The importance of wine in American restaurants has grown so dramatically that owners are hard-pressed to find qualified sommeliers and to train staff.
The food was delicious. The wine list was dazzling. The décor, lovely; the customers chic and stylish. Everything about a recent restaurant experience in Florida was perfect, except the server. He was that grave combination of overconfident and underqualified.
I was reminded of this small incident as I looked over the articles in this issue. It is a testament to how far American restaurants have come that I rarely have an experience like this.
In November I was in the aforementioned upscale restaurant in Miami’s South Beach, looking over the wine list, a truly fun one to peruse: large enough to roam, full of surprises, fun to discuss with the other wine lovers at the table. I discovered a Sancerre I thought would be perfect to start the evening off. I explained to the woman next to me that it was a Sauvignon Blanc and she’d probably like it. The server took it upon himself to lean down between me and the woman to correct me: “Sir, that’s not a Sauvignon Blanc. Sancerre is a grape.” Now, he was dead wrong, but even if he was right he should not have corrected me; at least that’s how I understand the “customer is always right” rule. But I decided to let it go. I ordered the Sancerre. Later, the women at the table started comparing notes and complaining about that same server, because he repeatedly called them “darling” and “dear” when taking their orders.
A rude and egregious wine mistake is one thing. Patronizing women is another. On my way out the door, I introduced myself and corrected him on both counts.
As I said, that was an unusual experience, at least for me. Generally, restaurant service at the fine dining level is excellent. We’re celebrating that fact in this issue. In this issue, you’ll find our annual presentation of our Restaurant Awards. Our team of editors and restaurant insiders examined hundreds of menus, wine lists and other application materials to determine the very cream of the crop of fine dining in this country, and internationally.
The good news is, great restaurants are opening up all over the country, and not just in the big cities. Wine is an important part of this phenomenon. In fact, America’s growing wine culture is feeding this renaissance in fine dining, and vice-versa.
If you’re looking for evidence of this synergy and growth, look no further than the sommelier shortage in this country. There are no statistics to illustrate this, because it’s an impossible situation to quantify, but there is a wealth of of anecdotes and reports from top restaurateurs and elite sommeliers (who’ve been enlisted to seek out and train and find new talent): the number of restaurants that have expanded their wine programs to the extent that a sommelier is called for is growing so rapidly, they cannot fill the positions. Of course, a sommelier is not just someone who sips wine all day and schmoozes customers all night. It is a physical, demanding job, in terms of time. In-depth wine knowledge, people skills and a willingness to pitch in (clear tables, anyone?) are all called for.
Another interesting restaurant experience I’ve had recently took place in Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, which is on a massive program of development. Click here for the full story on this astonishing destination. Dubai City is like Las Vegas on steroids: a horizon-to-horizon construction site of mind-boggling scale, as properties race to be the most luxurious, the tallest, the ultimate. The hotels and resorts that have been completed are so lavish that they stagger the imagination.
One of my most memorable meals during my stay in Dubai was at Al Mahara, which is the recipient of a Wine Enthusiast Restaurant Award of Distinction. Al Mahara is in the Burj, the sail-shaped hotel with an open interior lobby that practically splits the clouds. As I sipped fine wine and surveyed my fellow diners, I realized that Dubai provides an interesting crossroads in these times of East-West tensions. Though it is a Muslim country, and Islamic law prohibits the consumption of alcohol, the hotels and restaurants have fine cellars for their western guests. Dubai could be a chic annex to the U.N.: a place where many cultures can meet over great food, with or without wine.
Great wine and fine food will do that to you: Inspire visions of world peace. What’s wrong with that?
Have a comment on this month’s Enthusiast’s Corner? Email Adam Strum