How (Not) to Eat

On artichoke leaves, rock salt, and other things best left on the plate

In the news last week was a story out of Miami about a doctor who, when served a grilled artichoke in a restaurant, ate said artichoke. All of said artichoke. Leaves, stem, the whole deal. He wound up, as you can imagine if you’ve ever wrestled with a whole artichoke, in the hospital with severe intestinal distress; a laparoscopy revealed artichoke leaves, well, choking his bowel.

As someone who once ordered beef carpaccio in a restaurant and was horrified when the server produced a plateful of uncooked (albeit beautifully laid out and presented) meat, I’m kind of in a glass house here. It’s not exactly instinctual to just remove the artichoke leaves and suck the ends. My dad used to say, “It was a brave man who first ate an oyster,” and yeah, I still have never been that brave. But a friend who’s spent years in the restaurant industry isn’t a bit surprised by the doctor’s faux pas. “It’s amazing what people will eat when you put it in front of them,” she says. She’s seen customers gobble up the rock salt served beneath raw oysters — even when the servers warned them not to. And then, she adds, they’d bitch because they’d burned their tongues and couldn’t taste the rest of their meals.

But her favorite see-it-and-eat-it story concerns a highfalutin’ local eatery whose owner insisted on presenting the postprandial check on a pretty little platter, weighted down with a colored glass bead. “Without fail, every shift, someone would put one of the beads in his mouth, thinking it was candy,” she reports. “We finally had to convince the owner to stop using them, because people were so willing to put random — and unwrapped — things in their mouths.” Blech!

The Miami doctor is — of course — suing the offending restaurant, claiming among other losses his “capacity for the enjoyment of life.” A spokesman for the eatery shot back: “What’s next? Are we going to have to post warnings on our menu they shouldn’t eat the bones in our barbecue ribs?” It’s a fine line. “I get so annoyed when servers are oversolicitous in explaining what’s on the plate,” our food-industry friend says. “But then someone like Dr. Artichoke comes along and I fear for all humanity.”

I was lucky with my carpaccio; I just slid it across the table to my husband, who’s undaunted by anything you put in front of him.

Hmm. Better steer him away from artichokes, I guess.

SANDY HINGSTON is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine.