Since my trip to Sweden a couple years ago, I’ve taken to indulging in fine dining, especially if there’s a chef’s tasting menu.
I’ve also started declaring my lactose intolerance to restaurants when asked about dietary restrictions. I’ve half shrugged off my intolerance for many years. Sure, I’ve cut back on some things. I drink my coffee black, I don’t buy ice cream, I leave out cream when cooking recipes that included it. But I eat cheeses by the fistful, slather full butter shamelessly on my baked bread, and love clotted cream on my scones.
I have been inconsistent in declaring my intolerance when dining out. Too often, the substitutions feel rather lame or incomplete. I am especially conflicted when there is a tasting menu option. I want to experience the chef’s style and vision of what a perfect meal is but I’m afraid being that difficult diner results with hastily modified dishes that make seem lacking, then leaving both the chef and diner unsatisfied. I once waited over 45 minutes for a dessert.. only to get basically half the components of a cake in a “deconstructed” dish. Nice try, but, really? Or how about the one time I got a fruit bowl for dessert.. in a two-starred Michelin restaurant.
Man, I always thought my lactose intolerance was just a minor nuisance. That people who have serious nut allergies or gluten intolerance have it worse. Now I’m not so sure. No, I don’t risk death with accidental ingestion so I can’t compare on that score. Do you realize how much butter and cream goes into those restaurant dishes? The hardest was explaining how I can handle certain types of products but not others. Some assume just because I “cheat” a little, I don’t need any modifications, resulting with so much dairy intake that I become miserable for the rest of the time. Others are so flustered and overly worried that they eliminate all dairy completely, giving me disjointed dishes that often lack a decent sauce.
I splurged for a meal at Acadia restaurant, Chicago. Acadia boasts a Michelin star and it proved to be one of my best fine dining experiences. It’s in a rather odd location. The neighborhood seemed nice, but it wasn’t in a particularly busy area. I’m not familiar with the city too much but it’s surrounded by a retirement community, construction, large open parking lot.
Service was great, but the highlight was the food. The staff acknowledged my lactose restriction from the get go. The kitchen made modifications that demonstrated great understanding of my intolerance. The ice cream was put in a separate bowl but still available for me to choose how much I dared to sample. The one dish with a cream-based sauce, the server poured just a drop for me to taste without having too much. But the real thing is at no point did I feel like I was missing out in any part of the food. Each dish was so well composed, so complete and so fulfilling. And it was one of the best balance of portions in a tasting menu that stuffed me without being at the point of feeling ill.
I liked the fact that they didn’t have a printed tasting menu, acknowledging that dishes changed all the time but especially appreciated the fact that they printed one out at the end of the meal for me to take home as a parting gift.
Pemaquid Oyster, Caviar, Cream
Pig Heart Tartare
Winter Squash Chawanmushi
red curry, coconut rice, shiso
NEW BEDFORD SCALLOP
parsley root, salsify, orange, matsutake, mastic
root beer, hoja santa, black garlic
VETA LA PALMA LUBINA
spaghetti squash, pork belly, green tea milk, soy caramel
chestnut, creme fraiche, apple, brown butter balsamic
lobster, artichoke, parisian gnocchi, maitake
pickled fennel sorbet, apricot jam, candied cocoa nibs
pumpkin seed, apple sorbet
Honestly, I don’t know what a good chunk of those words are :) It was just all yummy.