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Restaurants, Please Reconsider the Quartino

A couple weeks ago I was greeted by the pleasing and potent smell of marijuana as I and three companions walked into Oak at Fourteenth, a modern, gleaming farm-to-table restaurant in central Boulder, Colo. At least, we thought the cloud that blew past our faces was weed since the plant is largely decriminalized and is more popular in this part of Colorado than K Pop is in Seoul – however, just so you know, a quick Google search tells me that having a couch on your porch in Boulder is against the law, so think twice about sitting outside and smoking a joint on your Jennifer Convertible.

Anyway, it turns out the Oak at Fourteenth chefs were using hops to smoke some prime cuts of lamb just outside, and while I have no idea if it's true, I’m told that hops are in the same general botanical family as marijuana, hence the brief – and ultimately disappointing – aromatic confusion. But it wasn’t long after we sat down at our table that we became convinced that the culinary explanation for the odor was not only poppycock, but that most of the restaurant staff was more fully baked than a loaf of sourdough. Much of this has to do with the quartino (pictured), the small vase-shaped vessel that many a trendy restaurant uses to serve a single glass of wine. But I’ll get there in a second.

Before I do, please, by no means take the above paragraphs as a bad review or dismissal of Oak at Fourteenth. We had a lovely dinner there, most everything we ate delicious. Even the forgettable dishes were perfectly passable and at least somewhat enjoyable at the time. Much of the fare would certainly hold up to a New York City dining standard, I felt, an assessment the well-to-do professional male and decidedly non-granola female clientele – with their straightened, colored hair and remarkably tan skin, most unusual attributes among Boulder women last I checked – would very likely agree with. I even hope to eat there, again, on my next trip, but under one condition – that they take the quartinos outside and smash them to little bits, then use the recycled glass to make one massive, psychedelic-looking bong.

And this has nothing to do with the fact that we were asked three times, just after we were seated, if we’d like sparkling or still water, then asked three times if we’d like to start with a cocktail, then asked three more if we were ready to order. (Need another hit, anyone? There’s a little resin left in here ...) It doesn’t do much for table conversation among friends:

“So as I was saying, the other day I was on the subway and–”

“Would you like sparkling or still water?”

“We just ordered from that other guy.”

“Anyway, I was on the subway, and this guy comes up to me and–”

“Would you like sparkling or still water?”

“We just ordered from that other guy.”

“Oh ... would you like something else to drink?”

“Sure, two martinis, a Manhattan and a glass of the Cabernet.”

“Great, I’ll be right back with those.”

“So the guy comes up to me and says–”

“Hi, good evening. Would you like to start off with some cocktails?”

And so on. And when the first round of drinks arrived from the bar, delivered by two waiters for some reason, my glass of Cabernet was presented in a quartino. One waiter said to the other, “Oh, we forgot the wineglass. Could you please go grab one from the bar?”

The other waiter went to go hit a gravity bong, I can only guess, then went out to find a pizza with this other guy, then got distracted by some dude in a bathrobe singing “Blood on the Tracks” with his out-of-tune guitar on Pearl St., right next to that guy with a giant telescope and a coffee can you’re supposed to add tips to, just for looking at the moon for a couple a seconds ... before someone makes a bong out of the coffee can.

I decided that I should just drink out of the quartino rather than actually ask for a wineglass when a waiter arrived with food that wasn’t ours. To at least one semi-conscious waiter’s credit, I only drank half the wine out of the quartino’s tiny spout over about 20 minutes before the man arrived with a stem, and apologized. I’d have ordered a second glass if I had confidence that it would arrive at our table, or even in a drinkable vessel. Maybe just his hands cupped, holding some wine? But this is when I got to thinking: Why bother with the goddamn quartinos anyway? There’s nothing ceremonial or even helpful to the wine quality by pouring it from a bottle into one vessel, then another, and then into my mouth. What’s wrong with skipping the quartino step?

In a normal restaurant environment, you tell the waiter you’d like a glass of Cab, the waiter tells the bartender, the bartender pours from the bottle to the glass, hands the glass to the waiter, who then hands it to you. The quartino just adds an extra, annoying element – one that, presumably, I'm supposed to be flattered or entertained by for that full second and a half that the waiter pours the wine from one glass to the other. (Such talent! Such skill!) To be honest, I'd kind of like that second and a half of my life back. And don’t restaurant owners always complain about costs? Why introduce an extra five-dollar piece of glass to the equation (say the restaurant needs 200 of them on hand, so an extra $1,000 in startup costs), one that’s not only useless, but is just too confusing for the pothead waitstaff to manage? OK, sure, there's the issue of ensuring that every person who orders wine by the glass gets an equal pour – if that's a concern, just measure behind the bar. I won't know or care.

Now that I look at the above paragraphs, I realize that it’s completely reasonable to conclude that I, too, am higher than a 747. I am not, so far as I know ... but if a blood or urine test were to reveal otherwise, I blame the “hops.” And yet it’s still fair for me to believe that any sane, service-minded restaurant should do away with these pretentious pieces of glass and just bring out some damn wine already. One thing’s for sure, though, next time I’m served wine in a quartino: I’m taking it home and making a bong out of it.

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