Friday, April 06, 2007

Bait and Switch

Four Seasons Aviara
7100 Four Seasons Point
Carlsbad, CA 92011
Chef Bruce Logue
Dinner nightly

Vivace on Urbanspoon

Tried: January 2007

I was quite excited to try Vivace in the Four Seasons Aviara Resort in San Diego. The chef had been described as the next Mario Batali and had even worked at Babbo in New York.

I did not mind that the maitre d' refused to seat us anywhere in the large empty dining room except near the front exit even though we were the only people there for at least an hour and a half. I did not mind that we had to ask twice for the wine list (the first time after we were presented with the dinner menu and the second time after the server asked whether we had decided what to order). I did not mind that the server knew virtually nothing about the wines on the list that was eventually brought to us, yet still valiantly attempted to sell us the more expensive of the two barolos listed.

I was disappointed that the pappardelle was overcooked, although ameliorated by the rich and savory meat ragu. I was disappointed when the lardo in the salumi plate (I guess the chef did work with Batali; the menu cleverly described it as “prosciutto bianco”) was presented in the form of an oddly charred cube, instead of thin ribbons, resulting in a rubbery texture that made it taste like chewy salty fat instead of melting sweet fat. I was, however, impressed by the well-seasoned dry aged steak that was cooked to a perfect medium rare, not bloody yet mostly pink with a slightly redder center.

What made this dining experience unforgettable, though, was what transpired when I asked for the wine list again to order a second bottle of wine. The first wine list we had received was a single sheet of paper with wines by the glass listed on top and wines by the bottle at the bottom. The second time, however, I received a leather-bound book with pages and pages of wines from all over the world. Where was this tome when I first asked to see the wine list? Were they waiting until we ordered enough food to make it worth their while to pay attention to what we were drinking? At this point, you may be wondering whether I had shown up dressed in ripped jeans and a dirty T-shirt. Hardly. To be fair, there were one or two diners in jackets and ties, but for the most part, people were dressed in slacks and button-down shirts, and many showed up in considerably more casual attire than our dining party. It is a beach town, after all.

I let my slight annoyance ebb away when I spotted a relatively reasonably priced Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Echezeaux in that second wine list. I decided to splurge and go for it, quite excited at the prospect of such a treat. A few minutes later, the server showed up to present the botttle: “Here’s your wine, a lovely Echezeaux.” Except… it was a Louis Jadot Echezeaux. So I informed her that she had made a mistake and that this was not the bottle I had ordered. She then responded, “Yes I know, we’re out of the bottle you wanted.” Huh?

Okay, I found this approach problematic to say the least. I have on many occasions selected wine from a list, only to have an apologetic server come back to tell me, after a period of waiting, that they were out of that particular wine. (At one restaurant, it happened four times in the course of one dinner, but I did not mean to digress here into my pet peeves about wine service.) But I have never had a server present me with a completely different wine and pretend as though it was the one I had ordered. Did she think I would not notice? I could no longer conceal my building irritation and curtly asked for the wine list again-- the big one please. I then watched her consult with someone in a suit, who then came by our table and offered me a Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grands-Echezeaux that was not on (either) wine list. He apologetically added that it was more expensive than the first one. I probably should have declined, but I had already gotten my heart set on getting to taste a DRC burgundy.

It was expensive. It was magnificent. I wish I could say I was no longer annoyed.

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