Went to Farmer’s Bottega in the Mission Hills district of San Diego (on Washington) and had a good experience that I thought I’d share here.
5 stars based on service, 4 for food alone
First of all, the food: Started with the meatballs and heirloom tomato salad. Both were just fine. In fact, my wife commented that she was NOT overrun with too much cheese, as tomato salads frequently are. A Plus. Wife had the Bison Tartar, this was the star of the night. Nicely flavored, with mango and avocado too. Great dish! I had the short ribs. They were good, but a bit dry, made me think of brisket in texture. Cheesecake and Chocolate mousse cake were enjoyable.
Secondly, it was restaurant week here in San Diego, and I have to say that I like the fact that they have the special menu for the week AND the normal menu available for diners. This is not always the case. It is also nice that the portion sizes are the same on the special menu, they don’t cut sizes to go with the reduced price. Nice touch!
To the service: We’d been here before, it’s a neighborhood restaurant near our house. Been here a few times in fact. Thought I’d take a group of friends for dinner, 10 of us total. Made the reservation, asked about corkage. Was told there was a two bottle limit. A few days reflection later, I decided this wasn’t going to work and looked around for another restaurant without such a limit. I thought about asking them to waive it for us, but I’ve had bad experiences in the past trying to get restaurants to waive corkage limits as a special exception. So I decided I’d just reward the restaurant with the reasonable policy and switch the reservation. I then sent this place, Farmer’s Bottega, a cancellation email, along with my reasoning, that I didn’t like the 2 bottle limit regardless of party size, and that it wasn’t going to work for me with a party of 10. The next day the owner replied stating that he agreed with me completely, and was changing their policy to remove the bottle limit on corkage. Wow! Totally unexpected! Most restaurants with such policies are extremely rigid and uncaring. This to me was nothing short of amazing. To show my appreciation, I responded that my wife and I would be in for dinner in a few days (it was too late to move my party of 10 back here again). That was tonight, and as it turns out our server was one of the managers, and he apologized to me for the trouble and along with that we had free corkage on our bottle of wine as well as a free dessert. They took care of us. I won’t forget that!
Rant and Rave time: I must say that I don’t understand corkage limits, at least not rigid limits that don’t take into account party size. If you want to say one bottle per person, that’s fine, but 2 bottles period, no matter how many people attending? That is stupid. If you are worried about money, set your corkage at your average per bottle profit and what does it matter how many bottles people bring? You aren’t losing money nor inventory! Come on, how many people are we talking about, what percentage of the population brings their own wine? What is the harm in a reasonable policy? Can’t be too much because plenty of restaurants have no limit, but sadly, plenty of them do, to, and it is frequently only 2 bottles. Maybe someone in the industry out there can leave a comment to explain this to me?
Sure, some restaurants in low-rent districts can get away with charging $10 per bottle, and others need to charge $25. I understand that. I remember an article about the French Laundry I once read where they stated that they got sick of people bringing in the free bottle of wine they got in the hotel room ($5?) and to combat this set the corkage at $50. This was 20 years ago. Last I heard it was $150 there. I don’t care what the number is as long as it is in a range that makes sense for the type or restaurant, level of quality and location. But silly corkage limits really turn me off, and no, they won’t force me to buy your wine, if that is your goal, what they will do is send me elsewhere.