Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Crowd-FUN-ded

Gluten-free Biergarden by SourceHorse

You say, “come enjoy gluten-free donuts and beer to support the Celiac Disease Foundation,” and I say “hell, yes!”. This past Saturday night’s sold out Gluten Free Biergarden was organized by SourceHorse, crowdfunded through EventStir, and held at the multipurpose event space, Tabula Rasa. Guests donated $30 to enjoy gluten-free savories by Ridgewells Catering, sweets by Dough: A District Bakery, kegs of cider from Magners and Woodchuck and endless bottles of gluten-free beer from Bard’s, Dogfish Head and New Planet. I attended the event not only to enjoy all of these delectables, but also to grow awareness of my humble blog. Funny thing is, you get together a bunch of gluties in their 20s and 30s, offer them gluten-free treats, a pumping DJ and an outdoor courtyard on a beautiful October night, and the last thing they want to do is talk about being gluten-free. So I worked my mouth on the food and drink instead of the crowd.

Ridgwells Catering      Spoons_TWO_76x25
Bethesda based Ridgwells Catering must not have expected such a terrific turn out. The buffet of small bites ran out in the first half hour, well before Mr. Green Bean showed up. I arrived early enough to taste everything, in order to report back to you diligently, of course. The display included a Mediterranean skewer bar with grilled chorizo and spiced Shrimp that satisfied, and overcooked lemon oregano chicken that turned to sawdust in my mouth (harsh, I know, but true).

Mediteranean skewer bar with (left to right) chorizo, shrimp and chicken.

Mediteranean skewer bar with (left to right) chorizo, shrimp and chicken.

Vegetarian options included artichokes with sun-dried tomato tapenade, grilled vegetable rollers with guacamole and black bean spread, and tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers. Though the food didn’t offer much to get excited about, I was impressed by the soft, chewy wrapper used for the veggie rollers, maintaining a pleasing texture and holding together nicely.

(Left to Right) Vegetable rollups; artichokes with sun-dried tomato; tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers.

(Left to Right) Grilled vegetable rollers; artichokes with sun-dried tomato tapenade; tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers

Dough: A District Bakery    Spoons_FOUR
Dough’s baked goods were also tough to come by, mainly because guests couldn’t get enough of the bite-sized red velvet cupcakes, pumpkin spice donut holes, and miniature eclairs! The new DC bakery has yet to establish a store front, making accessibility a bit of a challenge. Founder and baker, Hilary Nelson, has utilized Tabula Rasa for a couple of Saturday pop-up events and is happy to take orders online. Nelson is all about fostering DC culture by sourcing local ingredients to supply the community, both gluten-free and not, with soulful sweet treats. I certainly tasted the love. Each piece I sampled was light, airy, fluffy…all adjectives typically used to describe what gluten-free is not! The oblong pastry of the eclair closely resembled that of a conventional eclair, filled with a touch of vanilla custard and decorated with a sweet chocolate frosting. My favorite was the donut hole, bursting with pumpkin flavor and enhanced by a glistening coating of cinnamon and sugar. Catch Dough if you can as she grows her budding business through upcoming local engagements.

(Left to right) Mini eclairs, red velvet cupcakes, and pumpkin spice donut holes

(Left to right) Mini eclairs; mini red velvet cupcakes; pumpkin spice donut holes

Once the food ran out, beer and cider flowed. I sipped on Dogfish Head’s Tweason’ale, a twist on traditional gluten-free brews, made with fresh strawberries, sorghum and honey. It was a refreshing choice for the night’s lingering summer air. I’m not a personal fan of Magners or Woodchuck cider, but red solo cups kept filling up. Good marks were also given to New Planet’s Blond Ale, a sorghum and corn extract based beer.

Dogfish Head Tweason'ale

Dogfish Head Tweason’ale

Stay tuned for future gluten-free crowd-funded events by SourceHorse. The young company aims to make  planning, funding, and promoting events of all kinds a cinch. The millennial generation to which SourceHorse caters is known for creative mindedness. SourceHorse brings their ideas to fruition. In the gluten conscious world we live in, it’s no surprise this g-free event drew such a crowd. Though SourceHorse admits that high overhead left little profit to be donated to the Celiac Disease Foundation, building awareness is worth a great deal.


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A Duck Worth the Buck

Blue Duck Tavern     Spoons_FIVE

I must be a masochist. I gripe about spending too much money at restaurants that hardly live up to their price tags in quality or service, while I reserve restaurants that are worth the extra buck for the occasional celebratory meal. I suppose the torment makes those few special experiences that much tastier.

Mr. Green Bean and I have now commemorated two wedding anniversaries at Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt Washington. This West End establishment has been an award winning beacon since its opening in 2006. Executive Chef Sebastien Archambault and Chef de Cuisine John Melfi create refined American food using traditional cooking methods and fresh local ingredients. The restaurant’s sleek, clean design and bright, airy atmosphere is sophisticated, yet casual and comfortable. An open kitchen and bakery energize the space and titillate the palette. Add to all of that their friendly and informative staff and Blue Duck Tavern qualifies as a triple-threat, excelling in the arenas of food, atmosphere, and service.

The Blue Duck Tavern menu is divided into starters, entrées and sides and sub-categorized by vegetables, seafood, poultry and meat. Though the menu changes seasonally, our servers on both occasions were able to confidently highlight the many gluten-free offerings. Mr. GB and I both grinned when the server on our first visit confirmed that the Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries are fried in gluten-free duck fat. We placed an order before she even finished her sentence. These massive potato sticks served piping hot with homemade aioli and ketchup are a must.

Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries with homemade aioli and ketchup

Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries with homemade aioli and ketchup

On our more recent visit last month, I informed our server of my gluten “allergy”, and he appeared soon after with several slices of gluten-free bread. I could have toasted better Udi’s at home, but the gesture was thoughtful. We snacked on our much anticipated order of BDT Fries (just as amazing as I had remembered), while I struggled to make a decision on my main course. I had the seared scallops last year and, though the preparation had changed, was tempted to order them again. I opted instead for the market fish of the day, a monkfish with a red wine jus, bacon and foie gras bits, and a green bean salad (yes, I promised Mr. GB he could have some veggies).

Gluten-free toast

Gluten-free toast

A fleet of hands cleared our appetizer plates (they didn’t dare remove the last remaining fries from my watchful eye), and reset the silverware for our main courses. Monkfish, also known as the sea-devil, is one scary looking species with a body that’s mostly mouth. The meat of the fish comes from its tail and has a lobster-like toughness. Blue Duck Tavern prepared the ugly creature beautifully. Large pieces of meat were seared golden. The mild fish was complimented by the bold flavors of the jus, foie gras and bacon. Slices of crunchy bean pods added texture and respite from the other rich accompaniments.

Monkfish with red wine jus, foie gras, bacon and green bean salad

Market fish of the day: Monkfish with red wine jus, foie gras, bacon and green bean salad

Though portions are sizable, the many intriguing menu items make it impossible to resist add-ons.  We tried the side of sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs.  The brilliant red skin and white flesh of the radishes accented the bright green shells and cut the peas’ sweetness with a slightly bitter crunch.

Sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs

Sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs

Blue Duck Tavern is known for their incredible desserts. The flaky pastry crusts are difficult to ignore en route to the bathroom through the dolce kitchen. But a main feature of the menu is the selection of gluten-free, homemade ice creams and sorbets with chocolate, caramel or raspberry toppings a la carte. Having experienced the ice cream and caramel sauce on our first visit, Mr. GB and I determined to skip dessert this time around. Then our server arrived with the dessert menus and two glasses of a sweet, sparkling red wine in honor of our anniversary (one year prior we were served two glasses of bubbly upon our arrival). How could we say no to dessert now! We succumbed to scoops of the honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt, and cherry blossom sorbet. Our server surprised us with a jar of the chocolate sauce, with his personal congratulations. How could I have skipped this chocolate, I thought as I began bypassing the frozen treats and spooning dark brown gooey heaven into my mouth.

Honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt and cherry blossom sorbet with a side of chocolate sauce

Honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt and cherry blossom sorbet with a side of chocolate sauce

Very few restaurants can truly make an occasion feel special. I hand it to BDT for not merely relaying on outstanding food in a stunningly designed space. The attentive and gracious service sets Blue Duck Tavern apart, making any diner’s experience worth the price tag.

Blue Duck Tavern, 1201 24th Street NW, Washington DC


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Night Crawling

As an epicurean with celiac, I’m like the kid left out of the sandbox when it comes to culinary adventures. I dream to participate in chef tastings, secret supper clubs and the newest trend, underground restaurants with no menu, all challenging experiences when one has a severe “allergy”. But one foodie venture is capitalizing on the rise of celiac and gluten-sensitive diners by offering a gluten-free experience not to be missed. Dishcrawl was founded in 2010 in San Jose, CA, and now has chapters in numerous cities throughout the country. It hosts ticketed progressive dinners that take participants to four restaurants for four different dishes over a three hour period. The DC chapter, led by ambassador Qui-Juan Jones, organizes themed crawls in various neighborhoods around the District and surrounding areas, to acquaint a group of strangers both to each other and to the many sides of DC’s gourmet kitchens. Last week’s first ever gluten-free DC Dishcrawl in Barracks Row attracted 17 hungry individuals on all spectrums of the gluten-free diet (strict observers, occasional subscribers, and loyal supporters). I couldn’t wait to mingle with fellow gluties on a mystery food tour of Capital Hill.

The Chesapeake Room     Spoons_THREE_76x25
We began our journey at the The Chesapeake Room, a small, casual restaurant with an interior dominated by a long narrow bar, a couple of horseshoe leather booths, and a few high tops. A large outdoor patio offers more seating, but certainly not on this scorching hot DC summer evening. The bar brought in a selection of Omission Beers and Angry Orchard Cider just for the occasion and are considering keeping one gluten-free bottle option on the menu. We were served our first dish by the executive chef who explained that their American/French/Italian fusion menu offers several gluten-free options. Our plates, winning for best presentation of the night, included a trio of tastings starting with a seared scallop over a fava bean and mushroom risotto. While the scallop was over-salted it was nicely seared to produce a caramelized surface while retaining its soft interior. In the middle of the plate was a scoop of crab salad on a slice of raw tomato with an avocado dressing (adapted from the menu’s fried-green tomato version). A sprinkling of greens added texture to the mayo-heavy yet fresh tasting crab. The final element was a watermelon gazpacho, a refreshing choice for the heatwave we were in. The addition of orange juice to the recipe pushed the chilled soup too far on the sweet spectrum. But overall the variety of flavors between all three items and the well portioned plate made for a successful first stop.

