Grub-Scrubbing Flubs

Kitchen carelessness can make diners bite off more than they can chew.

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The lights are low, the wine is mellow, and the food looks great. You bring a forkful of mashed potatoes to your lips, or a bit of crêpe, or perhaps a soupçon of salsa on a chip. You smile. You start to chew. You yelp.

Nothing ruins a restaurant meal faster than finding a little curl of stainless steel hidden in your food. And it happens more often than you might suspect: In the past year, we've heard of four such instances, in spots ranging from tiny ethnic eateries to elegant, upscale dining rooms. The culprits come from the baseball-sized stainless steel scrub pads that many kitchens use to clean their pots and pans. When one of the thin, razor-sharp "scrubbies" breaks off, it's not unusual for it to end up in the food. And if a diner doesn't spot it before biting down, the results can be painful.

"That's why we don't use those scrubbers in our kitchen," says sympathetic Executive Chef Michelle Gaw of the Watermark. "We use nylon ones. At least if part of that ends up in a dish, it may not be pleasant, but no one gets hurt."

Even if a diner doesn't actually chomp down on the steel, the mere presence of a hunk of metal in the food would leave a bad taste in anybody's mouth. Reportedly, the metal scrubbers are more effective for really tough cleaning jobs, but given the safety concerns, it's a wonder that more chefs don't ditch them for nylon ones.

If you do come across part of a pot scrubber -- or any other unexpected additions -- in your food, be sure to tell your server. Reputable managers and chefs will want to know and will take steps to rectify the problem.

Speaking of unidentified foreign objects, Gaw says she heard of a cook once who lost his latex finger cot (a finger-shaped protective covering) in the food. Of course, it showed up on somebody's plate. "Only thing is," Gaw winces, "the diner didn't think it was a finger cot."

Bombs away . . .

The 100th Bomb Group Restaurant will close its doors for the final time on Easter Sunday (March 31) to make way for runway expansion at nearby Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Company officials expect to open a new, expanded location, about 500 yards down the road, in time for the winter holidays.

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