“She replied that the swordfish was sustainably farmed,” wrote Ferrara. “Neither my partner nor I could envision a swordfish farm, so we asked her to confirm that with the chef.” A few minutes later, she returned with confirmation from the kitchen. When his entree arrived, Ferrara says he archly asked the food runners, “‘So this is the farmed swordfish?' and one of them replied, ‘Yes, 100 percent farmed.’”
Ferrara asks, “Are they all in on a deception, or am I behind the times in what can be farmed? My research today has not shown me that I am. Thanks for any investigation.”
When I reached out for comment from the restaurant, a spokeswoman confirmed the staff’s mistake. “We really dropped the ball on that one,” says Molly Quigley. While the restaurant company likes to innovate, she says, “Clyde’s has yet to invent a swordfish farm. Those suckers are fast and migratory.” Ferrara’s entree turned out to be wild-caught North Atlantic swordfish, currently rated green, a “best” choice, by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
The restaurant’s admission of error and speedy response won it a new fan, says Ferrara. “I will be sure to eat at Clyde’s an extra time this year because of their practices and customer service.”
The scoop on bringing your own wine
Nadine Brown has worked in Washington restaurants since 1997, including a 14-year run as sommelier at Charlie Palmer Steak, which set itself apart from the competition with an all-American wine list. I thought she would be the ideal person to address some wine questions sent to me by Ed Curvey of Silver Spring, who wants to know what the policy is for diners who want to bring their own wine to restaurants and “what’s a normal corkage fee?”
Easy question first: While there are “no fast rules,” the average price to bring wine from outside tends to be between $25 and $50, says Brown, the founder of At Your Service, a wine consulting and private event company. The fee generally varies depending upon the caliber of the restaurant and the level of service it offers. Brown says the pandemic has changed her thinking about wine from outside. Whereas she was fine with the practice pre-covid, “restaurants are struggling now," and the profit on wine sales helps the bottom line. She proposes a compromise: “Bring a bottle, buy a bottle” from the restaurant.
My informal survey of Washington restaurants at different price levels supports Brown’s response. All-Purpose Pizza charges a $25 corkage fee per bottle — and has no limit on the number. The fee at the Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, a collection that includes Annabelle, Modena, Rasika and Sababa, is $35 per bottle with a maximum of two bottles. Oyster Oyster charges $40 per bottle, while Reveler’s Hour asks for $50, the same price as Marcel’s, the fine-dining French establishment, which permits two bottles. Restaurants can pretty much set their own rules; some, including the top-tier Fiola, do not allow outside wine. “Our team is delighted to assist you in making a selection from our award-winning wine list,” featuring “deep verticals of top Italian wine producers and selections from the rarest vineyards, including some no longer in production,” reads a note on the restaurant’s website.
Bill Jensen, a co-owner of Reveler’s Hour and Tail Up Goat, speaks for many of his peers in the business when he asks customers to consider the time and attention sommeliers put into their lists. “I have mixed feelings about outside wine as someone who populates our lists with the same passion that chefs compile a menu,” he says. “I recognize that wine has sentimental value, and I understand the appeal of making it a central part of a night out. I’m genuinely honored when people want to share those kinds of bottles with us. That said, the beverage experience is a massive part of any restaurant visit and something I personally would never want to opt out of. Allowing corkage but limiting it to one bottle feels like a nice balance for us across both restaurants.”
Like All-Purpose Pizza, Oyster Oyster doesn’t limit how much outside wine can be brought in, although, per Brown’s advice, diners should “consider supplementing anything they bring with a purchase from our list if they’re going to be enjoying multiple bottles,” says Sarah Horvitz, beverage director at the plant-based, sustainably focused restaurant. “From our guests, we’d just ask that they consider the fact that beverage sales are a crucial part of covering restaurant expenses, like keeping the lights on and supporting our staff. Also, we love to highlight producers whose ethos aligns with our own, and thus being able to support them while potentially introducing a guest to something new they’ll love is really exciting for us.”
Got a special wine that needs decanting? Moez Ben Achour, general manager and sommelier from Marcel’s, advises guests to bring the bottle to the restaurant ahead of dinner, so he can show it to best advantage. Early is better than later. Brown recalls the time a guest at Charlie Palmer Steak dropped a case of wine off at 5 p.m. for an 8 p.m. reservation — and this on a Friday. “That’s excessive,” she says.
Service at the push of a button
Earlier this year, I wrote about restaurant pivots that I hoped would outlast the pandemic, a list that included cocktails to go, takeout from more than the expected Chinese and pizza places, and year-round outdoor dining. The story prompted Arlington reader Jeff Liteman to add to the list. “No, it’s not QR codes in place of paper menus. Definitely not,” he joked in an email.
Rather, Liteman liked what he saw while dining outside Thai Select in Arlington: “Fastened to each table was a button that connected wirelessly to a bell indoors, where the wait staff could hear it.” He wishes more restaurants with alfresco seating would adopt the idea, which he considers a better strategy than “standing and gesticulating wildly” to catch a server’s attention. (There’s precedent for the system. Before the pandemic, for instance, some Chick-fil-A locations tested a “butler button” that allowed customers to order more food or summon a server or manager after their initial order. Shades of “Downton Abbey” at fast-food prices!)
Debbie Ratanaprasith, who manages the family-owned restaurant, says the call buttons — inspired by those used by seniors to flag caregivers at home — were installed about six months ago, after Thai Select added 24 seats outside. “We want to make sure we take great care of customers,” no matter where they’re sitting, she says. Among other things, call buttons mean servers don’t have to hover over a large party pondering menu choices. “We just tell them to ring us.”
The restaurant spent about $40 to make life easier for all involved, an investment with potential rewards for the business, figures Liteman. “Happy customers write positive reviews, pay return visits and leave bigger tips,” he says.
Next week: A review of Maiz64 in Washington.
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