This is from a reader who tried out Blue Smoke’s nut-free menu. I wrote about Blue Smoke's Gluten-free menu a while back but still haven't tried it out. The reader's report, reprinted with her permission, highlights some important issue to keep in mind when dining out even at a restaurant that is allergy-aware.
Dear Allergic Girl,
I had promised to write to you about an experience with Blue Smoke restaurant and their nut-free menu. My daughter is allergic to nuts in the extreme and finding restaurants where we can eat comfortably is a big deal for us. That said, we have had good luck in some places.
So, we had dinner at Blue Smoke right before Christmas. It was a good food experience but with some major caveats regarding handling nut allergies.
Blue Smoke has two menus, one complete and one nut-free. When I called ahead to ask if ordering from the nut-free menu meant no nuts at all, no traces etc., I was told that, “Yes, they are set up to accommodate extreme nut allergies. They prepare food from the nut-free menu separately and so forth”.
We then had the same conversation with our server when we arrived and he reiterated their commitment to handling food allergies. “No nuts, no traces, no problem”. We also got to the restaurant really early so that we had the staff's full attention.
The nut-free menu is extensive and full of good organic food. A lot of meat but also salads and veggie sides etc. There is also a large list of nut-free deserts, which is usually the hardest part. We ordered delicious, well-cooked food. My daughter and I split a huge portion of organic roasted chicken with green beans and potatoes. Superb and big enough for us to split AND take home left-overs (and we eat a lot). For desert, we had a pear crisp with homemade ginger ice cream that was similarly delicious and nut-free. The service was quick, really warm, responsive and available. I also had a great Prosecco with dinner. My beau had a great burger and ale with a brownie and ice cream for desert. Yum.
So, here is the major caveat: They use a multi-waiter system, so the person from whom you order dinner may not be the same one who brings it or asks if everything is OK or takes your desert order. And that is a little odd when dealing with a nut allergy. For example, we told our server about my daughter's allergy and he was totally great about it, very reassuring. Then, as we were waiting for dinner, another guy brought my daughter a raw gingerbread man to decorate (something they do for kiddies before X-Mas, very fun) and I said, "This is nut free, right?" and he didn't know. He asked the chef and it was and all was well, but obviously that was a lapse.
And THEN: we ordered desert from the nut-free menu from an entirely new waiter. We ordered pear crisp and I said "No nuts or nut traces, right?" and the server said "No, nothing." Then we ordered the brownie with ice cream, also from the nut-free menu (the brownie is available on the nut-free menu and on the regular menu with walnuts). When the deserts came, the crisp was fine but the brownie had nuts that were not visible until you dug in. Now, in our case, this was not a problem as A. the dish was for my beau who is not allergic to nuts and B. my daughter is actually not allergic to walnuts per se (though she doesn't eat them because of the extremity of her other tree nut allergies). But, my god, what a mistake. If she had taken a bite and that had been a pistachio rather than a walnut...well, you know the deal. To me it undermined the entire experience.
We told the waiter and he said that he thought we wanted a regular brownie. This may have been partly my fault to not have reiterated the whole story to the new waiter, but I assumed they were in communication over such major issues and I asked about the crisp and we ordered from the nut-free menu. I thought it was all obvious but I was, obviously, wrong.
So I ended up feeling pretty tepid in terms of trust at Blue Smoke. They sell themselves as being super-responsive to nut allergies but they have lots of nuts on their regular menu (boiled peanuts is an appetizer, for example) and the set-up with the waiters is just not appropriate for a diner with a severe allergy. Aside from anything else, if the guy bringing you your food has just downed a handful of nuts, you're in trouble. So you really need your waiter throughout to understand the situation. Also, as I said, we got there really early (were seated with menus before 5:00 PM) but when we left at 7, the place was mobbed. I can't imagine what would happen when you have seven waiters running around sharing tables and not letting each other know about allergic diners.
I would probably try it again but I would call first and ask whether we could, assuming we arrive really early, have one waiter the entire time. If they could not accommodate that, I wouldn't go back with my daughter.
So dumb to take the time to make things work for nut allergies and then miss that one, crucial, step...
All best, Caroline