When Menus Mislead
An unbilled item shows up in a starring role on your dinner plate. Fun little extra or diner beware?
So it’s one thing when potatoes are the item in question.
I was mildly surprised to encounter them as the main topping over a pura, or Indian pastry, at the new Indian restaurant Shanik, when the menu had read: “Spicy Indian crepe with bacon, onion, and tomatoes.” Potatoes, lots of potatoes, were much more in evidence than any of the other stuff.
The dish was great—really great, with the bland starch a marvelous mild foil for the pepper in the pastry. And where’s the harm? Potatoes aren't a terribly allergenic food, if a web search can pass for med school, and not so vividly flavorful as to be commonly hated. Who doesn’t like potatoes, right?
Would I have ordered the pura had I known it starred potatoes? Honestly—maybe not. And I would have missed a winner. Right?
Soon after, I found myself at the Whale Wins, where our order of Alaskan spot prawns (“served in their shells, anchovy butter, garlic, lemon, mint”) still had their sparkly orange roe attached. “Oh!” my mother-in-law gasped. “Let me at ‘em!” A fish egg fan from way back, she was thrilled.
Not so others at our table, who recoiled when they saw the briny eggs fastened hard between the prawn and the shell. Spot prawns often come that way this time of year, I told my guests—as my husband, mother-in-law, and I gobbled with abandon. We were at the Whale Wins, a kitchen for gastronauts after all, which isn't likely to attract diners who aren't adventurous. Besides, uh...more for us.
Still. It would have been nice to be fully apprised when we ordered, for the sake of the haters at the table. A mention on the menu suggesting exactly what "served in their shells" means when it comes to spot prawns. Because roe? Not exactly an offbeat thing to hate. Lots of diners who order prawns wouldn’t want to touch their eggs.
A happy hour not long after brought us to Venik Lounge, that extraordinary laboratory of vodka infusions down South Lake Union way. “Two organic beef sliders with caramelized onions, local greens, and Russian dressing, served on Columbia City [Bakery] brioche,” the menu read. What arrived tasted…sweeter somehow. Gamier. Definitely not like 100-percent beef.
Now curious, visions of… er, European “beef” galloping through my head, I politely inquired. My waiter asked the kitchen. “It’s a lamb-beef blend!” came her answer. “With a little allspice!”
Now this was getting ridiculous. I love lamb; I love lamb sliders. (Have you tried the ones at Knee High Stocking Company? Terrific!) But as a paying customer, I’m not wrong if I want to know when I’m ordering them.
Ditto potatoes on my pura, roe on my prawns, and whatever other rogue food item stealth lands on my dinner. Allergies and other food intolerances provide the most vivid example of why this is wrong, but one needn’t even go that far to argue that it’s just inconsiderate, and constitutes poor service to all but those diners who have knowingly signed on for a “Chef’s Choice” dinner.That’s how I feel, anyway. You?