5 Simple Rules of BYO

With more and more consumers reluctant to pay the high markups that are inherent to many wine lists, BYO has become more prevalent than ever. Restaurants tend to mark up wines anywhere from 2-4 times the retail price that you will find at your local wine shop, not to mention the mark up from their cost. While the convenience and selection is well worth the price to some, others prefer to select from their own collection then the restaurant’s wine cellar. Below are 5 simple rules to help determine the appropriate scenario to bring your own bottle and some guidelines for restaurant etiquette if you choose to do so.

  • Free is for me! – If there is no corkage fee, than there is no reason NOT to bring your own bottle. Even if restaurants charge a nominal (under $10) corkage fee it still makes all the sense in the world. You could choose to bring a moderately priced bottle and it will still be a lot less at your local wine shop then at the restaurant.
  • Big names = Big Corkage Fees – If you are going to a top tier steakhouse or a popular French bistro, you are probably looking at a corkage fee of $35-75. For these eateries you’re probably better off sticking with their wine list.
  • Make it worthwhile – You certainly could bring an inexpensive bottle, but that would defeat the purpose. Mark ups are typically higher on the reserve selection wines, especially from older vintages, so the better bottle you bring the more you are saving.
  • Tip on the service – The server should provide the same service on the bottle of wine whether it is purchased from the restaurant or not, so be sure to include something in the tip for that bottle. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the retail cost of the wine times 2 or 3 and add that to the total bill before calculating the tip.
  • Buy an additional bottle from the wine list – If you’re dining with a large group, doing this shows you appreciate their hospitality and would like to thank them for it…that is of course if you are enjoying the meal and the experience!

 

Cheers!

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The Best Kid Friendly Dining Option in Westchester

Having two children under 5, I have found that my list of restaurant options in Westchester has significantly dwindled. To go out to a nice restaurant with the whole family is just not worth it as it tends to frustrate just about all involved…from the kids, to my wife and I, to other diners and possibly even the staff. I guess that’s why places like Applebee’s and Chili’s are so popular. But if you are not into the whole chain restaurant scene but still want to enjoy a quality meal out with the family in a judgement free zone, then I have found the place for you… The Quaker Hill Tavern.

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Located in Chappaqua, but close to Mount Kisco, this family owned, traditional style tavern really has it all. Plenty of craft and standard beers on tap, with rotating seasonal brews and the freedom to taste a few before deciding on your pint of choice. A simple menu that offers a plethora of options for adults, kids, meat lovers, vegans, hedonistic food mongers or those looking to keep it healthy. The wine list is small, but this is not a place to go for a great glass or bottle of wine. However they have enough completely decent by the glass options in red and white to keep everyone happy.

Upon our first venture to QHT I knew it was going to be great for the kids right from the get go. Just as we were being seated the waitress bought over a booster seat for my son. And I don’t mean one of those wood high chairs or the brown plastic generic booster seats. I’m talking about the same kind of booster seat he had at home that strapped on to the chair! With him feeling comfortable, the rest of the experience that night was a pleasure. Obviously I am not the only one who feels this way as on any given night you will find kids running around this loud and boisterous pub stopping by table to table to say hi, allowing the adults to maybe indulge in an extra pint 😉

The food is really solid across the board and I have yet to have anything I didn’t like. The burgers rank up there with the best in the county, and the wings are dynamite as well. My wife swears by the turkey burger and my buddy can’t go 2 weeks without his QHT buffalo chicken sandwich fix. Lastly, the service is everything you would hope for when bringing the family out to dine. Erin, the manager, and the entire staff are super accommodating and completely understand that the adults are looking to enjoy a meal out where the kids can be a little loud and loose. And after a few drinks, the adults start getting the same way. So if you desire a nice quiet meal at a local bar, don’t come here as it gets a little hairy. But if you are looking for some tasty eats, delicious beer on tap and an ultra family friendly environment then you definitely want to check Quaker Hill Tavern out….I’ll probably see you there!

Cheers,

So What’s The Deal With Moderne Barn?

You need to say that header in the Seinfeld tone for it to really have the right effect. So I’ve been hearing for some time now how great Moderne Barn is and that I have to go. I have tasted some of their sample dishes at various Westchester events and they were always good….not great, but good. It is owned by the Livanos family, a very reputable culinary family without question, that also owns City Limits Diner and Oceana in NYC among others. Having waited tables at City Limits in my younger years I know the quality of the food they bring into their establishments is always solid and the preparation of the dishes was always….good. You see where I am going with this?

So I finally took the plunge and a large group of us ventured there a short while ago. This is a group that likes to let a little loose on a Friday night in the Fresh (short for Freshchester)…yeah, my neighbors basically rock! So upon entering the first thing that comes to mind is that this place is just really cool. Solid wood panels on the floors, walls and ceilings along with well placed lighting and artwork give it a very trendy NYC feel. I would not recommend coming if you are looking for a quiet romantic dinner as the joint is loud and jumping. Perfect for our 10 person crew on a Friday night.

