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Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Food critic praises smoking ban

Posted By on Wed, Nov 8, 2006 at 5:49 PM

Whew! Talk about a breath of fresh air. The passage of Issue 5 -- which apparently will eliminate smoking in Ohio restaurants and bars — and the simultaneous defeat of Issue 4 — which would have pretty much ensured the status quo — is a huge relief, at least to this professional restaurant-goer. After more than eight years of dining out on an average of three times weekly, I've begun to consider Cleveland's bars and restaurants as my "natural habitat." And like any beast, I get bummed when my hangouts leave me feeling soiled and stinky, from an hour or two's exposure to second-hand smoke. Of course, it's been my experience that most smokers don't really believe their ciggie fumes are all that offensive. (Reminds me of one of my favorite dumb jokes: Man on airplane to seat mate: Mind if I smoke? Seat mate: Not at all. Mind if I fart?) But I suspect that's because their own senses of smell and taste are already compromised by exposure to all those toxic chemicals. In contrast, picking up on subtleties is an essential part of my job — Is that tuna a tad fishy? Has the chef gone gaga with the salt shaker? Is that thyme or is it rosemary that I'm tasting? In fact, like most critics, I strive to keep my palate and my sense of smell as fresh as possible — to the extent that I avoid mints, gum, and even caffeine before heading out to a restaurant, the better to detect subtle aromas and distinguish nuanced flavors. (In fact, I even try to avoid taking smokers out with me as dining companions, even if they aren't lighting up in my presence: The lingering odor of stale smoke on their clothes, and in their lungs, is a huge turnoff.) But while I may be more conscientious about it than most diners, the desire to clearly detect and appreciate aromas and flavors is common to everyone who enjoys their food. And dining in a smoking permitted restaurant or bar — or even in the nonsmoking section of a smoking permitted restaurant or bar — is a bummer for anyone who is serious about the pleasures of the plate. After all, you wouldn't stuff cotton in your ears before plugging in your IPOD, would you? And you wouldn't put on shades before settling down to watch a DVD...So why do smokers think it ain't no thang for food fans to have to "enjoy" their grub through a haze of smell- and taste-impairing fumes? Now, before you smokers work yourself up into a coughing fit, I do recognize that there are bars that don't serve edibles beyond stale pretzels and bar nuts of dubious origins. Obviously, I am not talking about these places; and as far as I am concerned, you can ream your lungs out at these joints. But, it has to be pointed out that Cleveland is a big "bar town," for more than just the availability of booze: An awful lot of interesting, inexpensive, and worthwhile grub comes out of the region's taverns and bars, including places like Melt, The Parkview, and Prosperity Social Club. As a result, nonsmoking fans of casual pub grub have a legitimate reason to head for such places. And call us crazy, but if we're gonna plunk down $ for lunch or dinner, it would be great to be able to taste and smell the meal, too! So yeah, I'm thrilled that it looks like a smoking ban soon will be in place. (According to officials, Issue 5 will become law in 30 days, although implementation will take longer.) And no, I'm not worried that eateries will start dropping like flies once that happens. Nonsmokers outnumber smokers by about 3 to 1, so formerly smoky spots may very well gain business. And in any case, smokers still have to eat (and drink), and they aren't gonna suddenly start snapping up cookbooks and Viking ranges just because they can't fire up a Camel in their favorite restaurant or bar. — Elaine Cicora

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