The Chesapeake Room: Seared scallops over mushroom risotto, crab stack, and watermelon gazpacho

The Chesapeake Room: Seared scallops over fava bean and mushroom risotto, crab stack, and watermelon gazpacho


Pacifico Cantina
     Spoons_THREE_76x25
For our next dish, the group crossed 8th Street SE to Pacifico Cantina for some Tex-Mex flare. We were greeted by festive Mexican decor and music and servers ready to take our margarita and mojito orders. Fresh guacamole was served family style at our table, accompanied by salsa and corn tortilla chips fried separately from anything glutenous. The guac was heavy on the salt, but the salsa had just my speed of heat. We were then served a cup of shrimp ceviche with jicama, corn, tomato, cilantro and cucumber over a touch of spring greens served with a few chips (not a regular menu item). Around me my fellow diners started reaching for liquid relief from the spice. I seemed to get a mild batch that was well balanced and tasty. Our plates were cleared and we prepared to move on when surprisingly another fleet of dishes headed our way…then turned on its heels and disappeared. The manager embarrassingly explained that the kitchen accidentally prepared a chicken taco on a flour tortilla, this after his speech on how gluten-free friendly Pacifico Cantina is. The staff quickly rebounded and soon delivered a soft corn tortilla topped with chopped chicken, pico de gallo, salsa verde and cilantro. The double layered tortilla was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and folded nicely over the slightly overcooked yet flavorful chicken. We walked away stuffed after that plentiful sampling of average tasting Tex-Mex. Overall, Pacifico Cantina is a fun spot to sip on sweet drinks and nosh on addictive tortilla chips.

Pacifico Cantina: Chips and guacamole, shrimp ceviche, and chicken taco

Pacifico Cantina: Chips and guacamole, shrimp ceviche, and chicken taco


Cafe 8
     Spoons_THREE_76x25
We hobbled just a couple of doors down from Pacifico Cantina to our third location, Cafe 8, which offers unpretentious Turkish/Greek cuisine in an authentic, Mediterranean atmosphere. Unfortunately the air conditioner was having technical difficulties, but we filed into the bar area and were served cold water on the spot. Plates soon arrived with plentiful helpings of shaved doner meat over white long grain rice, covered with tomato sauce. The meat heavy dish made up for its unrefined appearance with its rich, salty flavor (notice a trend?) and tender consistency. The kebab is made in-house with 80% lean beef and 20% lamb that marinates for days in milk and spices before being pitched on the spit. The dish was a crowd pleaser, even given our full stomachs. I forced myself to stop after a few bites for fear of impending button popping. Cafe 8 offers a number of gluten-free options, as is often the case with Mediterranean menus. The quaint restaurant’s low key, eccentric vibe and quality, reasonably priced food tempts me to return for another try on a cooler night. Pleasing carnivorous Mr. Green Bean will be the true test.

Cafe 8: Doner kebab over rice

Cafe 8: Doner kebab over rice


Pitango Gelato
      Spoons_FIVE
We had one more stop to go and luckily it was dessert. After all that high sodium food, I relished the thought of something sweet. We walked toward Eastern Market to bombard the tiny storefront of Pitango Gelato. A young, spirited associate was prepared to manage our group and pitch us the spiel about Pitango’s direct line to fresh milk from Mennonite farmers, pistachios sourced from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Italy, and nuts roasted with infrared light for the most natural flavor possible. Pitango now has five locations in DC, Maryland and Virginia, all serving the highest quality, seasonally changing gelato and sorbet. We were thrilled to learn that everything in the store is gluten-free accept for the cones. But the tiny colorful spoons are so fun, who wants a cone anyway? Our server’s patience astounded me as she allowed each of us to try multiple flavors before ordering. I am a frequenter of this gelato joint and can vouch for every flavor I’ve tried, which is many. The classic Pistachio di Bronte is nutty bliss, the Green Tea is subtly herbalicious, and the Chocolate with Chips is born-again classic. The vegan sorbets taste nearly as creamy as their dairy counterparts. Nothing compares to the mango, which you’ll swear is packed with fat. When the rush to order was over, we passed around cups and swapped spoons. Gelato has a way of making even strangers fast friends.

Pitango Gelato: White grapefruit and rhubarb sorbets

Pitango Gelato: White grapefruit and rhubarb sorbets

On that sweet note, I solicited some reflections on the night and received overall positive responses. While the food was not the finest Barracks Row has to offer, it is a challenge to find committed and enthusiastic restaurants given the size of the group, our food limitations, and the logistics of the program. Thanks is due to Qui-Juan Jones, Dishcrawl DC, and the participating restaurants for providing us gluties the opportunity to let down our guard and dine out free of the usual hassle and stress. It should be mentioned that these pre-set, traveling dinners may still be a challenge for those who are less adventurous or more limited in their eating habits. While Dishcrawl makes every effort to take into account food restrictions, the substitutions seemed lacking (in other words, had Mr. Green Bean accompanied me, he may not have gotten his money’s worth). But for someone like Glutie Foodie who will eat anything (gluten-free), I enjoyed myself immensely knowing that our Dishcrawl ambassador had done all the work, asked all the tough questions, and cleared a safe and healthy path for a night of culinary indulgence.

The Chesapeake Room, 501 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Pacifico Cantina, 514 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Cafe 8, 424 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Pitango Gelato, 660 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC


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Close for Comfort

Open City     Spoons_THREE_76x25

When Mr. Green Bean and I have out-of-town guests on a Sunday morning, are too tired to cook on a Wednesday night, or are up for a short walk to dinner on a warm summer evening, Open City is our reliable destination. This Woodley Park cornerstone is a bustling coffeehouse/American diner serving fresh comfort food with a health conscious twist. Open City is in the Tryst, The Diner, and The Coupe family of restaurants, which all offer slightly different versions of comfortable atmosphere and dependable food and drink. In my opinion, Open City wins for having the most reasonably priced and comprehensive menu, with large, homey dining spaces both inside and out.

