaurant through their web site..."

                                          Yes -- as I said, but maybe I wasn't clear enough. None of us distant observers of Baumé has explored the wine policy as a customer. Which is how I usually hear about flexibilities, unwritten rules, policy exceptions, back stories to policy -- all the sorts of unknowns I alluded to earlier, and that are found, in my experience, in the diverse landscape of Bay Area restaurant wine policies.

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            I think a lot of the discussion was meant to be generic about allowing outside wines and not too much specifically about Baume, although it inspired the discussion.

                                        2. re: eatzalot


                                          I lived in Europe for pretty much exactly 25 years. Never ever went to a restaurant that didn't offer menu options. Even if such restaurants exist, I would consider them arrogant.

                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Giant's Stadium doesn't allow you to bring in outside wine. I don't consider them arrogant.

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          A very flawed analogy. There is no way a stadium could charge corkage fees for over 40,000 spectators making their way into the stadium if they were to bring their own wine or beer. So the stadium just forces people to buy the overpriced stuff sold inside. But what's stopping a high-end restaurant from allowing outside wine with a corkage fee that can be set high enough to compensate the restaurant for the loss of wine sales?

                    2. re: mdg

                      Thanks mdg, I will check directly with the restaurant. Was curious if anyone reading here had observed the policy evolutions there, and be able to comment independently about them. You, bbulkow, and Robert have shed some light.

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        I can see the appeal to the owner of selling wine only as pairings. The margins are better and you would not have to stock as many wines or keep the list up to date (which is way more work than one might imagine).

                    3. Was planning to go back to Baume until I got this inane message: We do offer only an 8 course seasonal tasting menu and wine pairing options. No Outside wine allowed.

                      Their wines may pair perfectly and may miss my taste entirely...not to mention the champagne and pinot I brought last time humbled anything in their cellar. It's like half a restaurant, no sommelier and cellar access.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: MoceMada

                        I wasn't planning on going back because I didn't like the food that much. For the price and pretention, the dishes never came together for me. I'd prefer to eat at any other tasing menu place in the bay area ( I haven't eaten at ALL of them, but those I'd rather do than a second time at Baume ).

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          It is particularly upsetting to me since I live in Palo Alto and have another reminder why I *still* have to drive to SF, the Wine Country or Manresa to enjoy a great restaurant. You would think with all the wealth that's developed in the area, that there would be awesome choices...but, perhaps, it's because the 20 somethings prefer fajitas at Palo Alto Sol.

                          1. re: MoceMada

                            I don't know if you can blame the 20 somethings (who are a much more plentiful demographic in SF and less plentiful in Menlo Park/Palo Alto - unless we're talking about Stanford students who mostly, even with parents fronting the costs, would not be eating at such places).

                            Additionally, while not high-end, Mountain View to San Jose probably has less of a 20 something demographic, and I find the food much more interesting in that stretch.

                            I'd mostly blame the lack of diversity and lack of interest in interesting culture generally (and, by that measure, lack of interest in any sort of development restaurant or otherwise). Burlingame to Palo Alto may be the worst stretch of food towns in the Bay Area (with San Mateo being a bit of an exception).

                            Flea Street Cafe is enjoyable though granted it's not trying to be a Michelin 2/3 star.

                            1. re: goldangl95

                              "the 20 somethings (who are a much more plentiful demographic in SF and less plentiful in Menlo Park/Palo Alto)"

                              As an aside, that's not the impression I get in Baumé's neighborhood, i.e. walking along Cal Ave. in the daytime.

                              ". . . Mountain View to San Jose probably has less of a 20 something demographic"

                              In the last 2-4 years since Google, LinkedIn, Apple, FB and others entered their current hiring phase with 10s of thousands (literally) of new jobs, it's exactly that demographic group that has increased so dramatically in employment in middle and lower peninsula as to prompt a cruel housing crunch and even national news (see link); these new hires live throughout the region, including SF (riding the famous shuttles to work) where they also materially contribute to the SF demographics goldangl mentioned.

                              But I suspect MoceMada has something in that 20-somethings, even affluent ones, aren't the main market for unique high-end restaurants. Flash-mob visits to Asian restaurants (organized by smartphone app) seem more their current style.

                              Palo Alto in particular has a long history of residents wringing hands over lack of restaurants beyond say Chef Chu's and Buca di Beppo, given that it ought to be a good market for them. Whatever today's complaints, dining options in Palo Alto's two downtowns have increased and diversified spectacularly in the last 25 years.


