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An Elegant Scam -- The wine you didn't order

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An Elegant Scam -- The wine you didn't order

Jim Strain | May 23, 2005 12:00 PM

Recently I ran into a problem at an upscale restaurant in San Diego that I had experienced once before at a different place, about three years ago, and I'm curious to know what other knowledgeable hounds would do in my situation. Here, in generic form, is what happened:

Out to celebrate our anniversary, we went to one of the snazziest joints in town -- a place we'd visited several times before. I was presented with a lengthy, multi-page wine list. I was familiar with a number of the selections, and they seemed in general to be priced at about 250 to 300 percent of retail. I picked out one of the wines from the first page (which I'll call "Nice Napa Brut"), listed at $45 and which I'd bought at retail within the past year for $18. A few minutes later, the waiter brings the bottle, shows it to me, and I see it's Nice Napa Brut, and we drink it. It was very good, as I expected it would be, but on the other hand, it wasn't exactly a life-changing epiphany; it was good. At the end of the meal, the check arrives with the notice that we had actually been served Nice Napa Suckers' Reserve Brut for $95!

As I swallowed hard, I remembered that the design of the label was somewhat different than I had remembered, and I'll admit I didn't scrutinize it closely. Perhaps I was too vague in my order? IIRC, I told the waiter, "We'd like some champagne. How about a bottle of the Nice Napa?" So I paid it and felt like a sap. There's no doubt in my mind, though, that the waiter knew what he was doing. The wine we were served was listed under a special category of "Recommended Selections" (all at premium prices), while the one I thought I ordered was listed under "Champagnes" on page 1 of the list. There was no discussion of the similarity of the names.

It sort of makes me sad, because I do like the restaurant, and boycotting it forever wouldn't hurt them a bit, but would reduce our range of choices. At the same time, I resent being taken advantage of (even writing this account publicly is about as embarrassing as asking directions). So what do you folks think I should have done? Perhaps more importantly, is there anything I can do in the future that wouldn't make me look like a jerk (in general, I like waiters and don't want to needlessly insult them), but I would like to minimize the chances of this happening again. Thanks.
. . . jim strain in san diego.

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