Wine Talk

Snooth User: dmcker

Restaurant chains with good wine lists

Posted by dmcker, Sep 20, 2010.

GregDP just posted an article on large corporate restaurant chains that he feels have good wine lists. Seems to me that this is a good topic for discussion here. I went on a minirant in the comments under the article, and wanted to open the floor for discussion from others here.

Any thoughts, experiences, reactions?


Reply by outthere, Sep 20, 2010.

Haven't read the article yet but when I think of restaurant chains I'm not thinking wine list. My ex used to waitress at Red Lobster and they had Raymond but this was back in the late 80's. 

I generally don't eat at chain restaurants. If I can do it better myself why pay someone else to screw it up? If I eat at a chain it generally comes with a milk shake or soda. My motto is go big or go home. So when it comes to eating out I prefer memorable dining experiences and the wine lists there are always up to par.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Sep 20, 2010.

It was a rare minirant indeed!

I rarely eat in chains, though I do honestly enjoy legal Seafoods. But, once in a while, when I'm travelling and have just gotten into town, or have no transport I would like to fall back on something decent.

truth is that is only if I'm taking people out. Outherwise I have two feet that function well and I'm not averse to an hour or two of exploring topped off with whatever ethnic delights I may come across.

Having said all that, if I'm hungry and there's a Ruth's Chris around i might just be tempted to go in and have myself a decent dinner.




Reply by dmcker, Sep 21, 2010.

Of those you mention in the article, Greg, Legal would be my first choice, too, and Ruth's Chris probably second. Better than Morton's at least. Roy's in the old days would've topped the entire list, but not these days.

Don't know why, but I did have a hair up this morning when I dashed the remarks off. Would love to hear the community's views. Wish there was a better way to connect the Forum with the Articles directly....


Reply by napagirl68, Sep 21, 2010.

MINIRANT?????  Dmcker you are too funny...

Just read your previous post, and I just had to link my comment that I left on the article below.  (AGREE re: Mortons!!!)

Interesting read.. while I agree that sometimes you have to "settle" in life, and hit a chain restaurant, or a hotel chain's bar (as I've mentioned in forum posts), it is never my first choice. Typically, if I know where I am going ahead of time, I REALLY research and delve into where I should eat. I look at the wine lists online, and I even check corkage policies. This is with some notice, of course. Sometimes you are on business with others, and you don't get to make the choice, or you could be stuck in the middle of nowhere on business (can't help but think of that George clooney movie, Up in the Air!)- So it is nice to see which chains have drinkable wine available.
I tend to not trust Yelp, as mostly 20-somethings tend to be the ones rating things, at least in my area. Their inherent lack of experience does not lend well to recommending wineries/restaurants based on quality... lots of comments about the crowds and the inexpensiveness of the food/wine.

I can tell you one chain I absolutely detest- Morton's. Their food is extremely overpriced and mediocre, and their wine list was severely lacking, IMO. I ate at one of their locations out of town once (one of those desperation things- everything else booked-and very hungry). It is the last time I will set foot in that chain. I was giddy when I recently read a food editor's SCATHING review of Morton's of SF in the SF chronicle. It made my day :-)

Reply by dmcker, Sep 21, 2010.

OK, NG, I brought my rant from there over here. Still think everyone should read Greg's original article, as well as the other comments in the thread underneath.



  • dmcker Hand of Snooth 3,552

    Roy's used to be a whole lot better (both the menu and the wine list), and was a very special place to visit, when it was just Roy (publicly, anyway) running it, and only had two or three locations on Oahu (probably not even Maui yet when I was most frequenting it a couple of decades ago). It had lost its soul when I later visited its Tokyo clone. What is it about corporate American-style MBA-centric management that really kills that soul, and customer service, even though CS is such an important concept in lipservice (and form vs. content) terms in that world? I still cook a number of dishes at home that I picked up from Roy's in Hawaii Kai that he himself guided me to.

    You're attempting to address that soul-kill issue in this article, and good for you for that. But it really boils down to eternally-continuing, increasingly large compromises when dealing with chains, and I view even the better of them not as 'fine-dining' but mediocre dining, somewhere between fast food and real, good restaurants. I almost never frequent them for that reason, even when it would be more convenient, and always look for one-offs, or small local (two or three like Roy first was) chains, more particularly sister one-offs, in a small chain put together by a creative chef-owner or restaurant producer. It's always interesting to ask concierges at hotels, business counterparts I'm meeting in that town, people I know privately in the region, etc. Even fly by the seat of my pants and go into places on street impression, rather than hit the chains. It's really a lonelier world when we stay at impersonal hotel/motel chains and have to use Yelp or whomever to get a clue about eating places in any given town.

    How do you navigate/eat when you're in Italy, Greg?

