Before you head out a steakhouse, there are some things you ought to know. First, you may see some terrific lesser-known cuts of beef on the menu, a growing trend according to steak experts. Chuck flap and sirloin flap are said to be on the rise.
Unfortunately, an experimental palate may bring you one step closer to the bane of the meat-eater’s existence. I am talking, of course, about the dreaded overly chewy piece of steak: that inedible morsel of gristle or fat that no amount of chewing will render swallow-worthy.
If you think there is a “right” way to handle this unfortunate culinary experience, you’re wrong. I consulted numerous sources - chefs, etiquette experts, and my dad - and they all offered different solutions for this very sorry scenario.
Michael Psilakis, chef and owner of Kefi, FISHTAG, and MP Taverna believes it partially depends on who you’re dining with: “If I’m on a date and trying to be slick, I would point at something behind my wife’s back to distract her and quickly spit it out into a napkin.”
The problem with this technique is that diners may well forget they have a piece of meat in their laps, especially as time passes and more wine is consumed. This leads to one of two even more unfortunate situations: Either the piece of meat falls to the ground as the napkin is used for its intended purposes or the diner must leave the restaurant knowing he or she has deposited a little wrapped surprise for whoever clears the table.
To avoid this culpability, Ivan Cury (AKA dad) says he spits indelible food into a tissue (he brings his own) and tucks the soiled item into his jacket pocket for proper disposal later in the night. Yucky, but resourceful.
None of these solutions pass muster with Amy Vanderbilt, the legendary authority on manners. In her “Complete Book of Etiquette: 50th Anniversary Edition," she observes that:
“If you find there’s something in your mouth you cannot eat, like a piece of gristle, do not spit it into your napkin. Instead, put your fork up to your mouth and remove the inedible object; replace it on your plate where you can bury it under some food so it is not visible.”
Who knew good manners could be so sneaky? But there are a few challenges with this practice, too. First, it’s tricky to get a piece of steak back onto a fork, and wouldn’t that be seriously unsightly? More important, it’s not your fault the steak is chewy. Shouldn’t the establishment be notified of its subpar product?
Chef Matt Lambert of the Musket Room in New York in New York, believes you need to tell your server, “Leave it on the plate as the plate should be promptly taken from the table, and a new dish - that isn’t chewy - should return," he says. "It really is best to let people know so they can improve, and ultimately we are in the business of making people happy, not choking people!”
To some diners, however, these are all vile options. Emily Post, in her classic book "Etiquette," expresses horror at the mere idea of seeing something partially chewed. “If food has been taken into your mouth, no matter how you hate it,” she writes, “you have got to swallow it. It is unforgivable to take anything out of your mouth that has been put into it except dry bones and stones. To spit anything whatever into the corner of your napkin is too nauseating to comment on.”
Jesse Schenker, chef and owner of Recette in NYC’s West Village, puts it more succinctly: “Suck it up and swallow it!”
Got an etiquette question Cury can address? Share it in the comments below.