How Far Does Restaurant Loyalty Go?

20081010-norest.jpgWhile I'm a pretty adventurous eater, I have my standby restaurants that I go to over and over—weekly, or even more, if time and bank account permit. In New York City, with so many zillions of dining options, it's nice to have those places where you know the staff, they know you, and your favorite dish is always on the menu. So a few weeks ago, I stopped by my go-to neighborhood brunch spot with a friend. Let's call it Café X. Nothing, I thought, could ever challenge my devotion to Café X.

But I was wrong.

About 18 hours after my tasty meal, I was sick. Really sick. Incapacitated, bedridden, eventual ER visit sick. Easily the worst stomachache I've ever had, not lifting for more than a week. And when I dragged my feeble body to the doctor, he said it was almost certainly food poisoning.

"What did you eat, say, 12 to 18 hours before you first felt ill?"

A big meal at Café X. And nothing else that day but a bowl of cereal with brand-new milk.

Did Café X make me sick?

According to my doctor, almost certainly. But in the last few years, I've had brunch at Café X probably 40 times, and nothing bad ever came of it (except the occasional too-stuffed belly). Almost everyone I know goes to Café X, and none of them have ever come down ill. I know the owner, I know the cooks, and I would trust them with my life. At least, I thought I would.

Now that I'm on the mend, I'm facing quite a dilemma. My appetite is back, and I would usually head straight for Café X. But I don't know if I can ever return. Does my long-standing loyalty outweigh this one horrible experience? After all, I know their food has brought me and my stomach untold pleasure, and I don't actually know that they made me sick. On the other hand, I never want to feel that terrible again.

What do you think? Should our favorite restaurants be given a little lenience? Or is food poisoning one strike, and you're out?