So we ordered some drinks and a couple of bottles of wine from a wine list that is somewhat overpriced. But with a $45 corkage fee (not a typo), it still does not make sense to bring in wine which I like to do so we took to the wine list. There were a handful of decent values available (the St. Clement Carneros Chardonnay was drinking very nicely), but the markups in general seemed to be on the high end of the spectrum. The service was attentive enough, although the two Sommeliers did little except open the bottles and then had the servers pour. But to be fair it was a super busy Friday night so they may have been more focused on those ordering some of the higher priced premium wines that evening.

As I remembered from my City Limits days, the same fish that they serve at their high end fishery Oceana in NYC is used in the dishes for their other restaurants as well. So my plan was to stick with fish. But they had a ricotta gnocchi on the menu which is relatively hard to find as it is typically made from potato. Since the only other person I know that makes it from ricotta is my mom, I had to give it a shot even though the waiter warned me it was just ok. He was right, it was just ok…very heavy and the sauce was sort of bland. The lobster roll appetizer was tasty, but the bread was borderline stale….hmmmm.

The dishes are quite reasonably priced. Pastas were under $20, most main dishes were $25-30 and the steaks were $35-41. This however is not a steakhouse, so I was a little wary when about half the table ordered steak. The reaction was mixed at best, but the presentation was appealing enough and some of the sides were excellent. My friend next to me ordered the Lavender Honey Lacquered Duck Breast which was out of this world delicious!! In fact I may have to go back just to taste that dish again. But overall it seemed that there was a lot of mixed feedback and at best the food was….good.

So why is this place packed to the gills every weekend and most weeknights? I am not really sure but I can tell you this. The ambiance is very hip, loud and NYC-esque. So if you and your crew are looking for that kind of feel in the Armonk area then this is definitely a place you want to check out. And if you wanted to go and just grab a burger or a dish of pasta, you can get away with a reasonably priced meal. But overall the food seemed pretty average for such a talked about and popular place, and the rather expensive wine list and even more expensive corkage fee was a big turn off for me.  So I guess it is just a matter of what you are in the mood for on a given evening.

Although I will be back to have that duck again, but this time I’m drinkin’ beer!

My Top Restaurant Pet Peeves

Having worked at Westchester restaurants as both a waiter and bartender in the past, I have the utmost respect for those in the service industry. It’s a tough juggling act to maintain an extensive knowledge of the menu and wine list, to ensure the food and beverages are presented properly while also making sure your customers are content. That being said, its not freakin’ brain surgery. The best servers are knowledgeable, enthusiastic (without being annoyingly peppy) and are able to recognize the table dynamic in a matter of seconds. But even the worst of servers should be able to follow a few of the most basic guidelines as to not ruin a customer’s dining experience.

1. GET THE DRINKS TO THE TABLE

Anyone who has ever been to a restaurant with me knows this is far and away my biggest pet peeve. Within the first few minutes of sitting down a server should greet the table and take a drink order and I would expect to have the drinks shortly thereafter. No drinks and no server makes WWG an angry customer. Remember servers, drinking customers are happy customers.

2. OPEN THE BOTTLE OF WINE AT THE TABLE

I understand that at a local pizza place they may not go through all the proper wine service steps. I don’t even mind if they don’t offer to have someone at the table try the wine first to make sure that it is drinkable. My expectations are pretty low. However, I do not like when they bring the bottle to the table opened with the cork stuck back in it. Call me skeptical, but I have seen some shady things behind the scenes and I’d like to make sure what I am drinking is what was put in that bottle by the winery, not by someone in the back of the restaurant.

3. CONDIMENTS MATTER

I always try and order all the extra sauces and add-ons when the food order is being placed.  Regardless, whenever I order buffalo wings with ranch dressing instead of blue cheese 4 out of 5 times they forget to bring it. Sometimes they rush right back to the kitchen and bring it out which is fantastic. But more often than not they completely forget as it is such a small thing and I am stuck staring at my wings for 5-10 minutes as they get cold and I get frustrated.  The same goes for ketchup with a burger and fries and crushed red pepper with pasta. Call me crazy, but I’m not eating the dish without the condiment that enhances that dish! The condiment can be just as important as the dish itself, so having them come out at the same time or shortly thereafter is a crucial aspect of basic service.

4. WATCH THE SWEAT AND BE SURE TO PUT ON THE DEODORANT

As I mentioned earlier, I worked as a server in a very fast paced environment and I understand these guys are busting their ass. However,  sweating and stinking is not a good look for a server.  Even worse is when drops of that sweat make their way into the drinks on the table… gross.

5. THE FUGAZI KNOW IT ALL WAITER

I admit, I can be a little high maintenance as a diner. I ask a decent amount of questions as I am curious about the dishes and wine list, and am always looking for further insight from someone in the know. However, if it seems like the server is uninterested and is just an order taker that’s fine too and I lay off with the interrogation. But what drives me crazy is the server that gives the wrong information regarding the dishes or the wine pretending they know what the hell they are talking about. If you don’t know, say you don’t know and see if you can find out the answers. I am much happier to wait for the right answer than to find out later the immediate answers given were wrong, especially when a dish comes to the table completely different than described.

Some of you may read this and say “Stop your bitching and just eat the food”…at least that’s what my wife tells me. But when spending your hard earned money to enjoy a meal out of the house, it is disappointing when the simplest of things ends up ruining your dining experience.

Oh, and that’s not me in the picture above…but I feel that dude’s pain 😉