Liveblog: Financial mistakes by experts who should know better

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This last weekend, my wife and I drank our first $300 bottle of wine. This was not a deliberate decision.

When a few of my old college friends came up to visit us in the Bronx, we decided to take them to Zero Otto Nove, our favorite place for entertaining out-of-town friends. The restaurant, located near our house, is beautifully decorated, reasonably priced, and has fantastic food. It also has extremely aggressive waiters, but their endless tendency to upsell is one of those things that we have learned to overlook. After all, when a pizza joint makes tear-worthy pies, you tend to ignore the little irritations.

At any rate, we ordered a couple of appetizers and three of the restaurants distinctive gourmet pizzas. My wife, who knows a lot more about wine than I do, picked a reasonably priced Italian red that seemed like a good bet to accompany our meal. A few minutes later, the waiter returned to double check on our drink order. My wife, who was dealing with our daughter at the time, glanced at the wine he pointed to, noted the name, and replied that, yes, it was the one we wanted.

The meal was outstanding; in fact, the only down spot was the wine. Somewhat watery and underflavored, it had a hard time standing up to the spicy "Diavola" pizza we ordered. Still, the food was great, the company was outstanding, and we were all more than willing to overlook a slightly lame bottle of red wine.

When the bill came, the total was $407. Assuming that the waiter had made a mistake, I called him over and jokingly asked my wife if she had ordered a $315 bottle of wine. Laughing, she told me that, no, her choice had been $36. The waiter, however, disagreed, and noted that he had double checked to ensure that she was serious about her choice. The manager, who seemed to be waiting for just this occasion, backed up his story.

I asked for a copy of the wine menu. The waiter brought it over and pointed out the wine in question: a Bruno Giacosa Falletto Barolo 2001, priced at $315. I was confused until I scanned about two inches down the page and saw a Bruno Giacosa Barbera d'Alba 2003, priced at $36. Hoping that, perhaps, there might be some confusion, I double-checked the bottle: it was the pricey one.

I pointed out the extreme similarity between the wines to the manager, noting that the waiter could have been a lot more straightforward about the wine question. Given the fact that this was obviously a sincere error, I asked if we could work out a compromise. I offered to buy a replacement bottle of the Barolo at one of the wine stores in the neighborhood; alternately, I told him that I would be happy to pay the retail price of the wine.

The manager responded that, if I wished, I could certainly hold off on tipping my waiter. Apart from that, however, there was nothing that he could do. He agreed to call the restaurant's owner, but claimed that he could not get him on the line. After a fair bit of back-and-forth, I told the manager that my wife and I were regulars at the restaurant but would not return if he refused to help us. After acknowledging that he recognized us from previous visits, he repeated his offer to allow us to forego a tip.

Luckily, our guests were all very understanding. Everyone took up a collection for the wine and, although we ended up paying twice what we had budgeted for the meal, we will still be able to pay for our food for the rest of the month. My sister, who is a particularly forgiving soul, even tipped the waiter.

In the end, this episode was moderately depressing, extremely embarrassing, and painfully expensive. While we were partly to blame, the waiter's lack of clarity, combined with the manager's absolute refusal to compromise, made me very suspicious. In the future, my wife and I will be a lot more careful about our wine choices; unfortunately, we will not be making them at Zero Otto Nove.
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