With all of this recent blogging about restaurants that are well intentioned but don’t get quite the nuances of the whole allergic thing, sometimes I make it easier on everyone, especially myself, and I don’t even order.
But I still go.
Take Sunday night for example. Some friends of a friend were in town from Paris. We had a late supper reservation for 8 at Spice Market, Vongerichten’s spot in the Meat Packing district, the one that serves his version of Asian street food. I’ve never been mainly because I don’t think it’s fair to go to a restaurant like this and expect them to be able to make this Allergic Girl something allergen-free when basically their entire kitchen is one potential hive.
Actually, I’ve never been to any of Vongerichten’s restaurants, not even the older ones like JoJo or Vong. They always struck me as very fishy, elegantly experimental, and ultimately the home base of a celebrity chef. As Chef Zeitouni pointed out, for a person with food allergies, it’s important to identify a restaurant where the food and the customer take center stage versus the chef’s personal vision. He said it more eloquently but basically when the chef dictates what he/she wants you to eat, if you have food allergies you can be in serious trouble.
So on this night, instead of calling ahead and having a discussion with the reservationist and then the manager and then the server and then hoping that whatever plain thing I had ordered didn’t come steamed with “just a little nuoc mam ” or feeling so spooked about the whole endeavor that I ordered but didn’t eat anything and felt starved and deprived, I simply cut out the middle man and had dinner at home.
A lovely dinner of spinach rice pasta with blanched sugar snap peas, sautéed with some olive oil inspired by the sweet peas I picked up at the market on Saturday and this recipe. [I think the pureeing and the straining is a bit much so I cut that out and didn’t have any garlic on hand, but I made a version of it.]
The evening went so much smoother with me not eating.
Of course, I would have rather eaten with the group, especially as they were oohhing and aahhing, saying it was better then any resto in Paris. And here’s a cool/funny thing: after my neighbor offered me a dish of noodles with shrimp, then lobster and then the salmon sashimi and I kept saying “Je suis allergique”, this prompted a deep Franco-American [meaning I spoke my poor French and she spoke her much better English] discussion of her allergies [to melon, les chats, pollen, les arbres] which was fascinating and that she also takes cortisone for them [as I take Advair ]. We bonded. [Salut Stephanie!]
I can hear you already: “Why don’t you do this all of the time, eat at home and save myself time, money, worry, and potential illness?”
To that I say, because it’s no fun that way! Not that this is a game to see which resto will make me sick, but I’m not going to not go out because I have a few allergies.
I am going to make smart choices about when it’s appropriate to explain the Allergic Girl sitch and when, irregardless of a kitchen’s best efforts, I know I won’t feel comfortable with what comes out of their swinging doors.
I always have the opt-out-of-dinner choice but I use it sparingly. I reserve it for times when it’s a group event, the choice of resto is out of my control, or the resto chosen is one that involves a cuisine that just spells trouble [Asian street food being an extreme but excellent example of that difficult cuisine for me]. The rest of the time, as you know, I go out to dinner hoping for the best and am usually rewarded with a wonderful meal.