What Italian dish makes the least mess?
November 14, 2008 12:55 AM   Subscribe

A question of eating etiquette. I'm meeting my boyfriend's mother tomorrow, and I'm anxious to make a good impression.

The restaurant they've chosen is an Italian bistro, and though I love Italian food in general, I tend to veer towards unfortunately messy foods like spaghetti. Basically, I need a dish that's clean, simple and easy to eat. I've had various pasta dishes suggested, but any thoughts?
posted by malusmoriendumest to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have criteria that makes penne and ravioli undesirable? Or are you just looking for other types of pasta (or non-pasta dishes) that are not messy?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:13 AM on November 14, 2008

Something like chicken parmesan would be alright, usually that doesn't come served with pasta. Yea anything with long noodles (spaghetti, fettucini, angel hair) would be somewhat messy but if you were forced to eat them just cut up the pasta into manageable strips, and you don't have eat it all, you could eat like half of it and that way it'd be less mess (getting those last pieces of pasta can be awkard eating). As far as short noodles I would think that a rotini would probably be less messy than a penne, it's easier to fork stab than penne. But the main issue here is that you shouldn't be too worried, as long as she's not a super bitch I'm sure she won't mind a slurp or two.
posted by BrnP84 at 1:19 AM on November 14, 2008

As spaceman_spiff said above, ravioli is manageable as long as you can cut it in half with your fork or knife before taking a bite. Remember to break off pieces of your bread and butter them individually instead of the whole thing at once.

If pizza is on the menu, it's acceptable to be eaten by hand or with utensils, whichever would make you feel more comfortable.

Bowtie pasta is another that can be eaten one or two at a time rather than in long, slurp-prone strands.
posted by amicamentis at 1:33 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go for risotto. Non-messy (it's rice), classier than pasta, and delicious.
posted by Skyanth at 1:37 AM on November 14, 2008

As far as avoiding any sloppy sauces, look for a pesto based dish. As long as you can control the noodle, you won't have to worry about any sauce splash back.
posted by Kudos at 1:54 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gnocchi. Delicious, and served in elegant, perfectly bite sized pieces. Impossible to eat without appearing dainty and delightful.

Well, I'm sure it's possible, but you'd really have to try.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:05 AM on November 14, 2008

Eating spaghetti mess-free is really simple, and doesn't require slicing it up.

You need a soup-size-spoon and a fork (this is how I was raised to eat spaghetti, and it's pretty much standard in the UK). Spoon in the left hand, fork in the right. You use the spoon as a base for twirling your spaghetti on the fork until it is a ball wrapped around the tines. Convey to mouth, insert, chew. Etc. Repeat as necessary. No noodle-slurping involved. Even I can eat spaghetti wearing a white shirt and usually escape unscathed with this method.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:05 AM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

You could try,

Caesar Salad

White shirts and lunches have taught me this.
posted by MarvinJ at 2:05 AM on November 14, 2008

Not my favorite, but Veal Milanese is a fairly clean (non-pasta) option that is available at many places.
posted by clark at 3:31 AM on November 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the excellent answers- I'm sure it will go wonderfully.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 4:04 AM on November 14, 2008

Tortellini might be a good choice- they fit in your mouth quite easily!
posted by sunshinesky at 4:46 AM on November 14, 2008

For ultra conservative eating, go for the broiled fish. Usually no sauce to mess with. Get a salad on the side instead of messy pasta.

This is good info because I remember Claire Huxtable telling Denise to order fish if a prospective employer ever took her to lunch on "A Different World".
posted by wrnealis at 5:26 AM on November 14, 2008

Nothing that requires twirling, even if you have the spoon method, and aim for thicker sauces. I once ordered a sort of garlic-oil combo on a linguini dish, twirling it in the lovely romantic dim light of the restaurant, and when we stopped by a fluorescent-lit bookstore a few minutes later we got to see what my newly spatter-painted polo shirt really looked like.
posted by Madamina at 5:30 AM on November 14, 2008