Gluten-free customers beware of the tantalizing baked goods case at the entance to Open City. It has yet to include g-free sweets. Just make it to the table and one look at the menu’s g-free food options will quickly make you forget what you’re missing. Any place that concocts unique egg dishes and serves them all day long is my hero. But with other options such as big salads, bun-less burgers, g-free pizza, interesting appetizers and sides, mussel pots, and classic entrees, there is something to feed any craving. The coffee and tea list is just as abundant, offering Counter Culture Coffee and an assortment of teas in Black, White, and everything in between. Just remember to order your cup of choice sans the animal cracker garnish. I tend to forget this detail and end up with lion crumbs on my teaspoon.

Open City recently switched from a dedicated gluten-free menu to indicating on their regular menu items that are gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan. I appreciate not having to ask for a separate menu, which I often feel draws too much attention to my “special” needs. (Note that many items not indicated as gluten-free can easily be adjusted. The omelets, for instance, are only missing the gluten-free indicator because of the accompanying bread.) The restaurant’s simple yet tasty American cuisine is hardly more sophisticated than what I can whip up in my own kitchen. But food always tastes better when you are not the one laboring over it, doesn’t it? The salmon scramble with tomato, chives and cream cheese is a salty pleasure. The Blanco omelet with egg whites, tomato, spinach, and mixed greens is light and satisfying. The large Turkey Burger patty plated without the bun is flavorful and juicy.

Bun-less Turkey Burger with Smoked Gouda and a  side of sauteed spinach

Bun-less turkey burger with smoked gouda and a side of sauteed spinach

For a treat, the side of gluten-free macaroni and cheese (yes, I did say gluten-free mac ‘n’ cheese) is deliciously chewy and cheesy. Mr. Green Bean, a Mac ‘n’ cheese aficionado, even gives the dish a thumbs-up. Pair it with one of Open City’s large, fresh salads to minimize the guilt. The kitchen uses Still Riding Pizza’s crust to offer rich pies that tend to be heavy on the cheese and grease, but gratifying when the pizza mood strikes. On a recent visit, I opted for a potpourri of sides to comprise one nourishing lunch. The quinoa with zucchini and corn, curried summer squash, and mixed greens offered a variety of textures and flavors, leaving me energized for the day.

Curried Squash, Quinoa with Zucchini and Corn, and Mixed Greens

Curried squash, quinoa with zucchini and corn, and mixed greens

Open City’s menu changes occasionally, preserving key items while sprinkling in new dishes here and there. It’s a tactic that keeps me coming back. This popular Northwest eatery delivers unpretentious food and prices while managing to maintain a local vibe in a neighborhood infiltrated with zoo-goers and tourists. You will wait to be seated for brunch on a nice weekend afternoon; but at least you’ll be among fellow DC’ers who all agree it’s worth the wait.

Open City, 2331 Calvert Street NW, Washington DC


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Shaw’s de Pue Debut

Table   Spoons_THREE_76x25

There is a hot new addition to the Shaw neighborhood catching the attention of local DC residents and press. Table, which opened in late January, was named 2013’s Best New Restaurant by the Washington City Paper, and was recently added to Eater DC’s Heatmap. As soon as the restaurant started taking reservations, I set a date and invited the girlfriends, Mrs. Muffin, Miss. Zin, and Mademoiselle Za’atar (formerly known as Zin’s childhood friend) for a night of nourishment and gabbing.

The approach to Table is impressive with its uniquely painted gray facade and white detailing. A dozen planters mark a roomy patio territory. The interior design is minimal with an unfinished cement floor, simple light wood tables and booths, a long galley kitchen with merely a countertop separating it from the dining room, and a light pink accent wall (I’m told painted in celebration of the cherry blossom season). Surprisingly the restaurant does not offer a bar area, as Miss Zin and I found out when we arrived early to catch up over a glass of wine.

Image courtesy of tabledc.com

Image courtesy of tabledc.com

The restaurant is Chef Frederik de Pue’s labor of love, coming public after making a name for himself in the exclusive world of embassies and diplomats. His confident passion is revealed from the relatively spacious, exposed kitchen to the hand written menus that change frequently, not just seasonally. Diners are able to witness the creation process with all its humbling mistakes in an unpretentious atmosphere where the focus is on quality food.

At any new food establishment, I am prepared to blaze the trail with an inquisition regarding gluten-free practices. To my pleasant surprise, it turned out our server was a glutie himself and was excited to guide me through the menu. He reviewed every item, most of which were naturally g-free or adaptable. He proudly admitted to influencing the chef’s fish soup recipe, which previously contained unnecessary gluten. The menu selections, with first course, main course, and cheese & charcuterie sections, are modest in number. But each dish is unique and thoughtful—no filler items here. We started with the talked about seared sea scallops with parsley cream and leeks. Our kind waiter made sure our order contained 4 scallops, one for each lady, as these morsels were too heavenly to share. The parsely cream was subtly herbaceous and the leeks added pleasant contrasting texture.

