I got the last seat at the bar at a crowded Riggsby, and immediately got an odd impression about the bartender. This was going to be an unusual evening – I felt it.
He handed me the cocktail list, full of ordinary wines a touch too expensive for my blood, but I flipped it over, and there were some graphics showing some of the more upscale drinks; the problem, is that both the graphics and the text were so faded that they were barely readable. Strike one.
But I wanted a Gin & Tonic, and that was the one list in the top-right corner, touting that it was made with Hendricks Gin and Fever Tree Tonic Water – I don’t love Hendricks in my G&Ts, but I can live with it, so I ordered it. You’re out of Fever Tree Tonic Water? Oh. Normally, I’d say Strike two, but you’d just been First Bitten the day before, so, no pitch. And plus, you told me you had their Ginger Beer, so I looked below it at their Moscow Mule.
A picture of a beautiful copper tankard was accompanied by the description that the drink was made with a “high-quality” vodka with Fever Tree Ginger Beer, a little lime juice, and a wedge of lime – sounded good to me, so I went with it. Oh, you don’t serve these in copper tankards like you have them pictured? Well, I’d say Strike two, but that’s not really you’re fault, so no pitch. Sure, why not.
So I started my meal with a Moscow Mule ($8), and the vodka he used was pulled up from under the bar and poured like he was trying desperately to empty the bottle. The lime juice was measured, however – I thought it was supposed to be the other way around? It was a *strong* drink, but it didn’t taste bad, and after all, it used Fever Tree Ginger Beer. But what was that vodka? It was in a blue bottle, and I became curious.
I nursed my drink while perusing the menu, and by the time I got to the bottom, I was ready for another, and when he asked me, I asked him what type of Vodka he used in that first drink. He pulled the bottle up from underneath the bar, and held it before my eyes: Skyy. Strike two, my friend: this is a $14 bottle of rot-gut, and it’s no wonder you were trying to get rid of it – what happened to the “high-quality vodka” in the description? Well, at least it was an $8 drink.
He told me I could have it made with any of their shelf vodka’s … Tito’s, Ketel One, Grey Goose … okay, better. This one, I got with Ketel One. And he measured the vodka, and short-poured me – filling the measuring cup only about 3/4 of the way before taking a scoop of ice so large that there was ice 3-4 inches above the top of my glass which needed to be whisked off. The rest of the drink was made normally, but it’s amazing how small of a cocktail you can get when your glass is absolutely full with small ice cubes. It tasted like a mocktail with no alcohol in it. And damned if I didn’t get charged $12 for the drink. Strike three. He knew what he was doing; he was just anti-customer, or so I thought.
I ordered my meal, a Schnitzel “a la Holstein” ($29), and asked what it came with – “warm, German potato salad,” he said. Okay, it sounded potentially acidic, but I took my chances, and with it, I ordered as a second side order, something from the bar menu: Chorizo-Stuffed Mushrooms ($7) which took him aback – I guess people aren’t ordering these things as sides with their meals, but it sounded like it would go just fine with my meal, so I verified with him, yes, I’d like it with my meal; not as an appetizer. No problem.
A short while later, everything arrived from behind me, and I could see why my bartender had raised an eyebrow – my entree and its “German potato salad” had been cooked to order; my chorizo stuffed mushrooms were made earlier in the day and reheated – they were dried out, and really did look like pass-around canapes, or bar snacks. But the flavors were all there, and they did, in fact, go with everything else.
The schnitzel itself was delicious, but pounded more thinly than I’ve ever seen a schnitzel presented before – I was hoping for something nearly twice this thick for $29. So they not only get you with a high price, but also with deceptively small amounts of meat. Still, the batter was delicious, the schnitzel was cooked very well, and it came with some anchovies (for some much-needed salt), capers, and a runny egg. Every so often I’d spear a new potato from its iron skillet sitting next to my plate (this was my “German Potato Salad” – it was halved new potatoes, with a little onion on the bottom and cooked with some jus, perhaps from the schnitzel, and they were *delicious* – a nice surprise in a meal where I felt like I was getting nickled-and-dimed. Likewise, I did the same with my chorizo-stuffed mushrooms, which were about the same size as the potatoes – yes, they were older and dried out, but when put on my plate and cut in half, they went very well with my other two items.
Right when the food came, my bartender asked me if I’d wanted another drink, and I told him I was thinking about a glass of wine. He thought for a moment, and said, “I’ve got something for you to try,” before pouring me a generous glass of Vermentino ($11), which is exactly the wine I would have chosen for myself. I complimented him on his call, and he began to warm up. So I enjoyed my rather expensive meal (the final bill was $73.70 before tip), then asked for the check. I reached for my wallet and mouthed the words, ‘Oh, my God.’ He saw me do this, obviously read my lips, and knew something was wrong. I had forgotten my wallet in the car.
Embarrassed, I explained this all to him, and handed him my keys and iPhone, saying I’d be back in five minutes. (I did have the wits about me to take my car key off the ring.) No problem, he said, and I showed up a bit later, left a $15 tip, and all was well. “I could tell something bad had happened when I saw your face,” he laughed. So, all’s well that ends well, and I enjoyed my meal even though I was out $88.70. And the bartender wasn’t such a bad chap after all.