We're at the Ritz-Carlton, all primed for a nice meal, winding through the carpeted maze -- it's like The Shining in here -- that leads to dead ends, empty conference rooms, a cigar bar, an opium den (kidding, unfortunately) and the very impressive and bustling tea room. Tonight at the Ritz, we halfway expect to see John Kerry and Shrub Bush dining at a romantic table together the night before the Wash. U. debate. In the tea room, the ladies are diamond encrusted; the men have golden rods up their asses.
Tonight, at the Grill at the Ritz-Carlton, the servers seem tentative. They exit the kitchen with plates, only to pause, get confused and return to the chef for clarification. Here, in a room with chocolate-color wooden walls, the initial conversational misstep has put you in salvage mode, but luckily your sweetheart is the forgiving type. Bread arrives: cheesy biscuits that are much better than Red Lobster's, and the big poofy pretzels are exquisite. Single-malt Scotch is enjoyed, dinner is good but by no means great. But no big deal, because we're here for the treat at the end of the meal: a glass of Cockburn's 20 Year Old Tawny Port.
Cockburn's 20 Year Old received an impressive 94 from Wine Spectator, but we're feeling charitable and are nudging that score up to 94.34 because its hue works so well with the walls. Held up to the light, it even reveals a touch of gold. If you don't know port, it is, like Mad Dog, a fortified wine, meaning that it has been blended with spirits (in this case, brandy), to preclude further fermentation and add an extra kick of alcohol. The result is an after-dinner drink that's sweet, supple and a touch honey-nutty. "Tawny" describes its color; the age reflects the approximate amount of time the wine has matured in casks.
Cockburn's 20 Year Old is exquisite. In addition to the obvious flavor of nut/honey, it's got the nose of Frankenberry, the flavor of Booberry and a sustained echo of Count Chocula. Yes, it's that good, especially enjoyed with little chocolate flakes. So you've had a cocktail, a few glasses of wine. Your inhibitions have vanished, and you've already spent a wad of cash. What's another fifteen bucks for an after-dinner kicker? It's worth it, because it will calm you down, will aid in digestion, will massage your mind and, hopefully, illustrate to your lady friend that not only are you not vulgar, but, in fact, you're shockingly sophisticated.