Seared Sea Scallops with Parsley Cream and Leeks

Seared Sea Scallops with Parsley Cream and Leeks

I paired two starters for my main course, the tuna tartare and the sauteed mushrooms with poached egg. The tartar was prepared with uni sauce, pickled daikon and kimchee puree, topped with one plump oyster. The tuna was plainly seasoned and actually rather fishy, as was the entire plate between the fish, pungent oyster and uni (sea urchin) sauce. The kimchi puree offered bold flavor but could have used a compliment to keep it from overwhelming the dish.

Tuna Tartar with Uni Sauce, Oyster, Pickeled Daikon and Kimchi Puree

Tuna Tartar with Uni Sauce, Oyster, Pickled Daikon and Kimchi Puree

The mushrooms were a winner, even without the intended toast. The slightly sweet ‘shrooms were accompanied by a large oozing egg atop garliky mushroom puree that made this plate rather substantial and a real savory treat.

Sauteed Mushrooms with Poached Egg

Sauteed Mushrooms with Poached Egg

Mademoiselle Za’atar’s pan roasted black bass with a ragout of potato and thyme butter sauce was cooked perfectly, preserving the fish’s delicate meat. Mrs. Muffin’s bowl of mussels in thai cream was well balanced in flavor, allowing the muscles’ subtleness to shine through the sauce’s not-too-rich, complex flavor. Miss Zin’s dorade en papillote (meaning, cooked in parchment) won for aesthetics. Covered in julienne vegetables (not g-free) the dish was full of flavor and color.

Pan Roasted Black Bass with Ragout of Potato and Thyme Butter Sauce

Pan Roasted Black Bass with Ragout of Potato and Thyme Butter Sauce

Mussels in Thai Cream Sauce

Mussels in Thai Cream Sauce

Dorade en Papilotte with Julienne Vegetables

Dorade en Papilotte with Julienne Vegetables

Unfortunately Table’s dessert options are lacking for us gluties, with sorbet as the only option (how sick of sorbet are you!). However, with a little help from our gluten-free waiter advocating from the inside, perhaps change is in the air for this trendy little eatery.

My biggest caveat with Table is the price tag. With a menu of star players priced relatively high, and no small sides or cheap fillers besides cheese and sliced meats, it’s tough to walk away without burning substantial dough. While the atmosphere conveys neighborhood dive, it’s a bit too pricey to become my casual, everyday haunt. Unfortunately escalated prices seems to be commonplace with the District’s growing population of foodie establishments.

Table, 903 N Street NW, Washington DC


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A Fishy Birthday

BlackSalt Restaurant     Spoons_FOUR

Growing up in New England, the fish market was a regular stop on our way home from school. Pungent aromas from cod or haddock often wafted through our kitchen, and italian seasoned bread crumbs were a staple in the cabinet. It was not until I moved to New York for college that I realized how spoiled my childhood had been. I now know that it costs a pretty penny to prepare the freshest seafood, and unfortunately my well trained, discriminating taste gravitates toward the freshest.

BlackSalt Restaurant in the Palisades neighborhood of DC conjures fond memories of my younger years. I knew it was the perfect location to celebrate Ma Glutie Foodie’s birthday during Ma and Pa’s recent visit to DC. Owners Jeff and Barbara Black are dedicated to providing sustainable fish and seafood from around the world in all of the Black Restaurant Group locations. BlackSalt patrons enter through the fish market, passing by ice beds of shimmering fins and protruding heads. Sister Seitan averted her eyes and held her breath, and Mr. Green Bean scrunched his nose and gave me the “look”. But this night was about Ma and she was going to love it.

It was love at first sight as we were seated in the causal yet elegant dining room and opened our menus to reveal “Happy Birthday” typed across the night’s specials. We popped the prosecco and cozied into our kitchen-view table. Perfect for the mermaid in me, the menu is entirely seafood based, with the exception of one ribeye steak and a vegetarian option upon request. Market features change daily, and additional “just in” catches are announced as if the boat’s just out back. I knew we were in luck when our server mentioned crab cakes and Mr. Green Bean softened his “look”.

As we reviewed the menu’s many extraordinary items with our server, he assured me that any dish that is not already gluten-free can be adapted. He also encouraged me to allow chef Thomas Leonard to prepare something special with my gluten allergy in mind. We started simple with a few table pleasers such as the BlackSalt Ceasar and the chef’s vegetarian appetizer for my gluten-eating family. (Note to all gluten-eating readers: the bread alone is apparently worth the visit. Even my sympathetic family couldn’t silence their exclamations). I lusted over the Atlantic Day Boat Scallops, the Panamonian Cobia Sashimi and the Wild Atlantic Black Sea Bass starters. However, I settled on good ol’ shrimp cocktail, one of the only seafood dishes Mr. Green Bean and I can share. Though expectedly uninspired, the shrimps were cooked just right and the housemade cocktail sauce—with sweet and spicy chunks of fresh tomato—was good enough to eat with a spoon.

Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp Cocktail

For my main entree I gambled on a chef’s choice preparation of sea scallops. As the dish was placed before me and described by the restaurant manager, I grinned at my winnings. Four golden-top, pan seared scallops sat on a bed of julienned carrots and cabbage, sliced confit potato, white bean puree and a sprinkling of pesto. The carrot and cabbage saute was packed with garlic—a favorable ingredient that overstayed it’s welcome the next morning…and the morning after that. I would have appreciated more than the mere smear of white bean puree, and less of the potato that overwhelmed the dish. But the scallops themselves were sublime.

Pan Seared Scallops with sauteed carrots and cabbage, confit potato, white bean puree and pesto garnish.

Pan Seared Scallops with sauteed carrots and cabbage, confit potato, white bean puree and pesto garnish.

