Au Pied De Cochon and The $900 Bottle of Wine We Never Tasted

Posted on
Mar 6, 2015
31

The past few weeks have felt like a confessional on the bloga time to tell stories untold, to cast light on the dark corners of my memory. A while back, Mindy asked me if I’d included the story of The Wine (“I feel like it should be capitalized,” said Rand), now legendary in our shared personal history, in my book.

The four of us in 2007.

 

I shook my head, explaining that it didn’t fit with the narrative. I asked her if I should write about it on my blog, and her response was an emphatic yes.

I’ve told the story before, though not here. With each retelling the pain of the memory is diluted, the regret is eased, and it becomes almost funny, though not quite.

Besides, enough time has passed – we’ve had nearly a decade to recoup our losses. I’ve divided the amount up – $900 over seven years comes to just under $11 a month. For less than 36 cents a day, this story can be yours.

It begins with our friends Jake and Mindy. They were married in 2007, a detail which – forgive me, Mindy! – I had to look up. I couldn’t remember the date – only that her dress fanned out like a mermaid’s tail, that the cake was decorated with gerbera daisies, and I am not in this wonderful photo because I was the one taking it:

 

In light of this, the year becomes irrelevant: we were young and skinny and invincible once.

Rand and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, the only windows of which faced east. It was the first home we shared together, and in the summer the light would turn our bare walls orange. I still drank wine then, and too much of it. We’d spend our evenings watching Anthony Bourdain eat food we could never afford and wondering if maybe things would one day get easier. If the letters from creditors would stop. If Rand would get his company out of debt. If anyone would ever read the things I wrote.

I say this not to garner pity. I’ve traveled enough to know that even at our most-cash-strapped moments, we had it better than good. We had a safe place to live and we could afford to buy food and hell, we had cable. If I thought it was excruciating, it was because I had no perspective. Now I realize it was also wonderful, in the way only your mid-twenties can be. When you are short of cash but long on dreams.

Every now and then, we’d pretend that we were grown-ups, with grown-up salaries. We’d splurge on pâté from Whole Foods or a pair of new shoes from the outlet store downtown. My husband’s credit-destroying debt nothwithstanding, we were dutifully responsible. Bills were paid on time.

Jake and Mindy went to Montreal on their honeymoon. Our gift to them was to be a dinner out. We called Au Pied De Cochon (recently lauded by Bourdain himself in an episode of his show), made a reservation in our friends’ name, and left the restaurant our credit card number.

Later, they called back, and asked if there was a price limit on the dinner. Rand explained that whatever our friends ordered would be fine.

“We have many expensive wines,” they noted. Some were over a thousand dollars.

Rand laughed, knowing Jake and Mindy would never choose anything close to that – not when someone else was footing the bill.

“Tell them to keep it under a thousand,” he said. I widened my eyes at him. He waved me off and mouthed, “It will be fine.”

I’ve questioned Rand’s actions, but not his motives. Those I understood: for a little while, let me pretend. In a consequence-free world, let the man on the other end of the line think that a thousand dollars is nothing to me. Let him think that our friends would order a wine like that, and none of us would blink.

But when our credit card bill arrived at the end of that month, we found his brief, indulgent moment was not free of consequence. There were consequences. More than 1300 of them. We decided that another zero must have been added to the bill erroneously. There was no other explanation.

Rand called, and the employee at the other end of the line told him there was no mistake – she gave him an itemized account of what was ordered. Poutine with fois gras, duck cooked in a can, a bottle of wine. This last item alone came to more than $900.

A nine-hundred-dollar bottle of wine. Rand was gobsmacked. He tried to inquire how this was possible. Did Jake and Mindy select it? Were they told how much it was?  Communication broke down with every question he asked. It seemed the person on the other end of the line – and indeed everyone else working at the restaurant – suddenly spoke only French and not a word of English.

And just to rub the matter in further, we noted that the staff had added a hefty tip to the bill.

We each reacted differently to the swift departure of nearly two months’ worth of rent from our bank account. He blamed himself. And … well, actually, I did, too. We were on the same page there. But while he was guilt-ridden and full of regret, I was enraged. I blamed all of Montreal. I’d been there once, long before that fateful dinner. I vowed never to go back. In the decade since, I’ve been true to my word.

