Still, Sparkling, or Tap?

Chez Panise stopped serving bottled water.

It's good to find validation for a protest I arrived at on my own. I don't do well keeping up with the protests of others.

The origins of that protest were formed based on my visit to Fiji where they serve - you guessed it - Fiji water. (Well, to the tourists anyway...) Some enterprising person thought, "Hey... this is a tropical paradise... Why don't we bottle water from here and ship it to people." Fittingly, that person was not Fijian.

I can't help remembering the staggering amount of water I had flown over to get to Fiji. The plane flew for something like 12 hours, at 600 miles an hour, and all but the first 4 minutes and last 3 minutes were water. Water surrounds Fiji and, yet, they can't drink it.

Fiji water gets here somehow. A pipeline is too long (though apparently more cost-effective than oil), airfreight is way too heavy, railroads... well, the rails would rust. Which leaves a ship. Ships run on oil, but are very good at transporting heavy freight (including, ironically, oil.)

And despite the overrated taste of Fiji water, I found myself - for a while - caught up in the, "Hey, I'm having a fabulous meal here. Why should I be drinking tap water?" Not to mention the fact that Fiji water did the smartest thing I can think of to pimp their wares; they built a custom, silver-plated container with a rounded shape that could only hold a bottle of Fiji water. Absolutely brilliant.

San Pelligrino, on the other hand, is *really* good. Voss is... well... water... but in a sexy, modern, unabashedly phallic container. There are others... Pana is the "sans gas" version of Pelligrino along with a variety of other waters produced probably 2 miles from the name-brand varieties, but lacking the cache, don't get asked for by name.

But I digress...

Bottled water in restaurants was the brainchild of the makers of the water. I'm sure they sat around and watched people dine and thought, "they're not spending enough on dinner. Maybe we should charge them for flatware... no... The bread? What if they asked for bread by name?" No good. Atkins kicked in. Suddenly injesting carbs was as unthinkable as wearing fur.

I'm sure they watched a busboy moving from table to table like a hummingbird through a rose garden, paid by the restaurant to deliver a substance the diners weren't even paying for. Not just some of them, all of them. It sounds insane in retrospect; "Let's charge them for water! But not just any water; imported water." Thus was reborn the "Evian Syndrome".

Suddenly, even the non-drinkers were profitable to a restaurant. They're not drinking expensive wine? Sell them expensive water. They are drinking expensive wine? Then they won't think twice about a $9.00 bottle of water. Given the presumed profit margins, I'm surprised no one opened a "Water Bar".

In my mind, a backlash began to occur. I thought to myself, "why am I being forced to pay for decent water? What are you cooking my food in?" In San jose, this is particularly bothersome because San Jose has just about the nastiest water I've ever tasted (that is known to actually be potable.) I bought a Brita filter shortly after moving to S.J. I'm surprised the charcoal didn't catch on fire. It's really bad. Even with a water filter in your refrigerator, the ice is usable only to chill the outside of a bottle of something. This struck me as being asked, "Would you prefer fresh basil, or dried from a jar? Fresh is more expensive." A better ingredient came with a surcharge?

For a while, the terminology was too much to resist. "Would you like still, sparkling, or tap water?" "Tap water" conjures images of leaking, lime-encrusted slop sink faucet with a mop sticking out of it. The word alone was a deterrent. To ask for it meant that you were cheap, or just didn't care about quality. "Would you like your food served on fine china or dumped on the floor?"

I have since moved to Mountain View where I remember the water being decent, but a Brita was still in order for that extra polish. I now marvel at the flavor of this substance that flows so freely from the faucet. I bathe in this luxuriously soft water. There's even a pool in my complex filled with this stuff. Good water feels so decadent, but only if you've experienced the alternative. I have also underestimated how much bad water annoyed me. Every time I filled a pot with water for pasta, I thought about the flavor of the water. Ice cubes were for shocking vegetables - briefly so as to not impart any flavor - or for chilling wine. I bought ice cubes and cherished them until they were devoured by the freeze-drying effect, or had run out of the useful sizes and was grasping at snowman material.

There are several shops in San Jose that specialize in "drinking" water. (Scary how they need to make that distinction.) Walking in, you see an impressive array of tanks and plumbing, filters and dials. Just down the street, Gordon Biersch converts water into beer using similar looking equipment. Here, they're simply making water appealing.

Where once, I took pride in drinking water from the other side of the world, its mineral balance a coincidence to our palates. Now, when servers use that formerly-effective marketing line, "Would you care for still, sparkling, or tap?", I volley back - "Filtered tap would be fine. You DO filter your tap water, right?" Few seem prepared, or anxious, to answer that question.


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