Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dining Out - Always an Adventure

**Disclaimer: I'm really not that hard to eat out with. I swear. You just have to have an understanding that for gluten free folks (and those with other allergies) dining out at restaurants asking questions, modifying dishes, and being extremely careful is how we make sure that we stay healthy and safe. (I've bolded some of my tips for eating out at restaurants with allergies)**

Tonight I had plans with a few friends to enjoy Restaurant Week here in DC. I've actually never participated in the foodie holiday before as many of the restaurants don't allow diners to modify the special menu, I've been traveling for work, or simply didn't have time.

Tonight was different. My friends and I picked a new-ish restaurant, Zentan, because of the wide array of options on the menu. I even took a look online a few days ahead of time and was excited for the special Restaurant Week menu.

Before I ordered, I let my server know that I had some few allergies and explained what they were. No big deal. He seemed like he understood. My friends are used to it and to be honest, even if they weren't, I would still do it to ensure that I didn't go home sick which has happened before. The waiter wrote down my allergies and my order and assured me everything would be safe and delicious. So far so good.

My first course - watermelon salad with feta, mint, and black pepper vinaigrette was presented beautifully. I've never had this combination before tonight and was quite excited.

This did not disappoint. The sweetness of the watermelon balanced perfectly with the salty feta and savory vinaigrette. The sprigs of mint lightened the whole dish more that I thought possible. I ate slowly and savored each and every bite. I ate half to save room for the rest of my meal.

I got the Curry Chicken as my main dish. It was served with polenta, tomato jam, pineapple, and almonds. I double checked how the chicken was cooked and was assured it was fine.

And then after a first bite, the chicken was too crispy to not be breaded. Unfortunately, this incident was the beginning of a downward spiral of our experience. I called the waiter over and explained the situation and encouraged my friends to enjoy their meals while they were hot. One friend did not receive her wine pairing she had ordered (and it didn't come until dessert silverware was placed on the table) but everyone was loving their food. I sat and watched.

After seeing that my friends had finished their meals, I lost my appetite. I was too hungry and too annoyed and hurt that I wouldn't be able to eat with my friends. 5-7 minutes after deciding then and there to cancel the rest of my order they brought out my entree as my friends' dishes were being cleared. I sent it back.

For dessert they had arranged a bowl of berries for me which was nice. But at this point, I'd had fruit for an afternoon snack, watermelon in my appetizer, and now more berries. I was beyond disappointed, even if they were fresh and flavorful.

Luckily, things turned up when the maitre d' arrived at our table per my request. Just as I began to calmly explain the situation our waiter, who there were other issues with, began speaking on my behalf, in front of me and his boss, to explain what my problem had been. Mmmkay... Let's just say that set me over the edge.Finally I was able to speak and somehow managed to calmly explain everything that had been a problem and the maitre d' did everything a good manager should do in this situation. He heard every word, apologized (which at this point, was all I wanted to hear since I was hungry and planning my uber late dinner in my mind), and immediately worked to correct the situation.

Because of him, my experience was salvaged and I would consider going back to Zentan. The truth was that everything my friends and I ate was presented beautifully, tasted amazing, and was meant to be a true dining experience. It was unfortunately soured by our waiter who made quite a few snafus tonight, beyond my individual experience. And I felt left out because I didn't eat what I had been excited about.

The maitre d' insisted I bring dinner home and I chose the Empress Chicken Sir Fry sans soy sauce. I portioned some out when I got home but put it back in the container after just one bite. I wanted nothing to do with that experience but for it to fade. Instead I nursed my disappointment with a small mug of hot cereal with my leftover berries mixed in and topped with peanut butter.

Not quite the Restaurant Week experience I was hoping for but it was great to see my friends and enjoy time together. I would maybe go back to Zentan to try a few dishes - the management truly made sure that we all left happy. I will not be back tomorrow, but one day. For now I have to let the dining adventure fade from my memory because there's nothing worse than not enjoying a meal because you had to look out for your health because of allergies while everyone else has a tasty experience.

Other than that it was a great day, despite the rain in DC!!

Are you known as the difficult diner amongst your friends and family? Have you ever left a meal at a restaurant disappointed because you couldn't eat / had a bad allergy-related experience?


  1. That's ridiculous because it's not like you were being picky - it's an allergy! Would they have ignored someone with a nut allergy?

  2. This is one reason I hate eating out. It can be so hard, sorry you had a bad experience.

  3. That sounds like a really difficult experience--I'm sorry. Happy that the management listened to your complaints and took them seriously. Hopefully that teaches your server (and other waitstaff) that people with allergies really need to have their specifications catered to, not ignored.

  4. I am horribly allergic to coconut! I went to dinner last summer at a fancy Dallas steak place(I wont name names) and I asked if the desert had coconut they said "no" I double checked and triple checked all the people said no. So I took a huuuuge bite and tasted the coconut and immediately my throat started to swell...thankfully I had an epi pen but still not ok. If you work at a restaurant I think it should be a part of training to understand about food allergies. We cant help it!

  5. Hi! I'm also from DC! I just found your blog on HLB..Looking forward to reading more :)


  6. That is too bad you had such a terrible experience. Hate when they can't accommodate after telling you that they can. And when you have food allergies or restrictions this is usually an experience in its self and hard enough to be able to eat out at a nice restaurant. Feel bad for you, better luck next time.