In familial terms, Washington DC is like New York City’s younger sibling. Aspiring to be just as cool its trendier role model, DC can’t help but exhibit certain copy-cat tendencies, like opening shops such as Shake Shack and Pinkberry (both gluten-free friendly, FYI). At the same time, the District aims to find its own voice and is growing into a mature epicurean center of its own. Despite major exciting advancements in the culinary department, DC has a lot to learn from NYC when it comes to gluten-free dining. On a recent visit to New York, I was reminded of how many more options the Big City offers for every type of diet. I took advantage and ate a lot! I began this blog to build a catalogue of reviews on DC area restaurants, and I am still working toward that end. However, DC can benefit from reports on how America’s foodie capital is handling the gluten-free demand. Perhaps it will fuel some growth spurts in this town.
Which brings me to dinner at Bistango with Mr. Green Bean, my college bestie, Salsa, and her boyfriend, Chips. Chips and Salsa brought us to the modest Murray Hill establishment that opened in 1988 as a cozy Italian neighborhood spot like so many throughout the city. What set Bistango apart in 2006 was their introduction of a full gluten-free menu and certification by the budding advocacy group, Celiebo. You know you’re in good hands when the waitress opens with “do we have any food allergies tonight?” My eyes widened as she explained that the entire menu is available gluten-free. As the bread basket arrived, so too did my very own gluten-free roll with olive oil and garlic for dipping. It was a toasted French variety, thick and crusty. While tasty and satisfying, the novelty made it all the more delicious.
Bistango does a sneaky and brilliant thing, creating a menu that seems typically Italian, but manages to offer healthier meal choices by eliminating fried finishes and flour thickeners. The calamari antipasta is sauteed, the braised short-rib starter is served over polenta and the bone-in pork chop entree tops an arugula salad. I knew I had to indulge in the rarest g-free item on the menu, fresh stuffed pasta with a choice of homemade sauces. I ordered the gluten and dairy-free eggplant ravioli with marinara sauce. The dish was light and fresh with half a dozen large pasta pillows smothered in the simplest of sauces. The only giveaway that this pasta wasn’t wheat was the slightly soft texture, just passed al dente. While the sauce itself was delicious, my choice of marinara sadly overwhelmed the subtle eggplant filling, and the dish was in desperate need of salt. The generous portion of broccoli rabe complemented the acidity of the pasta dish, nicely heated with pepper flakes and full of roasted garlic.
Bistango sources its gluten-free bread, crust and stuffed pastas from several different companies throughout the States and imports the penne all the way from Italy. Were it not for post-holiday diets, we certainly would have succumbed to the many tempting g-free dessert options such as the Homemade Cheesecake or the Warm Caramelized Apple Tart. Amazingly, with 11 different sweet options on the menu, only 2 are off limits! I will surely be back for a more sinful experience. Overall, Bistango was a delight for my restricted diet without compromising on quality for Mr. Green Bean, Chips and Salsa. Now someone please copy-cat that, DC!Bistango, 415 Third Avenue, New York, NY