Po-boys. Fried catfish. Bread pudding. Beignets.
I love New Orleans food. I dream of New Orleans food. I also can’t eat most New Orleans food any more.
A series of (day job) work meetings had me in New Orleans for several days in a row recently. I adore every visit to New Orleans, no matter how brief — unless of course I get stuck on I-10 all afternoon in traffic. This trip was no exception to that rule. After a day of meetings and work from the hotel lobby, I escaped with the help of the valet guys and made it to Sean Johnson’s Flow class at Wild Lotus on Perrier Street Uptown. There was singing, chanting, breathing exercises and plenty of arm balancing. I was a happy, happy girl.
After yoga class (and after my arms stopped shaking long enough to hold onto the steering wheel in my car), I drove down Magazine Street looking for respite, something with delicious allergy-friendly food and a good glass of wine. I ended up at Salu.
After reading some rather discouraging articles about how chefs are getting tired of trying to accommodate food allergies from picky patrons, I approached the hostess desk and asking if gluten-free, rice-free, dairy-free would be a problem. No, no, no, the waitress consoled me, they were very allergy friendly. In fact, they had a gluten-free menu! Finally, I thought, a city more options.
My waitress brought out the regular menu, instead of the gluten-free menu and wasn’t really up-to-speed on what items were okay to eat. I explained my allergies and she went back to the kitchen to check. When she returned, she listed off a series of items that would be appropriate. Salu is a tapas restaurant that I attended many times in my pre-EoE days.
- Coriander-seared tuna served with mango verde without the lime sour cream
- Seared duck breast with sweet potatoes, cranberries and walnuts
- BBQ pulled pork on corn fritter cakes and cilantro-red onion salad
Dinner started out with a thoughtful plate of cucumber and oranges instead of bread. Props to the kitchen for sending that out. Next came the tuna which was, well, salty to say the least. Sauteed tomatoes and asparagus helped off-set the salt, but I definitely reached for my water more than my wine.
Next came the duck — one of my all-time favorite proteins. I was amazed that it was cooked without butter — usually butter is a key component in helping duck taste rich without being gamy. I should have listened to my instincts on that one. Two bites into the duck and my chest tightened up and the food got stuck in my throat. I’m still not used to this feeling now that it isn’t a constant. I guess being symptom-free for nearly several months makes the occasional encounter that much more surprising and frightening. I starting downing water and pulled out my steroid inhaler.
Puff, puff, drink water.
All I wanted to do was lay down and push my hand onto my chest so it would feel like I were causing the tightness and pressure voluntarily rather than having to experience it without any control over whether or not it would stop. I stared at the plate, not wanting to say anything.
Then the waitress came back out. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I can’t eat this, I am sorry,” I said, “there’s a butter sauce under the duck.”
“Okay,” she said. My concerns were falling on deaf ears.
“I can’t eat butter,” I continued.
“Oh,” she said. “You didn’t say that.”
“I can’t eat dairy,” I continued, completely baffled.
“Oh,” the light bulb turned on in her head, “I didn’t know butter was a dairy.”
**Brief pause for you to consider the state of public education in Louisiana.**
Needless to say, it was a long night. It was not without lessons for me, lessons that I’ll share with you here:
- If your food allergy is sever, you should mention that.
- Do not assume your server knows what ingredients go into a dish.
- Do not assume your server knows anything about food in general.
- Always try to speak with the person preparing your food.
- The nicer you are, even when things go horribly wrong, the better a night everyone has.
That’s all for now.