I’m only punishing myself in this exercise. I know that.

Some weeks later, we had dinner with Mindy and Jake (at our home, because the prospect of going out was off the table, and would be for months). Rand gently inquired about that dinner. How was The Wine?

Jake and Mindy noted that it was good – the staff, they said, had selected it themselves. Rand and I exchanged a look. The puzzle pieces were falling into place. Our friends had not indulged on an extravagant wine of their choosing – indeed, they had no inkling that they were imbibing the most expensive bottle any of us would ever drink.

The employees of Au Pied De Cochon had chosen the priciest bottle on the menu, without going over a thousand dollars.

We were grateful for one thing, at least: they’d made sure that Mindy and Jake never saw the bill. For the better part of a decade, they had no idea. Rand would not tell them until many years later. We were celebrating something – I think it was the sale of Jake’s company – and we went out to dinner with our dear friends.

I cannot remember the exchange at the end of the meal. Only that Jake reached for the bill, and Rand initially protested before acquiescing. Yes, that sounds right. That’s how the story was unveiled.

I’ll let you get this one, because that bottle of wine you drank all those years ago? That alone cost almost a grand.

The look on their faces was confused. Incredulous. “We didn’t even pick it!” they exclaimed, and we nodded. We knew this already.

Now, from the spot of financial comfort in which we presently find ourselves, we force ourselves to laugh. The money is gone, The Wine long since consumed. Had events been otherwise, they would have faded from memory – a dinner purchased for our friends on their honeymoon – exceptional for that fact alone, but nothing more. But this story remains, shared between the four of us. We’ve made it our own. They drank the wine, not knowing what it was. We knew, but never tasted it.

Leave a Comment

  • Yeah, I clearly remember the phone call in which the staff member asked “we have many very expensive bottles of wine, over one thousand dollars,” and I said “whatever they order is fine, as long as it’s under a thousand.” I knew Mindy & Jake would be responsible in their own wine-picking, but I never imagined the restaurant would take my words to mean “let’s select a bottle of wine for them ourselves that costs just under a thousand and not tell them.” Super not cool.

    Thankfully, since comedy = tragedy + time, it’s now amazingly funny 🙂 I think we’ve gotten the full $950 out of the story alone.

    • Everywhereist

      I still wince at the memory. The fact that they didn’t even offer them a wine menu … ugh.

  • Jen

    Wow. Well thanks for sharing this story as a lesson for the rest of us if nothing else!

  • Dee

    The funniest part of this story is that “they noted The Wine was good”. For $900 freakin’ dollars, it should have been orgasmic!!!

  • And to think, I cringe at an 8 dollar glass of wine with dinner and usually opt for the glass of water 😉

  • Yvo

    “Thankfully, since comedy = tragedy + time, it’s now amazingly funny 🙂 I think we’ve gotten the full $950 out of the story alone.”
    This reminds me of that scene in recent “Last Man Standing” where Will Forte says “this is a $100,000 bottle of wine!” (something astronomical) takes a sip then says “that was like a $4,000 sip!”

  • Wow, what a great story! Makes you wonder how you’d drink wine differently if you knew that it was a $900 bottle. I’d probably lick out the glass. 😛

  • Mindy

    I really hope we wrote you a thank you note.

    So it was a secret for 5 years. Rand was the one with some good news and I think I joked, “we’ll let you get this one…just this once…” when the bill came. And you finally spilled the beans.

    We remember thinking it was weird that such a fancy restaurant didn’t have a wine list. And then they brought the wine and said Rand picked it out for us. It took several years to understand why the staff was so excited we didn’t finish it all.

    I’m sending you a photo of The Wine. You can sniff it and lick it.

    Love you. Thank you.

    • “Rand picked it out for you,” AKA “zat foolish American will never know what hit his credit card.” Le sigh…

      Can’t wait to see the photo of the wine!

    • Everywhereist

      I love you, too, dearest.

