There’s an unwritten law about ordering spaghetti marinara, pork ribs, or French onion soup during a first date or a business meal, and it’s this: Don’t do it. But what if it’s plunked in front of your sparkling-white dress shirt anyway? Facing down the following dishes takes guts, grace, and a little know-how. But do it right and the rewards are so much greater than chicken piccata. Here’s some dignity-saving advice from the masters.
1. Ask them to go light on the tomato sauce. “Each spaghetti should be liberally coated but without a pool of sauce in the bowl. That eliminates a lot of the drip factor right there,” Garcia says.
2. Work from the side. “Separating a few spaghettis with your fork tines from the side of the bowl or plate is easier than from the middle,” Garcia advises.
3. Twirl. Spin your fork against the bottom of the bowl or plate, forming a tight spool of spaghetti with no hanging ends. Ask for a spoon if you need it.
4. Lean forward. What’s good table etiquette in general is also a practical matter with a forkful of spaghetti. The distance between the bowl and your mouth is proportional to the likelihood of disaster striking.
1. Prepare for battle. Have a stack of napkins ready, and create a buffer zone between your ribs and your lap. “We always make sure the side order is closest to the customer and the ribs are on the far side, which reduces chances of an unfortunate drop,” Tuzi says.
2. Be direct. Timidity doesn’t work with ribs. “It’s a finger food,” emphasizes Tuzi. “People who try to gingerly eat them with utensils either have never had them before or are putting on airs.”
3. Use both hands and know your animal. Start at one end, gently pull the rib off the main bone, and eat it with two hands like corn on the cob.
FRENCH ONION SOUP
1. Let it cool, and take it slow. Insulated by a thick Gruyère-custard topping, this soup is volcanically hot. “Painful and messy mistakes happen when you eat [it] too fast,” Subra says.
2. Mix the cheese with the broth. “This blends all the flavors together, helps the soup cool faster, and makes that clump of cheese creamier and easier to deal with,” Subra says.
3. Use your spoon like a knife. Sever the cheese against the side of the bowl with the edge of your spoon to avoid long, messy strands. “A knife is okay in emergencies,” adds Subra, “but keep your fingers out of that equation.”
4. Ask for more bread. “This is one of the best soups [to] mop up with bread,” Subra says. “It’s standard practice, at least here in southern Louisiana.”
1. Tuck a napkin in your collar. “And don’t be embarrassed about it,” Dell’Orto says. “Come in here at noon and you’ll see 50 people wearing napkins like their office shirts depend on it.”
2. Use your pinkie. Eating an eight-inch-thick sandwich is a two-hand, 10-finger job. “Maneuver your pinkie next to your thumb for double support on the bottom of the sandwich, and cover the top with your ring, middle, and index fingers,” says Dell’Orto.
3. Take smaller bites. This sounds counterintuitive to eating a huge sandwich, but it’s literally the only way around it.
LOBSTER IN THE SHELL
1. Get the help you need. If you can’t even crack a walnut without making a mess, have the kitchen perform this surgery for you. At the least, use some chest protection -- i.e., a bib.
2. Don’t sweat the green stuff. This is the tomalley, the lobster’s liver. Some consider it quite tasty.
3. Know your tools. A lobster cracker and a demi-fork -- period.
4. Tail, torso, claws. The tail and torso are the easiest to deal with. Eat them first, and then move on to the legs and claws. “Two major cracks -- at the ‘thumb’ joint and right in the middle of the main claw -- are usually sufficient,” Thomas says.
5. Don’t confuse a lobster leg for a kazoo. Is sucking that last morsel out of the far end of the spindly crustacean leg really worth the spectacle? Discuss.
Kevin Garcia, executive chef, New York’s ‘Cesca and Accademia di Vino restaurants // Mary Kay Tuzi, co-owner, Chicago’s Twin Anchors // Chuck Subra, executive chef, New Orleans’s La Cote Brasserie // Lynne Thomas, marketing director, Santa Monica’s the Lobster // Jimmy Dell’Orto, owner, New York’s Manganaro’s Heroboy