I hereby give up. I hereby throw my hands in the air. Every so often, the email brings a question or comment that stumps me. Here is one example from a Williamsville restaurateur. Readers' responses are definitely encouraged. Waddaya think?:
>Q: "Hi and good morning! If you could make room in your column to address food allergies and how to proceed when dining out so that the experience neither taxes the kitchen nor disrupts the table guests in the party, it would be more than useful.
"Lately this restaurant has experienced a rash of customers who, on ordering, disclose a plethora of sensitivities, not just gluten. Last night it was red and green peppers and all their derivatives. Previously it was onions, dairy, garlic, yeast and, of all things, salt and pepper! Help!"
-- Janice S., Williamsville
A: Gulp (in more ways than one). I'll take a stab at this, though it is more a comment than an answer: Many printed menus encourage allergic diners to inform their servers of that fact -- and that's a good thing. With medical and nutritional knowledge increasing every day, more and more diners are becoming aware of what they had better not eat. Obviously, no restaurant owner wants a customer to get sick -- it's bad for business, too.
Most of the ingredients mentioned above are easily identifiable, though to list all the components of a dish on a menu can take up a lot of space. And that puts the onus on the servers. They should know the intricacies of the menu or volunteer to find out.
But, customers have to take responsibility, too. They should be aware of where danger lurks, that a salad can contain onions or peppers or croutons or even peanut oil, even if not listed, for instance. And they should abstain or ask -- nicely. Sometimes, though not always, a troublesome ingredient can be left out or served on the side.
From Andrea of Cheektowaga: "When I cook meat at home, most notably steaks, I allow them to rest before cutting into the meat. My question is, when you order a steak at a restaurant, has it been allowed to rest prior to being brought to your table?
"For instance, do I wait a few minutes to eat my steak to allow the juices to redistribute, or should I start eating it as soon as it is served, because otherwise it might continue to cook on my plate. Any insight would be greatly appreciated."
A: I know the answer to this one: Dig in and enjoy, Andrea. That meat rested sufficiently before the server brought it out.
Now I plead the fifth: This is from a reader who likes the food at the county fair but distrusts at least one item: "One intriguing entry is doughnut burgers -- a unique combination to be sure. I'm not convinced about that one!
"The delicacy that has me salivating is Beer-Battered Burgers! How very Buffalo! Beer-battered anything sounds good to me, and how appropriate is that for WNY? My question, if there is an answer, is where can we go locally after the fair is over to satisfy our cravings for a Beer-Battered Burger? I have researched a little on my own, but to no avail, and I am hoping you have a couple of suggestions for us!"
-- Karen L.
A: I have no answer.
Readers, dear readers, the ball (or the burger) is now in your court.
Send your responses, comments and other restaurant questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.