You could just try being yourself and eating what you enjoy. If she is going to fault you for eating a messy dish, poop on her. As an Italian, I can tell you that enjoying your food, especially if its messy, is one of the finer pleasures in life. I understand how you feel, but at a certain point in my life I realized that you just have to be yourself, even in matters involving messy food and partners parents.
posted by scarello at 6:43 AM on November 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about being a messy eater. She'll find out eventually and it's not any kind of flaw or insult. Because you are thinking about all this, she'll probably notice that you care about making a good impression & appreciate it.
posted by debbie_ann at 7:32 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

BFs mom also wants to impress you, trust me (as the mother in this equation). She wants you to like her, and is sitting at her computer in front of the green right now formulating the following question--

"My son's new girlfriend has invited me to be their guest at an Italian restaurant. I can be kinda messy when I eat Italian food and I'm afraid of what she'll think of me. I don't want to embarrass my son; what do I do?"

So, both of you--don't slurp your spaghetti, don't splatter the table cloth. Put a napkin in your lap, and try to order something you can control. I recommend chicken, pasta in white sauce, and/or things you can spear.
posted by nax at 8:10 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wear a paisley (or other busily patterned) blouse.
posted by jamaro at 8:20 AM on November 14, 2008

I would disagree with the suggestion of pesto, which has the downside of leaving little green bits between your teeth.
posted by MissSquare at 9:39 AM on November 14, 2008

Gnocchi ('nyoh-keey'), risotto, and ravioli are all good bets.
posted by wowbobwow at 9:40 AM on November 14, 2008

Order the pasta a limone. That way you will completely avoid red splotches if the sauce spills anywhere.
posted by Zambrano at 9:54 AM on November 14, 2008

Speaking as a father who has met a lot of his son's girlfriends... it would never occur to me that any Italian food was messy (my wife is from Italy) - the only thing about the way you eat that might make an impression would be if you slurped your food, or chewed with your mouth open. If you twirled your pasta in a spoon, we would just think you were a WASP. I advise you not to order anything expensive, or anything with a lot of garlic unless everyone does. Any kind of food allergy or being a vegetarian is not a good thing (unless your boyfriend's mother is a vegetarian, or there are the same allergies in their family) - they will not exactly hold this against you but it wouldn't be a plus. Don't drink too much alcohol. Don't order an exotic drink.
posted by thomas144 at 10:11 AM on November 14, 2008

Nthing Cannelloni (or manicotti, which is the same large tubular noodle, but stuffed with cheese instead of meat). One of my favorite Italian dishes, and easy to eat as you just slice off managable pieces of the large tubes with your fork. No muss, no fuss, and very tasty. But, as previously mentioned, the most important thing will be to observe basic "company" manners - elbows off the table, napkin in your lap, chew with your mouth closed, use your cutlery from the outside of the place setting inward, and make sprightly conversation with Mom about her boy. If you really get her going on a topic ("What was the most embarrassing thing Freddie ever did at a restaurant when he was a little boy?"), she enthusiastically chatter away and won't notice if you spill a little.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:34 AM on November 14, 2008

For the first course, just order a soup. It's perfect weather for it and they're might tasty. For the main course, just get a fish or meat dish.

That being said, I personally think that people look at their most adorable when eating pasta. Take smaller bites if possible and chew gently, no OM NOM NOM.

I would carefully weight whether it is more important to not be messy in any way or to be frugal (especially if they are paying for the meal, which is likely). Pasta dishes are generally less expensive than fish or meat equivalents.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:46 PM on November 14, 2008

Best answer: I used to worry about impressing my boyfriend's parents, until I realized that my boyfriend chews with his mouth open sometimes, and holds the fork in his right hand. Not only do his parents love him despite what might be considered in some circles a lack of etiquette, but they are the ones who taught him how to eat. So if you're really worried, I say copy your boyfriend's eating habits, and be maybe 10% more dainty than him just to seem feminine. Even if his parents think he's a sloppy eater, your matched etiquette level will make you seem like a cute match.

Also, and more importantly, boys don't worry about stuff like this. It's unfair that girls have to. Give yourself a break: Just be friendly, down-to-earth, polite, and curious.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:37 PM on November 14, 2008

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