                            2. re: MoceMada

                              People are too busy developing more wealth.

                              1. re: MoceMada

                                Another thing, MoceMada: Does your definition of a great restaurant require current buzz, Michelin stars, etc.?

                                It's a philosophical point I raise sometimes. I've always been focused on the food experience, not critical or public acclaim, and have researched and explored restaurants accordingly. It's not necessary to wait for professionals to get around to doing it.

                                Consequently (just in Santa Clara County), I often enjoyed the inspired cooking of David Kinch before Manresa, Chris Kostow before Meadowood, Josh Skenes before Saison. These people all did brillant work, years before they became publicly known Brand Names (it was on the basis of that work that they were able to open prominent restaurants). Obviously, finding great chefs on the way up isn't as simple as looking them up; and they won't do for "occasions" with guests focused on prestige rather than food. But great restaurant cooking is never limited to the restaurants that already have prizes and laurels and waiting lists. And Draconian corkage policies.

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  While I mentioned living in PA, I grew up in SF. Having a family that cooked well, I forced myself to learn cooking in college as a basic survival tactic. My first encounter with a 'great' restaurant was when Hubert Keller was kicking off Fleur de Lys, which quickly became my 'go-to' date place. Albeit, Hubert is not an indefatigable force of natural like the other Mr. Keller, I personally think he's a better chef. I distinctly recall thinking that the seemingly exorbinant prices charged were a true bargain considering 8 courses, each a little miracle, and even if one had the skill and could somehow source the plethora of ingredients, would take an awful long time to prepare. TV, or the SF version of Trader Vic's was, in a orthogonal manner, also 'great' in the 70's since there was literally no other place on the planet where you could get such a fine blend of eclectic savories. Today the spices and blends TVs offered have become commonplace and Fleur de Lys is closed, but, both examples offered something wildly better than nearly all other restaurants.

                                  I was thinking of this history in defining 'great' since, as was earlier noted by you and goldangl95, there is a distinct lack of development restaurants. My first visit at French Laundry, in '83, was to a country french restaurant with a decidedly friendly atmosphere. The entrance door was closed at a certain hour so patrons could socialize with one another...imagine that. It's also a lot more fun and pleasant to know you are eating a great restaurant before it's widely known.

                                  1. re: MoceMada

                                    In 1983, the French Laundry was owned by the Schmitts. It was a nice place. In 1994 they sold it to some young guy and from what I hear it went way downhill.

                                    1. re: MoceMada

                                      MoceMada you are making me nostalgic. I first encountered SF's "real" Chef Keller (Hubert, from Alsace) in '85 when he was what Unterman dubbed a three-star chef working in a one-star restaurant (Sutter 500). A few years later at Fleur de Lys, he could show his stuff more freely and exuberantly; then for years I ran into him in diverse places (offering cooking classes down the peninsula, competing at -- and winning -- formal-dress SF chef competitions). One thing he brought to the scene that the other, latter-day "Keller" didn't was experience and enthusiasm for old-country cooking traditions he grew up with (in one of Europe's more famous food regions). That was especially obvious in his cooking classes I took, which focused on exquisite Alsatian folk cooking.

                                      Likewise, memories of Trader Vic's on Cosmo Place in the 70s (in what you aptly called an "orthogonal" manner -- we must be geeks, I don't think that term has yet been popularized and if it ever is, it'll surely be garbled, as happened with "parameter" and "nonlinear").

                                      1. re: MoceMada

                                        I will really emphasize the diversity point + lack of interest in development point because I really think that's much more of a factor than the '20-somethings' (which really makes no sense Palo Alto and Menlo Park have priced out all 20 somethings unless they hit an IPO - there's a distinct lack of apartment buildings - on purpose - in these areas).

                                        Why I'm re-emphasizing is the only other stretch that is as bad for food as the Burlingame - Palo Alto stretch. Is the Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Danville area. It's also affluent and it also is completely uninteresting when it comes to food - and it's been that way for awhile.

                                        The 20 somethings are not causing the problem (very few 20 somethings live in those areas), but it's a similar issue (except worse) as the Burlingame to Palo Alto problem. There's a lack of diversity and a lack of interest in developing areas that would attract creative restaurants. It's all mediocre faux-quaint french, italian, american restaurants cooking the same standards as they did thirty years ago (and the existing residents are trying to preserve that feel).