My palate has never been as educated as some. I can't tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or whole milk and skim. I think I can distinguish Bud from Miller, although I'd hate to bet my life on it.
So when someone claims he can tell one brand of high-tone booze from another, I always react in the same two ways simultaneously. My hat goes off, and my skepticism goes up.
However, a reader from Greenbelt called the other day to report that his palate is particularly well-versed in the area of liqueurs. The one he always chooses is Frangelica (a rich, mellow, hazelnut potion). He says he can tell Frangelica a million miles away -- and he can tell imitations three million miles away.
The other night, my reader ordered a snifter of his favorite drink at a hanging-plant kind of place near his home. A few seconds later, he happened to glance over at the bartender. The bottle being poured was not Frangelica, but the house brand of a similar libation.
My reader was entertaining a promising member of the opposite sex at the time, so he decided not to make a scene. But he called me the next morning to ask what kind of protest he should have lodged, if any, and what results he could have expected, if any.
Are there any laws governing such order-and-switch tactics? my reader wondered. Do bars routinely substitute house brands for name brands so they can pocket a buck or two? Has anyone ever been prosecuted or censured for, if you will, failure to Frangelicate?
Eileen Brandenberg of the Prince George's County Consumer Affairs Office said that "willful deception" by a bartender would be grounds for an investigation by her office. However, a customer would have to prove that his order was deliberately ignored, and that the bartender does so regularly.
No one in Prince George's has ever lodged such a claim or proved it, Eileen said. A spokesman for the bar and restaurant industry said he couldn't recall any such prosecution -- or any such habitual cheating -- anywhere else, either.
My hunch, Greenbelt reader, is that the bartender simply made a mistake in your case. If he didn't, he was begging to be caught. Frangelica has a thoroughly distinctive taste, even to a tongue-dead clod like me. Anyone who orders it by name is probably familiar with the taste, and therefore highly likely to sniff out any deception.
Still, bars routinely charge 40 percent extra for "call brands," which makes it tempting to substitute house brands. The best defense? Your palate, your eyes -- and a solid blast of the tongue in the direction of the manager, promising date or no.
Stories like the following always warm my innards. The reason in this case is that the story itself is about innards.
Mildred Faulkner-Ross, of Northwest Washington, bought a chicken last week from a Giant Food store on Seventh Street NW. She planned to fashion a stuffing out of the liver, the gizzards and all the usuals that a whole chicken normally contains. But when she got home and unwrapped the bird she had just bought, it was innardless.
Mildred called the store to complain. She reached the manager, Ron Peterson. He explained that selling partial chickens when they're marked "whole" is not Giant's policy. But explanations were not going to rescue Mildred's dinner party menu.
So Ron Peterson hopped in his car and delivered a fresh set of innards to Mildred's front door, in less than 15 minutes. That was plenty of time for Mildred to prepare the meal she had always intended to prepare.
"Unbelievable? Believe it!" writes Mildred. As for Brother Peterson, he certainly has that key inner organ known as a heart, doesn't he?
Meanwhile, Shirley A. Davis, of Silver Spring, has reached the end of her rope. Poor spelling put her there.
Shirley lives in a large apartment building. She turned to Channel 3 on her cable TV the other day, expecting to get HBO. Instead, she got a message from the building's management. Rewiring would be needed for the next few days, and service would occasionally be interrupted, the message said. "Thanks for your patients," it concluded.
As Shirley notes, a few doctors have offices in her building, but this is ridiculous.
From Vance Garnett of Northwest Washington:
"The man on this morning's crowded Metro may favor curry, but believe me, he didn't curry favor."
Bob Orben says the White House has just announced a new noise abatement program. The staff is distributing bumper stickers that read:
HONK IF YOU LOVE DUKAKIS.