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Jun 20, 2011 11:13 AM

Is the restaurant responsible?

A group of us ate at one of our favorite hole-in-wall Mexican restaurants over the weekend. I ordered something a little different, a pork dish I had to point to on the menu. Food comes, my dish contains shredded pork, red onions, red pepper strips, rice, tortillas. I make a tortilla, add one red pepper strip and begin to consume.

Pain, insufferable pain......... mouth burning, lips on fire, awful

Turns out those red pepper strips were habanero. For those of you who are unaware, they are some of the hottest peppers in the world. 100,000 - 350,000 scovilles. In comparison your average jalapeno is 2,500-8,000 scovilles.

There was no mention of it on the menu , by the server I ordered it from, or from the person who dropped off the food. Now I didnt make a big deal about it. We paid for my meal, even though I didnt eat another bite of it. Afterwards, however, i was a little upset that my evening had been ruined by both the pain and embarrassment. So here is the question. Should the restaurant/staff make the customer aware of such an ingredient?

To clarify, I would have never ordered it if they had told me of this ingredient, I am not looking to sue anyone, and yes I am not a fan of spicy food.

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  1. I think the resto and you are both at fault. If you are not a fan of spicy food, and you are eating at a "hole in the wall" Mexican restaurant, then you should have asked about the ingredients in the dish, especially if you had to point to it to order it. But if the resto is Mexican staffed, and in a neighborhood where Mexican Americans live, and you are obviously not their average customer, then perhaps something about the habaneros should have been mentioned.

    But are Habanero peppers usually used in Mexican restaurants? I thought Habanero peppers were more Caribbean. Someone here will know, I'm sure.

    I have to ask about carbs, and make substitutions all the time. I have learned not to be shy about ingredients, and not to make assumptions. If you can't eat spicy food, it is up to you to ASK!

    I hope your mouth feels better today. I like spicy food, but I wouldn't eat a Habanero!

    12 Replies
    1. re: sueatmo

      Thats why I didnt make a big deal about it.

      I made an ASSumption that they would make note of it on the menu in some way, lesson learned. So much for being adventureous....I joked afterwards I was never ordering anything but fajitas!

      1. re: joe777cool

        I really don't think fault has to be assigned to you or the restaurant. It's just one of those things you chalk up to experience and I would hope both parties has learned from it.Habs are widely used in both Mexican and Caribbean cusine. Joe. where is this place? I would love to try that dish.

        1. re: Duppie

          El Rancho Grande; Providence, Rhode Island

          Some of the best Mexican in the state, I still have no problem recommending them despite this past "minor inconvenience."

          1. re: joe777cool

            Off topic. Joe I lived in Providence for more than 25 years and could never get decent Mexican food unless I cooked it myself. Glad to hear things have changed.

            1. re: escondido123

              I am glad to report that there are now many mexican/carribean restaurants in the Providence area that are quite good. 25 years ago you probably had to go to Casa Lupita!

              1. re: joe777cool

                off topic, buy my childhood dog was named Lupita, after Casa Lupita. We loved the food as kids and would go there for birthdays, I remember always getting some kind of shredded beef chimichanga or taco, so much better than ground beef. Later I spent many years in California, so I have a love for authentic Mexican, that I can't really get (unless I cook it myself) in Asheville, NC, where I live now.

                1. re: MissMechante

                  Warwick! I remember when it first opened. It was the only "Mexican" restaurant and I loved the chimichangas and fried ice cream. I loved it back then-was it the late 70's, iirc?

            2. re: joe777cool

              Is it worth a side trip on my way to Montreal?

              1. re: Duppie

                We have pretty good mexican food in mtl...

                1. re: kpaxonite

                  It quite frankly never occurred to me, I visit Montreal perhaps every 2 months and love the small off the beaten path places but never considered Mexican. Can you give me some hints? and I promise not to bitch about the prep.... Oops... there's that word again.

                2. re: Duppie

                  Its worth a 30 minute drive, not much more. Its good Mexican food, and much more authentic than most places, but nothing I would go out of my way for

          2. re: sueatmo

            Habaneros appear in Yucatecan regional cooking. Otherwise, I've seen taquerias create a kind of slaw with habaneros, onions, and probably some vinegar to add spice to tacos and such. I won't eat the habaneros directly, but I like the vinegared onions with the spice from soaking with the habaneros.

          3. The menu did not say anything about habaneros? Yikes.

            I like 'em and would have enjoyed it, but no mention on the menu or by the waiter doesn't seem right.

            1. If you know your peppers, habaneros would be very difficult to confuse with red bell peppers, being much smaller and thinner-walled. It sounds like the peppers were not mixed into the dish, so you could have eaten the rest of it and avoided further chile pain.