I reached my fork across the table to taste Pa Glutie Foodie’s gluten-free Virginia Rockfish with wild mushrooms, spinach, pearl onion jus and the same confit potato used in my dish. The skin-on filet was meaty and mild. The caramelized mushrooms and pearl onion jus made the dish with slightly sweet hints of maple flavor.

Rockfish with confit potato, wild mushroom, spinach and pearl onion jus

Virginia Rockfish with confit potato, wild mushroom, spinach and pearl onion jus.

Mr. Green Bean described his two large pan fried crab cakes as “very good, not the best” (after years in Baltimore, this boy is a tough crab when it comes to his cakes). He seemed more excited about the accompanying sauteed green beans. We had a close call when the server initially assured me the crab cakes were 100% gluten-free. Knowing how unusual that would be, Mr. GB and I encouraged the waiter to double check with the chef. Lo and behold, “they just changed the recipe and they are actually not gluten-free”. Nice save. I treaded carefully after that and didn’t dare try Sister Seitan’s mystery veggie bowl. The abundance of greens and absence of any starch got to her mid-way through. She ordered a side of gnocchi and smiled as they arrived fried and crispy.

Any misgivings about dinner were quickly forgotten with the first taste of dessert. The gluten-free Chocolate Chambord Truffle Cake was delivered with a candle and a chocolate drizzle reading “Happy Birthday”. Two triangles of heavenly, fudgey chocolate were balanced with tart raspberry compote and whipped cream. As if that wasn’t enough of a treat, the Trio of Creme Brulee included milk chocolate-hazelnut, white chocolate-raspberry, and butterscotch. The chocolate-hazelnut’s mild sweetness and nutty profile stood out, but all three dishes were licked clean.

Chocolate Chambord Truffle Cake with raspberry compote and whipped cream.

Chocolate Chambord Truffle Cake with raspberry compote and whipped cream.

Trio of Creme Brulee: butterscotch, white chocolate-raspberry, and milk chocolate-hazelnut.

Trio of Creme Brulee: butterscotch, white chocolate-raspberry, and milk chocolate-hazelnut.

Overall BlackSalt Restaurant is a superior establishment in regards to it’s A+ service and availability of the widest variety of fresh catches in the District. I am reminded by our experience to always double check for gluten, even when the server’s confidence encourages my trust. I am also left to wonder how the menu’s pricey figures are determined. While I understand paying top dollar for seafood flown in from halfway around the world, $38 for crab cakes and green beans, and $30 for Sister Seitan’s heap of veggies seems excessive.

BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant, 4883 MacArthur Blvd., Washington DC


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Self-Centraled

Central Michel Richard     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Whimsical: An adjective often used in describing downtown DC’s Central Michel Richard. Yet, whimsy doesn’t quite capture what is at the heart of this James Beard Award winning restaurant. Indulgence seems the foundation of a menu that takes American food’s most pleasurable staples and gourmetifies them with a French twist. What results is an amusement park for fine diners. Yet, with American classics come fried finishes, flour coatings and wheat filling, deeming us Glutie Foodies unfit to board the best rides.

I arrived at Central on a recent Saturday night with my girlfriends, Mrs. Muffin, Miss Zin, and Zin’s childhood friend, a new arrival to DC. The scene by the bar was boisterous, with seats filled by couples making a night of it, and diners waiting for tables attempting a pre-dinner cocktail. The dining room was filled with creamy light, reflecting off the warm wood tables and chairs and earth-toned marble floors. Michel Richard’s face graces a large wall by the wine cellar, reminding visitors who’s the boss.

We ordered our wine and a dozen oysters as I divulged my “allergy” to the server.  It did not surprise me, this being a high profile restaurant on a busy Saturday night, that the server seemed slightly put-off by a complicated customer and did not offer much guidance. I decided to survey the menu further and strategize my questioning. When he returned, I asked a handful of questions, most of which he had to check on. We discovered together that besides the obviously breaded items, many of the sauces and marinades contain either soy sauce or flour. The tuna carpaccio, mussels in white wine, miso salmon, sea scallops with bellpepper sauce, and rotisserie chicken dishes are all off-limits. Most of the sharing plates and starters either have to be adapted or skipped altogether, and the tempting ahi tuna and lobster burgers are both glutenous, even without the bun. With my options severely limited, I took the server’s advice and ordered the 100% gluten-free loup de mer (sea bass) with mushrooms.

Oysters!

Oysters!

Central is lucky it has quality on its side.  Patrons know that regardless of what is ordered, it is always terrific. The freshest ingredients are used in the most complimentary combinations. Complicated preparations are perfectly executed to create consistently superior food. Needless to say, the sea bass was fantastic. The flaky 10 inch filleted fish was served skin side up, topped with a heap of rosemary infused mushrooms, and accompanied by a side of arugula, simply dressed with olive oil, lemon and shaved parmesan. The dish was light, fresh, healthy and hearty.

Loup De Mer with Mushrooms and Arugula

Loup de Mer with Mushrooms

The pleasant surprise of the night were the French macaroons on the dessert menu (not always available), made in-house and definitely gluten-free. I treated our figure-conscious table to one of each flavor, just a few bites each to finish on a sweet note.

French Macaroons

French Macaroons

My meal was delightful enough to almost forget my earlier anxieties. While I will gladly return to Central for another first-rate dinner, I was disappointed with the server’s aloof attitude and the menu’s limitations. I suppose a chef as renown as Michel Richard doesn’t have to be concerned with accommodating little ol’ me.

