“I think we’re early,” Paula whispered as we walked into Smith & Wollensky last week. Nobody was around. Nobody. No hostess to greet us, no bar tender tending bar, no customers at the empty tables.
“Are they open?” Dean asked.
“Well, the doors were open.” Susie said. Still, there we were, all alone in the restaurant. We stood awkwardly for several minutes. Dean began whistling the theme from “Twilight Zone.”
“We’re early,” I said with conviction. They all looked at me like, “No duh!”
The other times we’ve come for wine week, we were part of a mob. I was having a hard time reconciling the deserted restaurant with the frenzy of wine week. We go every year in March to celebrate Paula & Dean’s anniversary. During wine week they pour 10 wines for $20. It used to be $10 for 10 wines, but last year they doubled the price — someone in my wine group confided that they doubled the price to weed out the folks that just come once a year for wine week. Uh, gee, that would be us.
At last the hostess appeared and showed us to our table (still no one else in the restaurant). Our server, Brad, appeared with menus and a warm welcome.
“Where is everyone?” we asked.
“It’s Thursday,” he said.
We all looked at each other. Thursday? Really? What’s the matter with Thursday?
“There’ll be a lot more people here on Friday.” Oh-kay.
The wine cards at our places listed the 10 wines we’d be tasting. I was pleased that after the opening rose′ there were only two white ones. Good deal! Paula, Dean and I (and especially Dean) are partial to reds. Susie, bless her, is our Designated Driver, so the wine could’ve been green for all she cared.
Tatum (Tatum O’Neil’s parents would be smart to have named their daughter after this lovely lady) was our wine pourer and started with the Chateau D’Esclans “Whispering Angel” Rose′” which was somewhat dry, with hints of strawberries and having a pleasant, slightly spicy finish. We all agreed it was a nice start. Well, Dean dutifully drank his — better to get it out of the way and on to the reds!
Then the two whites, both from J. Lohr. The Sauvignon Blac was a hefty $24 (I looked it up when I got home) and I didn’t like it as well as the $9 Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand that I had discovered years before and is still a favorite. The second white was a rather nice oaky Chardonnay, also from J. Lohr. “Is that the end of the whites?” Dean asked rather plaintively. Yeah, keep munching those onion rings and salad. The reds will go well with the main course.
We dutifully sniffed, swirled and sipped (no spitting for us!) through the “10 Span Pinot Noir” (there’s a story there, I’m sure, but I haven’t checked it out yet), the Bordeaux, the Rioja and the Malbec.
Then, the deep, heavy reds: Petite Sirah — like ink it was! — (also from J. Lohr) and finally, Jackpot! Treana Red Blend and the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon. We liked them so much that we “re-visited” them both, side-by-side and couldn’t tell the difference. Wow! Turns out they are made by the same winery. One (The Red Blend) is $45. The Cabernet is $16 — guess which one I’ll be buying?
And strangely, the winery is in Paso Robles. I pulled out my wine map when I got home and I cannot understand why we’ve never visited there — we’ve been to the wineries on both sides of it, but not to Treana/Hope Family. We will definitely remedy that on our next trip to Paso Robles.
As we’d sipped, we’d worked our way through a huge plate of onion rings, salad and bread and our main course and in honor of Dean & Paula’s anniversary, S&W brought out a big slice of New York cheesecake. But Paula wanted something chocolate and it was their party, after all. We ordered the “gigantic chocolate cake.” Oh my gosh! Gigantic is right — it must have been 7 layers. The slice was about 1/5 of an entire cake. It would feed a family of four. As we staggered out 2-1/2 hours later, I noticed the place had pretty well filled up.
Over the weekend we discussed the meal and the wines and Paula said, “I think next year instead of paying $60 for the three of us to sample 10 wines, we should go buy something we know we like and just do steaks on the grill.” Now there’s a winning thought!
On mature reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, I think being weeded out isn’t so bad after all.