              If you are not a fan of spice, in the future it may be wise to inquire if something is spicy when ordering something new in a restaurant featuring a typically spicy cuisine.

              Why did you have to point to the dish on the menu? If it was due to a language barrier - you not reading spanish or the server not speaking english - would the restaurant have been able to adequately warn you in English?

              13 Replies
              1. re: babette feasts

                I took 5 years of spanish, but that was 10+ years ago. It was a very long name that I didnt want to butcher.

                Lesson learned about asking about spice we do go in there with some regularity so I am sure next time I go in there they will remember to steer me clear of anything remotely spicey!

                1. re: joe777cool

                  Now I'm super curious as to the name of the dish!

                    1. re: E Eto

                      That was my guess also. I asked my husband (mexican) if it was typical to use habaneros in Mexican food, and he said only in cochinita pibil, and the habaneros are typically on the side.

                      It seems that it would be pretty sensible for the restaurant to make that clear for its non-Mexican clientele, since few would know that it's typical for this dish.

                      1. re: E Eto

                        from what i can remember from the menu descriptions......pork marinated in achiote and it was served on a banana leaf with red onions and the peppers on top. I feel like the name was a bit different but im 95% sure this is what I "tried" to eat.

                        1. re: joe777cool

                          you just described a typical cochinita pibil. Is the restaurant Yucatecan?

                          1. re: E Eto

                            The owners are from Puebla, and claim their cooking is cocina poblana.....if that answers your question

                  1. re: babette feasts

                    Disagree. Who would assume that any Joe can tell a red bell pepper from a habanero, particularly since they're chopped up?
                    Easy to confuse and I'm betting that almost nobody would see a habanero and know what it is let alone how high it ranks on the Scoville scale.
                    Servers should have servicable English. Don't be willing to take my money but not willing to learn my language.
                    (is that harsh?! it's a peeve of mine ;-0

                      1. re: DPGood

                        It was more of a rhetorical question, actually, but I do have my opinions (and apparently so do you!).

                        1. re: DPGood

                          Harsh...perhaps. But not all that unreasonable. My grandparents came here from another country and the first order of business was to learn at least enough English to get by.

                        2. re: monavano

                          My standards for serviceable English drops a lot lower for hole in a wall family run places. Could be the server is a relative new to the country and trying to find their way. If the place caters mainly to their own ethnicity, there's not a lot of opportunity to practice English.

                          My feeling is if the food is good and the people are genuinely helpful, I'm fine with language issues and any misunderstandings. I just shrug it off.

                          1. re: Jase

                            I agree, as long as there is some basic communication. My local, favorite Chinese place is owned and staffed by Chinese immigrants, but I know that they understand my request to make my House Shrimp extra spicy!

                      2. As a courtesy, I think the server should have asked if you wanted habaneros.

                        1. While I can understand your disappointment and sympathize with your suffering, I generally think we're responsible to guard ourselves against food sensitivities or allergies. But I can see your side of it too. Restaurants rarely serve habaneros without warning.

                          I think a lot of it depends on the demographic of the owners and regular customers. If they cater primarily to Mexican (or other folk) whose baseline for heat is relatively high, they might not think it an issue.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: inaplasticcup

                            While the baseline may be higher for Mexicans, they're too hot for many, if not most Mexicans, too. Server should ask anyone ordering that dish.

                            1. re: DPGood

                              Point taken. But there are other variables at play here. If the server didn't ask, and the server wasn't new or inexperienced, it might be because people order that dish all the time, knowing what it is, and eat it without trouble.

                              Is it up to the restaurant to assume that people don't know what they're ordering, or is it up to us as consumers to know what we're ordering?

                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                I worked for a beachside restaurant that served only steamed seafood. The specialty of the house was "U Peel-um" Steamed Shrimp - 1/4 lb or 1/2 lb. (I worked there - I didn't write the menu :) ) A guy came in between lunch and supper and I was the only employee in the place. He ordered a 1/4 lb steamed shrimp, I delivered it and returned to the kitchen to do supper prep. When I returned to check on him and asked how he liked the shrimp, he replied, "Very tasty. Never had them like that before. Really have to be careful with the tails - those things are sharp!" I looked down at his plate and it was empty. No tails. No shells. No legs. He ate the whole thing, unpeeled. I've just never met anyone before who didn't know that the tails come off shrimp and they're peeled before eating ("U Peel-um").

                                1. re: GritsGuru

                                  Be glad he didn't order a steamed artichoke to go with the shrimp. You might have had to practice your hemlock maneuver.