Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dining Out: Pick A Cuisine

Dining out becomes a nightmare for the food sensitive. Luckily many restaurants are posting ingredients as a matter of course. We praise this trend lavishly, as it saves cross-examining the wait staff. Also, the mere mention of food allergies now brings prompt attention, as so many people have potentially fatal allergies to foods such as peanuts. Responsible restaurants prefer customers who are not rendered comatose by the food.

One way to smooth dining out with allergies is to check out various national cuisines. Oriental food, for example, is less apt to have many of James' known offenders. This involves some research and questioning about typical food preparation for Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, or Malaysian dishes. Fortunately restaurant staff are usually patient, polite, knowledgeable, and at worst, willing to find someone who can answer your questions. (Our rule of thumb for ethnic cuisine: the good restaurants have a high proportion of diners of a corresponding ethnicity. Bonus points if the menu is dual-language.)

So, for example, we learn that soba noodles have wheat, but rice noodles do not. Inventive dessert treats can be made with rice flour and bean paste. Sweet and sour sauce gets its zing from tomatoes and pineapple, so I wait 'til I'm dining with girlfriends and we order all the yummies our men eschew for their various reasons. Other strategies: Food that is cooked to order can often be made without the offending ingredients. Sauces can be put on the side. Yes, you do have to ask for special treatment, but this is the assertiveness 1A. Polite requests are rarely a problem, and when they are, you have the power to never darken their door again. (That's another post.)

Our latest oriental restaurant find is Banana Island Restaurant in Daly City, a crossroads of Thai-Malaysian-Singapore cuisine. Tucked away inside the Westlake Mall, Banana Island survived a prolonged isolation during the construction of a garage that blocked its only entrance. Business was apparently not harmed, as the place was always busy but not packed. The menu is vast and colorful. The Singapore tofu is ethereal; they make it there. In the center kitchen, you can watch chefs stretching and folding a rice flour bread that comes with a yummy curry dipping sauce. Coconut milk is used instead of cow dairy. Prices are moderate. Service is prompt and efficient, whether you are a large group or a twosome. I found no web page for Banana Island but two pages of restaurant reviews come up when you google it. Yum!


DecoDelight said...

I alluded to this in the post, so I'll come clean.

Years ago, we were going to the grand ball in San Juan Bautista, and made reservations at a now-defunct restaurant near the mission. We parked and got out, dressed in full Victorian evening wear--me in hoopskirts, gents in white tie. The waiter came out to shoo us away, thinking we were ballgoers using up their parking slots. No, we are here for dinner, we protested. And sat down in the empty space to peruse the menu.

James had questions about the menu and preparation, which were duly relayed to the cook. In the silence of the empty restaurant, we clearly heard the cook bellow, "Why didn't he bring his own damned dinner?" We did get dinner; it was not memorable; we tipped the minimum, and never came back. Fortunately no other event has edged this off our lifetime fine dining low. (James can comment on his adventures with fast food that wasn't.)

James Langdell said...

I suppose you're prompting me about my nemesis fast food chain. Everybody seems to have a nemesis fast food place, and mine is Carl's Jr. In terms of allergies, I asked about one under-described sandwich and asked if there was tomato or ketchup on it. I was told there wasn't. When the meal arrived, it was covered in a red, ketchup-like fluid. When I complained, the clerk told me, "No that isn't ketchup. It's our Special Sauce."

Years after that I was taking a full day time management class for work. We had just an hour for lunch. I had a bank errand to do during that break, so I figured that a fast food place would be the best place for getting something to eat in the time before class resumed. Unfortunately, the only fast food place close enough was a Carl's Jr. I risked it. I placed my order. The clerks seemed clear and helpful. My food arrived quickly, was as described, and was tasty enough. As I walked out of the restaurant, I thought my curse had been lifted from Carl's Jr. But outside, I saw my car was pinned in by a fire truck, inside the parking lot that was now closed off with "Danger" yellow tape. There was a spill of some unknown material outside the restaurant that the fire department was investigating. I eventually got the attention of a fireman, who completed other duties to make sure this wasn't really an emergency, then eventually got the fire trunk moved enough that I could drive away, race back to the classroom, and then walk into the time management class, twenty minutes late. The curse seemed intact, and as far as I know it's still going. I've not set foot in a CJ's since then.

Roulette Secrets said...
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