Last Saturday was a bit of an unfortunate incident. So far, Brunch with Bear has been able to avoid any major scenarios (see Il Tesoro) but as the universe would have it, our luck can only go so far. After a disappointing downward spiral from a rather pleasant meal, Arte Café has failed to make the list.
Arte Café is actually a really beautiful little place tucked into one of my favorite neighborhoods—the Upper West Side. It’s located on 73rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. If you’re going on the subway, it’s a short walk from the 72nd Street station on the 1, 2 or 3 lines. It has great natural lighting and plush chairs. The decor is a little kitschy but in a cozy, not a creepy way. The waitstaff is friendly and professional, and everything is very clean. Their brunch menu is fairly simple, with half breakfast items and half pasta dishes.
I informed our waitress about the allergy situation, and she pointed out several things on the menu. I asked her if there was anything easy to make without dairy (i.e. cheese, milk, cream, butter, etc.) and she told me to get what I wanted, and she would ask the kitchen to do it for me. I ordered the rigatoni con pollo, because I felt like I should try to eat some Italian food at an Italian restaurant. Our waitress told me that she would have the kitchen make it in a plain tomato sauce, rather than the usual sauce, which had cream.
The food came out, steaming with delicious smells. After the initial ten-minute wait, I proceeded to clean my plate, because I was incredibly hungry. (NOTE: Every time I have an incident, it was because I was too hungry to stop eating. Please do not make this mistake). The pasta was actually really delicious, and everything felt fine. The rest of the meal seemed to progress normally, and I had plans later to be at the Met.
After finishing brunch, I felt like my face was redder than normal, and my throat was feeling funny but not necessarily the same way that it does when I usually eat something unsafe. My lips were feeling puffy, but I do happen to have rather puffy lips anyway. The main thing was that my breathing was not irregular; if it had been, that would have been a more alarming warning. I decided to ignore the inkling in the back of my mind; as you probably already know, this decision was a terrible one.
The walk over to the museum was relatively normal, but once inside the lobby, my stomach began to hurt and I felt much, much weaker. After taking a few Benadryls, my boyfriend managed to take me back home safely. I spent the rest of the evening sleeping and wallowing (as is my usual custom after these things).
Today, almost a week later, I called the restaurant to inform them of the incident. When the staff member on the other end of the line picked up, I explained to her that I had been to the restaurant last weekend and while I had a good experience in the restaurant, I had a serious allergic reaction after leaving. She apologized immediately and transferred me to the manager.
The manager was also very concerned about the incident. I explained that I had told the waitress of the situation and that I ordered the rigatoni con pollo, and he seemed very surprised that anything had happened. He said that whenever he is at the restaurant and they have an allergy request, he personally supervises in the kitchen to avoid this sort of situation; however, he must have been out that day and there was probably some cross contamination. He also told me that they usually get these sort of requests, and they do try their best to accommodate all the customers. They even have a special computer code for allergies to put it in their system. He apologized several times, telling me that the dish I had ordered should really have not had anything in it, and to please let him know if I would be coming back so that he could take care of me better. I wrote down his email address and thanked him for the conversation.
If someone had asked me right after the reaction if I was going back to Arte Café, I would have definitely said “no.” After such a pleasant interaction with such a concerned manager, my response has changed to “maybe.” I’m still not positive that it would be a safe experience, especially because it was a major reaction as opposed to just hives or puffy lips. Something in the kitchen must be seriously contaminated or just handled carelessly for such a mistake to happen. However, if the manager is there to oversee and guarantee safety, the experience may be different. I enjoyed the atmosphere a lot, and it may be worth another shot if all goes well, but, for now, there are other places to try first.