Friday, April 17, 2009

A Reader's Restaurant Story

In my response to my call for reader restaurant tales, here is an essay from fellow allergy blogger and writer Susan Weissman of the blog Peanuts in Eden: I think we all have those "standby" favorites that we feel are safe for our child's allergies and even if the place isn't special or upscale, it's like the VISA ad: "Safe restaurant meal for your severely food-allergic child: Priceless."

Thanks for sharing your story, Susan! Next week as part of my blog's new monthly feature, I'll share your restaurant anecdotes and recommendations. Thank you to all who contributed and please keep your comments coming!

And now here is Susan's experience, in her own words:

"Eating in restaurants can evoke wonderful childhood memories. I'll never forgot the shimmering night my mother and brother were away, so I met my father at his office on Madison Avenue. He took down in the double door elevator to Giambelli's, an Italian restaurant famous for serving some of New York's Mayors and Cardinals. I settled into a deep bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, Parmesan cheese scattered powdery and pink across the velveteen sauce. Every mouthful tasted like love.

When my second child, Eden, was diagnosed with multiple anaphylactic food allergies after his first birthday, restaurants weren't my primary concern. Food that came from a box, let alone from another kitchen felt so dangerous. But eventually, Eden's older sister asked me, "When are we going back to eat those Chinese dumplings we had that time at the restaurant?"

My brain replied silently, "Uhh. Soy sauce, shellfish and peanuts? We will do that in infinity multiplied by never?"

So we stayed home and I cooked a for a really long time.

When Eden turned three, we forced ourselves to try a few restaurants so that neither of our children would accuse us of denying them normal socialization later in life. But none of our early choices stuck: One diner was fine until the kitchen "forgot" and covered Eden's hamburger in fries that we carefully hadn't ordered. He cried as the tantalizing plate was whisked away. Other Manhattan restaurants had too few "safe" options or they were too expensive.

Then one day, I spotted a newly opened "hole in the wall" type of taco joint with maybe four tables and a guitar hanging from the wall. Hmm. Mexican? Except for dairy there wasn't much in simple Mexican cuisine that Eden couldn't eat. And he practically lived for corn chips.

The door jingled as I went into this restaurant, optimistically bannered Cinco De Mayo! It was empty except for a woman behind the counter. She smiled and kept smiling during my fifteen minute interrogation of their cooking practices and recipes. At one point she proudly opened the refrigerator (about five feet away) and assured me, "We buy everything fresh and make it when you order. You ask and we do it how you ask."

Okay then! The first time we went to Cinco De Mayo, that's what she did. Eden ate grilled chicken tacos (no cheese or sour cream) and I practically watched the cook make the entire dish. So we kept coming back. Was the food amazing? No. It was pretty good. Fresh. Limited menu. In fact, some times I got bored of the "You know, that tamale " and the redundant iceberg lettuce salads. Occasionally, my husband and I talked about branching out to another place. But we didn't.

Now that we have been regular customers at Cinco De Mayo for almost two years, I don't even have to remind the server of Eden's allergies, he's never had a reaction and the kids still enjoy it. Check, check, check. Ultimately I want our children to remember "that same old hole in the wall" where the tables toppled with happiness."


jenny said...

Thanks for posting the story. We are all thankful for restaurants like that. A safe meal that does not require cooking is priceless. I commented on the last post that the Japanese restaurant Kamakura in Champaign, IL is one as Susan's Cinco De Mayo. I asked the same question every time we go in and was always greeted nicely with the same happy answer - no nuts (once the waitress brought out a whole jar of oil for me to check)
2 days ago we were there, as we were leaving, a nice young man was helping clearing the table. He introducing himself as the son of the owner and remembers our frequent request. He assures me they will not be using peanuts in the restaurant and said : "peanut, is one of the worst and serious allergy..." so I know he knows!

Jenny said...

I want to leave a P.S. to this wonderful restaurant story--I'm fresh from the FAAN conference and they covered restaurants there.

Always inform someone at the restaurant/remind them about your child's allergies when you order food. Recipes/staff change occasionally, and more than one speaker relayed an accidental ingestion in a "trusted" setting. It always pays to ask!

That said, dining out with food allergies can be safe and enjoyable as the essay illustrates.

Anonymous said...

This is a nice story. We are just getting into food from restaurants again. So far, we are stuck on Papa Johns pizza and haven't tried anything else yet other than Red Robin.

Jenny, we did enjoy Greek Easter and my little son is such a fussy eater, he would not even try the Greek Easter bread, so reactions weren't an issue anyway!