An open letter to Minnesota restaurants

I’ve been eating out quite a bit in the last month, much to the disagreement of my household budget. But what the hell, you only live once, right? Plus there are so many great dining options in the state today (current favorites, as in the tip-top of the list of late, have been Zeitgeist and New Scenic Cafe in Duluth, Nightingale – new on Lyndale Avenue, Eat Street Social, Grand Cafe, Toast Wine Bar, Lola, Sparks, Meritage and Alma — of course, and Joan Ida’s wonderous work in the kitchen at Scusi — anything she has on special is worthwhile to order).

Today is Obama’s second inauguration (congrats BO!), and thinking back to four years ago shows us just how much better we are doing today compared to then. The economic crisis is starting to settle down. We are out of the War business (at least to the great extent we were 48 months ago). Things are looking up, and restaurants are opening left and right. Dare I say … are we in a full force recovery?

With all the restaurants opening around town, here is a quick list of what I would LOVE to see more of at local restaurants:

1) PROPER STEMWARE, PLEASE!!!! I refuse to go to many local establishments because they think it’s cute to serve wine to me in a tumbler. This would never happen to a craft beer fan — could you imagine Surly allowing their beer to be poured into a glass that makes it taste worse? Well, that’s what is happening all over town while bars try to play the hipster card with stupid little wine tumblers or even mason jars. Get some basic Riedel stemware to show you take wine seriously.

2) TRAIN YOUR STAFF ON THE BASICS OF WINE SERVICE. I’m not talking about deep knowledge here. I’m talking about how to open a bottle tableside and serve it correctly. Not a big deal it would seem, but I almost had my ear taken off recently at a fine dining establishment when the server started wildly slicing and hacking away at the foil of the bottle with his wine opener. It was a sight to be seen. I was temporarily stuck in a Samurai movie, in the middle of Edina. Basic staff training is so needed in this city. (Email me if you want some help with this.)

3) WATCH THE TEMPERATURE OF YOUR WINES. Whites are consistently too cold. Reds are consistently too warm. Add that to point number one (the tumblers) and you understand why I get pissed off that a restaurant is charging $10 for a glass of wine when it’s served with such disregard. If a restaurant takes wine at all seriously (as in you have a wine list), figure out a way to keep whites at 45 degrees and reds at 60 degrees. This is the equivalent of serving hot food hot … if you care about your food temps you should care about your wine temps, too!

4) HAVE A DARING BY THE GLASS AVAILABLE. Several restaurants have jumped on this great trend. Have one mystery glass of red and one white. Have it be something special. Have it be an affordable price. Have it be something limited, rare, or expensive in a retail shop. Have it be “limit one, because we don’t make money on this” (that idea is stolen from a restaurant in San Francisco, and guess what … everybody wants to try that wine every night). Use FOMO (fear of missing out) by only having 10 available per night. In other words use fresh ideas and limited availability to inject some much needed mojo into your wine program. Your staff will love it.

5) PROOF READ YOUR WINE MENU. BETTER YET HAVE YOUR WINE SALESPEOPLE PROOF YOUR WINE MENU. The number of misspellings, typos, wrong regions, wrong varieties, and more on wine menus is astounding. Would you really allow your food menu to misspell “Snapper”? Then why does your wine list say “Merlat”? Wine salespeople are good at catching these typos because they live and breathe wine information all day. Toss the list at them and see what they find.

What would you like to see restaurants do better in terms of their wine programs?

8 Responses to An open letter to Minnesota restaurants

  1. Carmela January 21, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Your recommendations are SPOT ON! I would also ask that a reasonable sparkling be added to wine menus. Small favor to ask but such a festive and civilized way to start the meal!

  2. Wayne Roemhildt January 21, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Have an underlying faith in the ability of the guest to be convinced! In other words, challenge the guest a little. While your list should have some recognizable wines… if I want wines from Safeway, I’ll buy em at Safeway (or whatever big box retail store in Minnesota). And, what Carmela said.

  3. Christopher January 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Brilliant recommendations Jason! I couldn’t agree more!

  4. Dave Miner January 21, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    have more Miner on them!

  5. Rachael January 21, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Numbers 1, 2, and 3 should be just a given if you serve wine. Period.

  6. Terrence January 22, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    45 degrees is too cold for most whites. It’s a good temperature for Champagne or other sparkling wines, crisp whites in the summer, but for white Burgundies, New World Chardonnays, Rhone whites 50 to 55 is plenty cool. Of course, if it’s served at 45, one can just wait for it to warm a little.

    • Jason Kallsen January 22, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      @Terrence – agreed, but a point I didn’t mention in the post is that because most whites are stored right next to the keg beer, they get held for too long at that cold temp. If you keep a white under 40 degrees for days on end, it shuts down and doesn’t show it’s beauty even after warming up a bit. But if it’s stored at 45, it can (as you mention) warm up in the glass pretty quickly and still retain all the glory.

      This “bottle shocking” that results from being held too cold for too long is a real problem. And an equal problem is when the red wines are stored behind a bar that hovers around 75 degrees in the summertime or on a busy night. Does the same thing to the reds.

  7. baileyrc6 January 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    Thanks for another educaional & enjoyable post, Jason. Regarding youe recent near-ear incident, perhaps ‘proper bottle opening’ could become a more official part of your great classes. I’d be interested!

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