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If Romance Is On The Menu, Choose Your Food Wisely

If, this Valentine’s Day, you’re hoping to feel the earth move, you probably don’t want it to start with a rumble.

Oh, don’t feign innocence. You know exactly what we’re talking about: that rumbling feeling, deep in your core, that starts with an “Uh-oh,” moves on to “Oh, no!” and usually ends in a spoiled evening.

Never happened, you say? You have the constitution of a billy goat, unaffected by anything you eat? Well, fine, but there are other things you need to worry about if you want to impress the person on the other side of that candelit table.

Spinach, for instance.

“There are certain foods we really shouldn’t eat when we go on a first date” or other special evening, said Sheila Keast of Sheila Keast Etiquette.

And while spinach is an obvious hazard, remember that any green stuff, however tasty or even healthful, doesn’t have much appeal when it’s sullying your smile. Keast pointed out that anything that’s green and sort of unmoored — a salad, or the mint in your mojito — can be problematical, “if those greens tend to get stuck in your teeth.”

Julia Waibel, a registered dietitian at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, said she would advise avoiding any foods that might be a bit messy if you’re planning a special date. She suggests knife-and-fork dishes, as opposed to finger foods.

“Corn on the cob,” Keast pointed out, “is another one that is a bit messy.”

Learn from the experience of a server who recounted removing lobster from a shell for a customer, only to have the shell bounce into the lap of a person at a nearby table: Avoid them.

“I would definitely say seafood, like lobster in the shell or king crab legs — anything you know you’re going to have to take up and crack and kind of poke the food out of,” she said.

And so, it would follow, you probably should avoid those places where they sell the seafood in big buckets and give you a little hammer to whack at the shells until you can get to the meat. Tasty, absolutely, and even a little exotic to someone who isn’t familiar with Creole/Cajun/Asian tradition, but do you really want bits of shell flying through the air while you’re trying to impress that hopefully-soon-to-be-significant other?

A little preparation can help, if you really can’t resist. Keast advises avoiding foods like ribs, because you have to pick them up with your fingers and gnaw at the meat, posing a grease-and-sauce hazard for hands, face, clothing — heck, even your hair, if it’s long and/or you’re a particularly enthusiastic eater. But she does allow for an exception, if “you know the restaurant gives out bibs and moist wipes.”

Other potential pitfalls? Well, you’ve eaten before; you’re aware of what tends to end up on your clothes. That might include soup, pasta like linguine or spaghetti, chicken wings or anything with lots of sauce.

“You want to be able to eat something you can cut with your knife and fork,” Keast said. “Chicken, or even a steak. Definitely pass on anything that’s going to make a mess.”

And let’s get back to that dreaded rumbling, which is even worse if it’s audible to your dinner date but still bad enough only if it presages intestinal disaster.

“I would say definitely avoid foods that would cause gas or bloating after,” Waibel said. “Spicy, greasy or fatty foods. Deep-fried. Creamy soups, creamy sauces. Try to pick more of a tomato-based or olive oil-type sauce.”

And beyond the physical hazards that can incite internal or external detonations, keep in mind potential emotional minefields, too.

“Some people don’t like if you eat foie gras, or veal, or little lamb chops,” Keast said. “A lot of people have an issue with that. Steer clear of anything that’s going to cause any sort of conversation where it could turn into a little war of words.”

And for heaven’s sake, watch your alcohol intake.

“If you’re going on a first date, I would say have just one drink, two at the most,” she said. “You don’t want to drink three or four Cosmopolitans and then you wonder why the person you were on the date with doesn’t call you back.”

Florozeen Rand Gray, of the Protocol Etiquette School of Nevada — Las Vegas, recommends advance scouting.

“If you’re taking someone out to dinner for the first time, learn a little bit about them,” Gray said. “They might be allergic to shellfish; I can’t go near shrimp or crabs or anything like that. If you’re going to take them to, for instance, an Italian restaurant, maybe they don’t like red wine.

“You’re not going to take out a stranger. Know a little bit about them, their likes and dislikes.”

If the restaurant is not familiar to you, she advises a bit of recon.

“Find out a little bit about the restaurant,” she said. “Visit, look around and see seating arrangements. You want to be seated at a nice table; you don’t want to be near the service area, the bathroom. You want to impress your date. Be sure they’re comfortable; make sure they get the best seat in the house.”

Waibel also advises creating a sense of intimacy.

“I suggest sharing items,” she said. “Share an appetizer, or save room, having lighter options during the meal, in order to share a dessert after, which is nice and romantic.”

Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal food reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com

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