Every Christmas our family has dinner in the city. Most restaurants are closed, others have special Christmas menus. My wants are simple: A good meal that is free of sesame and nuts.
Several years ago we saw Sweeney Todd at the Ziegfield (After all, it is a holiday movie. Isn’t red the color of Christmas?) We made no reservations for dinner but Drew had a list in his pocket of Indian restaurants that were highly rated and open on Christmas day. After the movie we made our way downtown to a crowded Indian restaurant and after finally getting a table and ordering food I said to the waiter, “I’m allergic to sesame and nuts, just tell me which of the dishes I can eat.” And he so casually replied, “only the naan, but it’s very tasty.” And so, I ate only the bread. It was very tasty.
Years ago we went to Les Halles Park Avenue. Service was great, food was excellent. Brasserie Les Halles home base of Chef-at-large Anthony Bourdain —Yup, that’s what the website (leshalles.net) said. And that’s why we went there . . . because it was an Anthony Bourdain restaurant!!!!!
This Christmas we decided to go back to Les Halles. I made a reservation and then checked the menu. Mmmm, I wanted DUCK! But then I noticed the fine print at the bottom of the menu. It said, “Our dressings may include canola oil, olive oil, or walnut oil.” Hmm, walnut oil, now that’s something I usually don’t see on a menu. But a nut is a nut is a nut and I had to call and find out if I would be comfortable ordering from the menu. (Be prepared. I didn’t want a repeat of our Indian dinner.)
So I called, “Hi, we have reservations for Christmas Day and I noticed on your menu that you use walnut oil. I’m allergic to nuts and sesame in any form. Is that going to be a problem?” He said, “No problem, the walnuts and walnut oils are listed on the menu as ingredients on certain salads. You’ll be fine with everything else.”
On Christmas day I bring in some homemade potato pancakes and apple sauce for lunch. We hang around the apartment watching Drunk History until it’s time to go to dinner. Our table was in the back, a little tight but, hey, it’s New York. We check out the menu and decide on a few appetizers, wine, and entrees. I ordered the duck. Of course there are always questions: Any sesame or nuts in this dish? Is this vegetarian? The usual questions. But the answers, wow, I was stunned — we all were. The waitress said she would check with the kitchen to see about the nuts and sesame. She comes back to tell me that I can’t eat the duck. I can order meat or fish without sauce, and, oh, the side salad that comes with some of the dishes . . . nope, I can’t eat that either. We all look at each other. (Seriously, ALL the salads? Is it that hard to take a some lettuce and drip a few drops of olive oil over it?) The girls were ready to leave but, honestly, I didn’t know where we would go. My call, I said we’ll stay. I can always buy some chips and chocolate after dinner. (Which I did.)
I order a piece of fish. Drew orders duck. Rachel orders the lamb chops with the fries on the side so it doesn’t touch the meat. Hannah ordered the quiche du jour which was asparagus and cheese. Food comes and I get my piece of fish, no sauce, no salad, and a few, very few veggies. (For this I paid how much?) Drew is happy with his duck, Rachel gets her lamb chops with the fries on the same plate, and Hannah gets a quiche filled with mushrooms. Did I mention that Hannah doesn’t like mushrooms and that she is a vegetarian and that’s why we ordered the fries on a separate plate.
We finally get the waitress’ attention and tell her that the quiche is not what we ordered. “Oh, I guess there’s no more of the asparagus quiche left,” By this time Hannah picked out all the mushrooms and ate some of the quiche. We asked for fries on a separate plate. Hannah said she would be okay eating the fries. The waitress came by twice to say that they will be out soon. (Not soon enough, we were probably home in bed by time they got to the table.)
Very disappointing meal. She took the quiche off the bill. Not a very merry dinner experience. We should have gone to that nice little Thai place on 14th street. Does anyone know if Shake Shack is open on Christmas Day? A vanilla malted with a side of fries — mmm, that would make me happy.
And there’s more: Hannah called the restaurant the next week and asked to talk to the manager. Here’s what Hannah had to say: