At a recent wine tasting of some pretty brilliantly cheap wines (elicio rose and elicio white being the stars despite the e.e. cummings labels – stay away from the elicio red) I found myself asking to “revisit” several of the wines I tasted. “Revisit” is germane to my former profession. When you are tasting wine after wine after wine with an eye toward wine list placement, “revisiting” means “let me taste again so that I can mentally compare it to the merlot/chardonnay/vin de table I’m currently offering.” When you are no longer in control of a wine list, “revisit” pretty much means “Your pouring is shit. Give me more.”
I could have just said, “I want more of the _____” and had no issue. The rep from the distributor was a friend as was the owner of the wine shop hosting the event. But I said “revisit.”
Earlier in the week I was grilling hanger steaks for a crowd that included two pregnant women. “Don’t worry if it looks too red,” I said to the breeders, “hangers look rare when they are med rare and med rare when they are medium. They are very iron rich so don’t consider the color if you are worried about it being cooked through.” I was made fun of brothers in law and various other sundries for “iron rich.” I’m sorry, but you don’t say “bloody” in fine dining unless you know the customer.
This brings me to “fishy.” In a restaurant, you don’t make it through the night without being asked if the fish offerings are “fishy.” Popular ways to respond are, “It is a strong fish with lots of oil.” or “The filet is served skin on so some oil will be trapped in with the flesh.” I’m also fond of, but was never able to say with a straight face, “This fish does have an assertive oceanic flavor.” The fact is, fish carry strong flavors or they don’t. As a waiter you have to find a polite way to convey to a customer what a fish tastes like while maintaining that, because of differences in flavor between species, “fishy” is not synonymous with “spoiled.” While it is tempting to respond “Of course it’s fishy. It’s fucking fish,” the problems in communication are as much on the side of the establishment as the consumer. Doubt me? Explain a fish without comparing to another fish. People want to know if it’s uber stinky pompano or missed-it-completely-trigger. You have to avoid the “fishy” landmine while describing in an accurately-won’t-kill-your-tip-way while interpreting from the customer their definition of flavor with no assured common language.
The thing is, I’m done with all that. But here I am tossing platitudes to dinner guests. Next thing you know I’ll be mentioning “melon” when describing oysters.