Several years ago, I was invited to be a guest at a very chic wine dinner at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. Hosted by our wine friend JC, the invite was a thank you for sending him some new wine clients over the years. The dinner was a vertical tasting of Château Ausone – a beautiful St.Emillion Bordeaux, and arguably one of the most special producers. Expensive wines, expensive venue, and expensive entry fee. So you can imagine the other guests of the evening – prickly, snobby wine folk who aren’t mixing and mingling with the likes of me (a wine newbie and happy-go-lucky gal, also about 20 years younger) on a regular basis.
Anyway, I made my way up the gilded staircase to the private dining room, which was decorated impeccably, and simply breathtaking. One long candle lit table set for 50, fit for royalty. After a quick 20 minutes of champagne, I was seated next to my friend and giddy with excitement when the frumpy, yellow toothed, woolly sweater wearing gentleman to my right leaned in.
(smelly breath) “…. you know, this is a v—-ery expensive dinner. I’m curious, HOW exactly are you here?” he says, in that condescending old man tone that I hadn’t heard in a few decades.
My eyeballs fired up, fighting stance ready, I was just about to show no mercy and get disqualified like Bobby and go all Cobra Kai when JC quickly interjected. “oh, she’s my guest and also sent me several new clients over the years and this is just my way to say thank you.” Mr. Miyagi style ‘take the high road’ prevailed, and Mr. Frumpy quickly changed his tone and was neutral for the rest of the evening. But I still gave him the obligatory dirty look, and may or may not have muttered a few unsavory things under my breath.
In that moment, I learned a valuable lesson. No matter how amazing the venue, food, wine may be, sometimes you just can’t predict people’s behavior. Especially in a mixed crowd. While it’s easy to want to add fuel to the fire, the only thing it’s going to do is ruin your own evening. Tempting as it may be to sweep the leg, hurl some verbal assaults or even throw some real punches, kicks and elbows out there, (something I can do now thanks to years of muay thai work outs), what martial arts is supposed to also teach you is Zen like restraint. In dealing with dinner party landmines, it’s always better to take the high road. Smile and laugh for no reason, talk about neutral subjects, and just don’t get sucked into the tension – it’s a trap.
Some words to live by. The rest of the dinner went by tension free, and was one of the most incredible experiences in my early days of fine dining. I can still remember the seared foie gras with roasted apple, and the unbelievably special silver service. There’s something magical when all the dishes arrive at the same time via white glove servers. The wines were sublime – and the legendary 1949 Château Ausone continues to be one of the most special memories in my own wine history. This is a much better keepsake than a meaningless brawl with no prizes.