    Sep 20, 2010 at 8:13 PM

  • dmcker Hand of Snooth 3,552

    Oh yeah, and as to specifics of your list, Ruth's Chris falls well within the scope of my description, though they're generally north of a lot of Outback locations (even though I've found myself more in the latter with groups of friends). Legal didn't used to so much, and I used to like to visit some of their Beantown originalish locations a couple of decades ago and even used to eat at their location in the Pru in Boston a few years later when I had to stay at the Sheraton there, but by that time they were heading well in the direction of non-descript, and much further growth. Would rather go to the North End, a couple of places in the Back Bay, or WTH, even Quincy Market if I want something touristy, now. Better yet, a couple of clam shacks on the North Shore. ;-)

    Guess if I was stuck in an airport somewhere and they were there I would use them, but not if on my feet in a real town. And I'm not trying to be snobbish here, but do feel strongly about how life for all of us hasn't necessarily been heading in the right direction as it's further industrialized. I'd definitely rather give my money to someone local trying to do something different, than help the bottom line of some remotely headquartered, homogenized, pasteurized, strictly-controlled corporate clone dishing out calories.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 8:25 PM


Reply by napagirl68, Sep 21, 2010.

I don't know about everyone else, but I find myself cooking at home more so than ever.  Perhaps my location is part of it, but truly, I tend to prefer my own cooking to most restaurants I've been to- even a GOOD restaurant. I find most restaurant food (yes, even the very good ones) to be oversalted and have too much fat content.  Also, when I cook at home, I can drink my own wine (which are all my favs, of course, that is why I bought them!).  I know what with travel and all, you have to eat out.  But I thought it was odd how, as I have become more economically successful over time, I find I am staying home more so.

I guess my 17y/o son's recent comment summed it up.  We were getting ready for all of us to go out, and deciding (arguing) about where to go, when he said, "Why don't we just stay here?  Your food is better than any restaurant anyway."  What a sweetie :-) 

When I do like to go out, it is because I am TIRED of cooking and want to be served/waited on.  For those reasons, I am pretty picky about the place (especially if it is just us adults, no little ones).  I have to say tho, because I am frequently disappointed in the food (even to a minor degree), I base my choice on 1. ambiance 2. wine list 3. food.  Of course that is assuming DECENT food- the first 2 can never make up for bad food.  That said, you better give me a BOOK for a wine list (I like choices) and you better have chosen well :-)   For those little places with yummy food and not so great wine lists, you better let me bring my own in, and not gouge me with corkage fees.

Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Sep 21, 2010.

I was going to mention Legal, also.  I'm a veggie, so I don't eat there, but I also like their price structure.  Their markup is very low.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 21, 2010.

NG, I have seen books with no good wines and restaurants with smaller lists that showed thought. I do agree with your comment about oversalting--it's what makes most people like restaurant food. 

But, yes, the chains are bleak.  Back when I was a teen in Boston, there was Legal (two locations) and there was No Name Seafood.  On a pier off Atlantic Street, no signs, simply cooked fish fresh out of the water.  I think you could buy beer, but I know we brought wine and there was NO corkage fee.  In fact, I think I didn't realize there was such a thing as corkage because that's the only place I ever brought wine. Ambience was... well, it was a warehouse space and no apologies.  But the best and freshest fish, and I didn't even like fish back then.

GDD, do you have a favorite place that combines vegetarian food (or at least decent vegetarian entree choices) and wine? I know you are in the business, so your recommendations in that area interest me.

Reply by napagirl68, Sep 22, 2010.

I am not GDD, and only ate here once, but I did like Greens in SF.. ate there before the Rhone Rangers last march.

here's the wine info...

Reply by napagirl68, Sep 22, 2010.

Foxall- also agree a book does not mean a good list, hence my second comment (and you must have chosen well  :-)

And yes, there are those small gems with a tiny list of big hitters.  I have run into them mostly out of my area.  My area, since it is considered WINE COUNTRY, loves to serve the local stuff.  Most of it, I am not fond of.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 22, 2010.

I've always thought that, in Foxall and NG country more-or-less, Chez Panisse does as well with a short winelist as anyone. Not exactly a chain, though, even with all of Alice's offshoot business activities....

And NG, I'm with you on your longer post above about food being usually better at home. Would like to write more, but don't have the time at the moment to discuss more fully what you say there. 

Reply by chadrich, Sep 23, 2010.

I tend to avoid chain restaurnats and restaurant wine lists in general (preferring to pay corkage and avoid crazy mark-ups).  But I do have to give credit to Capital Grille and Seasons 52 for managing decent wine programs.  Both are owned by the Darden Group (along with Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, maybe others).  Capital's wine list is extensive, if lacking of anything too terribly unique.  They often have a special priced close to retail (ie 1999 Mondavi Reserve Cab for $99 on a recent visit).  Seasons' list is a bit more creative and they focus on matching wines with their menu and offer some amount of themed flights.  Both also manage to feel like local spots, not cookie-cutter chains, a tough but appreciated feat.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 23, 2010.

I don't travel much for work these days, but I usually look for a brewpub if I am alone, because you can sit at the bar, the food can be respectable, and the beer is not going to be bad if they seem to be at all busy.  On a recent excursion to Southern California, we did wind up at Flemings in Newport Beach and it wasn't bad.  Had a petite sirah that was what I hoped.  But I couldn't help noticing the table in direct view where a bunch of oafs were drinking bottle after bottle of Artemis, a whipping boy of mine (and GDD and NG).  Cost them plenty, which I am sure made them enjoy it all the more.  Like a bad scene out of Real Houswives of Orange County.  Scary thing is, I went to school with some of the cast of that show!

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