It happened again! Twice in one year, when previously it had never happened.

New Year’s Day, we found ourselves in a terrific Italian restaurant called Ducca in San Francisco. I ordered a bottle of ’04 Rosso di Montalcino by Mastro Janni. It was listed at $47. The waiter brought it, hurriedly opened and poured a bit. I said, “O.K.” and that was it. I don’t quite remember examining the label except that it said Mastro Janni. He then left and I took a closer look at the bottle. Damn! I now noticed the word Brunello on the label, not Rosso. I knew that he had accidentally opened a much more expensive bottle.

Pissed off, I called the waiter back. In the meanwhile I rememebred our other experience with the same event earlier this year at Le Bistro in Stockton. I ordered a ’02 Premier Cru Burgundy at about the same price; instead they brought me a Grand Cru which was around $275 a bottle. I did not detect the error until the bottle was opened, poured and staring at me on our table. When I notified the Maitre d’, who was the bearer of the wrong bottle, he took the bottle back and had a pow-wow with a few other restaurant personnel within or eyesight but out of earshot. He then came back, returned the bottle, apologized, and announced that the bottle would be charged the same price as the Premier Cru.

I discussed this event with various people afterwards including Dave Cook who used to own Bagatelle Restaurant in the early ’90’s. Dave unequivocally told me that the required etiqutte is for the restaurant to eat up the cost of their mistake. Until then I had felt bad about taking advantage of this situation with this expensive Burgundy. He made me feel better.

The waiter in San Francisco did not hesitate even a second when I complained about the Brunello in an irate tone. “Well this is your lucky night!”, he said. “This is an almost $300 bottle, and you get it at the price of the Rosso. Enjoy it.” Obviously he had been well versed in how to behave for this contingency.

In the world of medicine, especially surgery we now have a mandatory “time out”. Before the procedure starts we all stop, and the entire operating team, nurses, anesthesia, surgeon and assistant confirm that what we are about to do is the correct procedure on the correct patient. The purpose of the excercise is to prevent wrong level or wrong site surgeries, a mishap that is otherwise disturbingly more common than most would think.

At Ducca, my wife Julie took a sip of the Brunello and said, “you know, maybe we should start having a “time out” before opening these bottles!” What an epiphany. The restaurant world should learn something from us surgeons about a formal “time out”. After all they are the ones losing money over these errors.

M. Senegor