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Syosset: The triumph of human cluelessness

People dine in the RARE650 restaurant in Syosset.

People dine in the RARE650 restaurant in Syosset. (Jan. 16, 2010) Credit: Yana Paskova

You can read in today’s Newsday about SmartCellar, the cool, new iPad wine list at Rare650 in Syosset. With the device, diners can peruse Rare650’s 700-bottle cellar by region, varietal or price, and there’s no doubt about it: it is very, very cool.

But dining last week at Rare650, I discovered the coolest, most technologically advanced wine program could not compensate for human cluelessness.

After I had played around a bit on the iPad, my party decided that we would order wines by the glass. Rare650 offers 60 wines by the glass, a staggeringly high number for any restaurant, and an indication that Rare650 really cares about helping its customers enjoy wine to the fullest. The selections are on the iPad, but they are also printed on the back side of the menu, along with full descriptions.

When our waiter came to take our drinks order, I asked if I could talk to the sommelier. No sommelier on duty that night, he responded, but he would be happy to help me.

I was interested in getting a wine-by-the-glass recommendation, I said, to go specifically with my meal. I was planning on getting the crab-eel-mango roll and then the grilled Dover sole.

“How about merlot or cabernet sauvignon?” he said. Perhaps he hadn’t heard that I was ordering fish, I thought, or perhaps he was one of those mavericks who pair red wine with fish. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“Well, I was thinking of something white.”

“People enjoy the Sonoma-Cutrer.”

Sonoma-Cutrer is a very popular California wine that is currently one of the four chardonnays on the wine list at Cheesecake Factory. Rare650 was selling glasses for $15; a bottle costs about $23 at the store.

“I don’t really like California chardonnays,” I said.

“What about a sauvignon blanc?”

At this point I sort of snapped. I was at a restaurant that made a big deal about what a great wine program it had and the waiter seemed determined to thwart any ideas I had about having a great wine experience. (Last month at North Fork Table and Inn in Southold, partner-sommelier Mike Mraz had come up with some amazing pairings—without my having to pull out any of his teeth.)

“I was hoping to try something more interesting.” I pointed to the iPad. “I see you’ve got this gruner veltliner here, or the moschofilero.”

“We don’t have those yet,” he said. “they are still working on the wines from the iPad.”

“But these are also right here on the printed wines-by-the-glass list.”

Initially he did not believe me, but then he said he’d check. He came back and said that, yes, they were available.

Shortly thereafter, another server came by to help us. I ordered the Boutari moschofilero, and my friend ordered a Bordeaux.

Five minutes later we hadn’t yet gotten our wine. Waiter number one stopped by to deliver some soy sauce for my sushi roll. “Any news on our wine?” I asked. A few minutes later he returned with the two glasses, neither of which were very cold.

I admitted defeat.

For the record, my sushi roll and Dover sole were both delicious. One pal’s sirloin steak was done perfectly, another ordered her petite filet mignon medium and got it rare. Yukon gold potatoes, described both on the menu and by a server as being sauteed in extra virgin olive oil,  had been steamed (or boiled) into mushiness then drizzled with oil. A baked potato was much better.

Rare650 is at 650 Jericho Tpke., Syosset, 516-496-8000.

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