Central Michel Richard, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC


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Buzzzzzzz…

Redwood     Spoons_TWO

When Saturday night sneaks up on me and Mr. Green Bean, and we’re in need of a quality restaurant that takes last-minute reservations, Bethesda, MD, comes in handy. It’s an especially useful location to meet up with Silver Spring residents, Irish Coffee and the Oreos, as we did a few Saturdays ago. Redwood Restaurant and Bar sits in the middle of Bethesda Lane, the pedestrian walk at the heart of a quant downtown with bustling shops and eateries. For years Redwood has been our practical pick, favorable because of its prime location, lively atmosphere, decent food, and table availability. However, my last experience at the modern-American restaurant left me questioning what Redwood is doing behind their kitchen doors.

Redwood owner Jared Rager has contributed to the local food scene with his early pioneering of wine-bar culture and sourcing of local seasonal ingredients. Despite this, his successes have fallen short with the selling of Mendocino Grill (now closed), and the closing of Blue Ridge Restaurant. Redwood seems steady, anchoring the streets of downtown Bethesda with it’s sleek interior, spacious bar area, and abundant outdoor patio seating. Thus it pains me that their seemingly harmless menu is so dredged in flour.

During our most recent visit to Redwood, the server’s patience was tried as he reviewed nearly every item on the menu, identifying glutenous items. After running back and forth to the kitchen several times to double check with the chef, we finally narrowed down my options to a depressing few. Gluten was a surprising player in almost all of the seafood dishes—typically the section that I gravitate towards—most of the meat plates and all three of the entree sized salads (although, that depends on which side you take in the blue cheese debate). In my amateur opinion, it seemed these recipes could have avoided gluten with a little extra creative effort. I can’t help but think of added flour as a cop-out to patch up a dish that should really be prepared another way.

While I found myself bewildered, the server calmed my anxiety by suggesting the chef prepare my choice of seafood grilled with any vegetable side. I was comforted by that offer and appreciated the flexibility. However, I dine out to enjoy the unique compositions of trained chefs, not for a meal I could have made at home. I opted for the shockingly soy-sauce free and gluten-free yellowfin tuna tartare starter, with asian pear, edamame, yuzu dressing, pine nuts, sesame seeds and corn tortillas. The dish rocked salty and sweet and was laden with interesting textures between the silky tuna, creamy sauce, and crunchy fuit, soybeans and pine nuts. A side of garlicky braised greens rounded out my meal, leaving me quite satisfied.

Left: Yellowfin Tuna Tartare; Right: Braised Greens

Left: Yellowfin Tuna Tartare; Right: Braised Greens

Will I return to Redwood? I will, not only because it’s first on our speed dial when we’re in a pinch, but because the seasonally changing menu is worth another try. And I have no problem buzzing in their ears and pushing my agenda for a gluten-free friendlier environment and consequently a healthier dining experience for all.

Redwood, 7121 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda, MD


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Home on the Range

Range     Spoons_FOUR

Considering all the hype surrounding Top Chef superstar Bryan Voltaggio and his growing empire of top quality restaurants, the newest edition, Range, in Chevy Chase, MD, is surprisingly laid back. Perhaps the casual environment is attributed to the soft curve of the glass wall that looks out at the rotunda of Chevy Chase Pavilion. Or maybe it is the candy bar in the entrance of the restaurant welcoming patrons with a smile. I suppose it could have been my good spirits as I arrived at Range to celebrate my birthday with Mr. Green Bean, Sister Seitan, and our visiting friend and Glutie Foodie’s Boston Correspondent, Souper Girl. [Souper Girl was the source that broke the news about Dunkin’ Donuts test-marketing gluten-free products, and I thank her for that.]

Once past the sweets counter, diners are guided through a spacious interior with dark floors and light wood table tops. A marble countertop lines the enormous kitchen, offering alternative seating with a view of some food preparation. The L-shaped space opens up in the back to an even larger dining area. We slid into a comfortable freestanding booth with a view of J.Crew and soon-to-be H&M.
IMG_2153_interior405

It was no surprise given the restaurant’s infancy that our ever-so-sweet server took a while to articulate the opening spiel. But we learned that Range focusses on traditional dishes with a modern twist, using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. The menu is divided by category of food and method of cooking, with each section prepared in a different kitchen. Diners can choose from raw bar items, carved meat and cheese platters, house-made baked goods, cold starters, house-made pastas, wood grilled steaks, wood oven pizzas, pan roasted poultry and fish, and a selection of side dishes. Small to medium-sized plates are meant for sharing and eating family style. With two gluten-freers, one vegetarian, and one picky eater, it took some time to decide on our combination of plates. We started simple with the sampler cheese plate, accompanied by fresh apple and pear compotes and cinnamon-raisin toasts (on the side of course).

Before ordering, Souper Girl and I explained our food restriction with a little trepidation considering the potential lack of experience handling our kind. Without too much hesitation the server assured us that much of the menu is gluten-free and what is not can most likely be adjusted, leave it to the chef. (Unfortunately or fortunately a shared fryer does eliminate a handful of the more sinful items.) Despite his assurance, the blue cheese we tried to avoid still showed up on our cheese block. The 3 apologies we received throughout the night from various staff made up for the glitch.

