The down­side of be­ing a food critic

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

As a din­ing critic for 30-plus years, I have vis­ited dif­fer­ent restau­rants four or five times a week. Peo­ple used to tell me how lucky I was to eat for a liv­ing. I al­ways re­minded them that I ate far more lousy than good cook­ing.

But an un­sa­vory meal wasn’t the worst ex­pe­ri­ence. I get se­ri­ously ill with food poi­son­ing two or three times a year. There is usu­ally no way to as­sign blame un­less a din­ing com­pan­ion also got sick. In that case, I al­ways called the restau­rant’s man­ager and, with very few ex­cep­tions, they an­grily de­nied the pos­si­bil­ity. That’s not sur­pris­ing. Even apol­o­giz­ing makes the restau­rant vul­ner­a­ble to a law­suit. I have never writ­ten about such ex­pe­ri­ences in any case be­cause I knew they were anoma­lous. No restau­rant in­ten­tion­ally poi­sons any­one – not even a critic they rec­og­nize. I just hoped they’d in­ves­ti­gate and rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion.

As I write this, I’m in the sev­enth day of sub­sist­ing on Ga­torade, soup, crack­ers, grits and pasta. I can’t de­scribe how sick I was the first three days, ex­cept to say that I now un­der­stand why God in­vented De­pends. I was more vi­o­lently ill than when I was in­fected with gi­a­r­dia in Turkey and Hep­ati­tis A in a Florida oys­ter shack. I know ex­actly where I got sick this time – at an In­done­sian restau­rant that I’d vis­ited be­fore with no prob­lem.

It’s odd, though. I re­mem­ber that when my plate, a spe­cial, ar­rived at the ta­ble I sus­pected that it had been im­prop­erly cooked. It in­cor­po­rated a spicy paste that tasted fiery, but wasn’t even warm. Some restau­rants tend to leave such con­coc­tions un­re­frig­er­ated for long pe­ri­ods of time. I ac­tu­ally only ate a small quan­tity of the dish.

Is there a way to avoid food­borne ill­nesses in restau­rants? Not re­ally. You could check the re­stroom and make sure it’s clean, has soap avail­able and a no­tice that em­ploy­ees must wash their hands. I re­mem­ber once vis­it­ing a restau­rant and ab­sent-mind­edly walk­ing through the door into the kitchen. The chef be­gan scream­ing at me to wash my hands, and so I did.

An­other hint is the gen­eral clean­li­ness of a restau­rant. Just be­cause a restau­rant is a hole-in-the-wall on Bu­ford High­way does not mean it shouldn’t be clean. If pos­si­ble, take a gan­der at the kitchen. I used to reg­u­larly eat at a run­down taque­ria. I didn’t pay at­ten­tion to the bro­ken toi­let or the pots of sauces sit­ting around un­re­frig­er­ated in the kitchen. I got sick. Twice. Dumb. If you have any un­com­fort­able feel­ings, you should trust your gut and run – run for your colon’s health.

The best way of check­ing out a restau­rant is to con­sult its health de­part­ment rat­ing. These are legally re­quired to be posted in full view, but you can also find them on­line. The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion has a very handy tool for do­ing that (http://www.ajc.com/at­lanta­din­ing-guide/in­spec­tion-scores/).

I’ll give you an ex­am­ple of a cer­tain restau­rant I’ve writ­ten about be­fore – the Craw­fish Shack on Bu­ford High­way. This was long a fa­vorite for me and the restau­rant gar­nered some na­tional at­ten­tion. But the last time I went, it was so dirty that the floors were squeaky-greasy. I thought surely they would clean it up. But I looked up the restau­rant on the AJC’s re­port to­day and found that it re­ceived a fail­ing grade of 67 on May 17. Typ­i­cally, a restau­rant will make nec­es­sary changes within 10 days, but I dare you to call ahead and ask if its score has im­proved.

Cliff Bo­s­tock is a for­mer psy­chother­a­pist now spe­cial­iz­ing in life coach­ing. Con­tact him at 404-518-4415 or cliff­bo­stock@gmail.com.

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