Safety patrol for the tastebuds.

I keep hearing about “safety schools” from friends with kids applying to various ivy-covered institutions.

It’s an interesting concept, and one that comes in handy in restaurants. What’s the “safety food” when you’re forced to part with $18 to eat something at an airport? A business lunch lands you halfway between two offices and that means…Denny’s.  A date at an ethnic restaurant with unfamiliar cuisine. Picnic at the in-laws who think potato salad never goes bad.

The subject came up in the recent Food and Drink issue of The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and the advice was sensible: Pick the stuff that is hard to mess up.

There are some other tips worth noting, some relevant to food safety and all helpful when it comes to protecting your taste buds:

1 – In questionable eateries (or receptions, picnics, etc) skip the mayonnaise, especially in the summer. Obey my mother’s rule: If you can wear white shoes, no mayo at a strange table. (Of course, that doesn’t help if you don’t know the white-shoe rule, which allowed ’em only from Easter to Labor Day.) I went to a retirement party in July that featured several salads made with the stuff, all set out for 90 minutes before the dinner bell rang. On a nice, sunny table. I had 46 breadsticks, thank you.

2 – Pretend to be kosher. Step away from the shrimp.

3 – A well-traveled friend of mine only buys packaged foods from big companies in airports. (Easier to sue them if she gets sick, maybe?) She eats a lot of those teeny boxes of cereal and candy bars. It’s a trade off, friends. Carbs you can work off.

4 – At greasy spoon restaurants, pancakes are safe and no one thinks it’s rude or weird if you don’t eat them all.

5 – A room-service menu order should always be a club sandwich, mayo on the side. It is almost impossible to mess up a club sandwich, and if the outside slices of toast are soggy, you still have that handy set in the middle.

6 – Ethnic restaurants: Rice is hard to wreck and even over-cooked veggies are better than dishes made with dark-meat chicken, in my book.  Whole wheat pasta or regular pasta in goofy shapes, both good. The wheat and odd-shaped pasta must get watched more closely by the person manning the boiling pot, as it is rarely overdone.

7 – Order off the kid’s menu. There are worse things than a bland grilled-cheese sandwich.

–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett




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