      And you are right – it was Rand’s news (that’s the only part of the story I wasn’t clear on). Rand’s company had just taken a healthy round of investment, and that was how we convinced you to let us pick up the bill. And then the story came out.

  • You all must have just died laughing once it all came out in the open. Wow. I’m just cringing. 10 years later and I still went and checked their reviews on Yelp.

    • Everywhereist

      Ha! I never actually left them a negative review for that. The food, I should note, was excellent. The staff … well, I have comments.

  • Janet T

    You and Rand are so cool. I’m pretty sure my brain would have exploded- not so much because of the cost, more so because of the devious nature of the restaurant staff. They took a very nice gesture on your part and made it into something, I don’t know? Mean- like no good deed goes unpunished? If you were lesser people, it could have destroyed your friendship before you got the full story. I’m glad you can look back at it and laugh. Lesson learned, worth every drop.

    • Everywhereist

      Oh, goodness, at no point whatsoever did we think Jake and Mindy went nuts on the meal! Nope. Not their style at all. But you are right – it could have been disastrous!

  • Mindy

    PS: In our defense, it was 900 dollars Canadian, which back in 2007, was like three dollars and fifty cents. Right?!

  • Leslie m

    my husband forgave his law partners debt on his death bed. Eight years later we have just paid off the $175,000 debt and his widow doesn’t know. (No life insurance). We finally have our kids out of college and we are officially saints except I’m not really because I’m writing this now huh?

    • Everywhereist

      Saints. Officially. (You are entitled to grouse about it online, at least a little. You are human.)

  • I think you told this story beautifully. The reason you’re my favorite blogger is because of how you weave a story. You don’t just give us bare details about a place or a time… you put us in your head and in your space. Well written.

    • Everywhereist

      Thank you so much, Jill. I’m delighted you liked it. 🙂

  • Melanie

    So weird you should tell this story now…We will be in Montreal for two nights later this year (from Sydney) and were thinking about going to that restaurant. I’ll still look it up…but puts a different spin on the place. Does it still have same owners, all these years later?

    • Everywhereist

      I honestly don’t know. The food, for what it’s worth, is good. But I wouldn’t pay $1300 for it. 😉

  • I don’t know how you’re alive today to tell this story. I probably would have died from a heart attack when I saw that bill! I always try to remind myself that money is just money and you can’t take it with you to the grave but that mantra always seems to fly out the window when it comes time to pay the bills 🙂

    • Everywhereist

      I think I cried.

  • Moe

    Good story, and thanks for the laughter again. I’ve missed your blogging and sorry about everything else including the wine. I’m Canadian and a great time to drink wine is when it’s -49 and you want to forget how cold it is outside. Most peeps drink two-fours around here and same with cow-town next door. $900 is 450 toonies and them folks in PQ take their wine serious. $900? How many Tim’s is that? Enjoy your weekend.

  • I *love* this story. Now you have us sat around our kitchen table debating the possibility of this happening with only good intent all around (is it possible that the person taking the message innocently took a note of “wine under $1k” and the waiter got handed a message to “pick a wine under $1k”?)…

    Either way. Incredible. Glad you’ve got your money’s-worth out of the story, but I can’t help feeling sad that your friends didn’t even know how fancy it was as they drank it 🙁

    • Everywhereist

      Glad we got to help facilitate the dinnertime conversation. That dinner just keeps on giving. 🙂

  • Steve

    My wife and I also had the opportunity in 2007 to enjoy the gracious hospitality of the staff at Au Pied de Cochon. They could not comprehend, even though we spoke French, that my wife has difficulty digesting dairy. The chef absolutely refused to accommodate her health needs and would not modify any of his dishes. Our server passed on the chef’s recommendation that she could eat a salad. As we weren’t in the mood to find another restaurant (attempting to be a good husband, I did offer to walk out), she ate a salad while I did enjoy my poutine with fois gras.

  • Oh my! What a staff they have over there! Thankfully, in Paris is different. I love that restaurant and I go there every month.

  • Oh man… I can’t even imagine.

  • That place is so overrated, and the chef is just an overweight jerk trying to pass fatty food as trendy food for his own benefit. I’m sorry for all of Montreal (which you were mad at). Please come back. 🙂

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