What followed was a fleet of dishes delivered at a leisurely pace. First to arrive was the fennel, arugula and parmesan salad, and the kale caesar with whitmore farm egg. The fennel salad was fresh, crunchy and garnished with bright blood oranges three ways: fresh wedges, sweet candied peels, and gooey jelly drops. The kale ceasar was a refreshing take on the classic salad, with shaved kale tossed in a very light custard-like dressing and sprinkled with parmesan. Although some bites were a tad salty for my palette, the bitter kale played well with the creamy sauce and the dish was a hit with us all.

Left: Fennel, Arugula and Parmesan Salad; Right: Kale Caesar with Whitmore Farm Egg

Left: Fennel, Arugula and Parmesan Salad; Right: Kale Caesar with Whitmore Farm Egg

Next came the shrimp cocktail, with four of the largest shrimps I have ever seen, perfectly cooked and sprinkled with fresh parsley. Mr. Green Bean’s pick, fall-off-the-bone roasted chicken with lemon, garlic and rosemary, proved that simplicity is bliss. Souper Girl’s choice, the wood grilled Pine Ridge coulotte (a.k.a. top sirloin), was tender, juicy, and enriched with generous dollops of hazelnut marrow butter. We took a chance on the salsify side dish with hazelnuts, satsuma mandarin and parsley. Salsify, a little known root vegetable, is ugly in it’s natural state and tricky to prepare. Range takes the challenge with a 24 hour cooking process that results in a stunning transformation and uniquely flavored dish.

Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp Cocktail

Left: Pan Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Rosemary and Garlic; Right: Wood Grilled Pine Ridge Coulotte with Hazelnut Marrow Butter

Left: Pan Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Rosemary and Garlic; Right: Wood Grilled Pine Ridge Coulotte with Hazelnut Marrow Butter

Salsify with Hazelnuts, Satsuma Mandarin and Parsley

Salsify with Hazelnuts, Satsuma Mandarin and Parsley

With some persuasion from our server, I asserted my adventurous side and tried the dish that is apparently getting lots of buzz: beef heart served over a light chimichurri sauce. As this was my first beef heart experience, the chewy texture took some getting used to. But the meat was bursting with flavor and the accompanying pureed cilantro and parsley served as a refreshing counterpart.

Wood Grilled Beef Heart with Chimichurri

Wood Grilled Beef Heart with Chimichurri

A bit disappointing was Sister Seitan’s options for a vegetarian entree. While the menu offers plenty of vegetarian side dishes and a couple of salads, it is lacking a more substantial grain or vegetable based dish to round out a veg meal. Even all the pasta dishes contain meat, and only the seamless goat cheese ravioli could be altered to meet her needs. However, the raviolis were, in Sister’s words, “plump perfection”.

Just when the meal came to a close and we considered rolling ourselves home, three scoops of house-made frozen ice cream and sorbet arrived as a special birthday treat. Suddenly our spoons were up and we made room for the rich salted caramel, tart granny smith apple, and citrusy blood orange. We did succeed in resisting the tempting candy cart presenting fine confections that are available at the table or to go, clever indeed. I left wondering—with the dining space as large as it is, and the menu as vast—the world behind those swinging doors must be quite spectacular. Range is an impressive operation, managing so much activity while making diners feel relaxed and at home.

Range, 5335 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC


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Grape Explorations

The Curious Grape     Spoons_FOUR

Wine? Check. Dine? Check. Shop? Check. The Curious Grape in Shirlington, VA, is like a playground for foodies and winos, which is why it came highly recommended by our dear friend, Princess of Pinot. Mr. Green Bean and I treat trips to Virginia like expeditions, even though it can take half as long to get from our Cleveland Park apartment to Arlington as it does Bethesda. We are beginning to appreciate this foreign land west of the Potomac and Princess of Pinot is the perfect guide.

The Curious Grape, which opened as a friendly, unpretentious wine shop in 2001, recently expanded to include a cafe with house-made pastries and quality cheeses, a bar with a well curated wine list, and a fine-dining restaurant serving dinner and Sunday brunch. In the restaurant, Executive Chef Eric McKamey creates a seasonal fleet of intriguing dishes. The dinner menu is cleverly designed with a wine key to guide diners toward appropriate pairings. The menu also marks dishes that do not contain gluten-ingredients and adds a disclaimer that reads, “Please note that we are not an allergen-free facility.  All dishes are prepared in a kitchen that uses wheat, dairy, shellfish, nuts, and peanuts.” The statement is refreshingly honest, as this is the reality in most restaurants, but few rarely admit it forwardly.

We met Princess of Pinot at The Curious Grape on a recent Friday night and were promptly seated at a comfortable table in the dining room. The back dining space is separated just enough from the shop and cafe to transition into fine-dining while still keeping it casual. Like many restaurants that pride themselves on being gourmet and laid back, our waitress teetered on the line of over-sharing menu details and took her time finding our bottle of Côtes du Rhône. But the wine was chilled to near perfect drinking temperature and decanted through an aerator so that even the tasting sip was lip-smacking.

My challenge of the night was choosing from a handful of unusual options that all sounded wonderful. Lucky for me Princess of Pinot has a sophisticated palette. We shared a couple of starters while Mr. Green Bean picked at the parts he could tolerate. The brussels sprout salad with crispy pork belly, apple cider gastrique and candied walnuts had a pleasant salty/sweet balance. The rich pork belly paired well with the light and fresh brussels sprouts and crisp apple pieces. The evening’s special starter was a lobster salad with fresh lobster meat, beets, blood oranges, avocado, fennel and curry vinaigrette. The plate of ingredients cut into bite-sized chunks resembled an Italian antipasto with independent components offering a variety of flavors.

Brussel Sprout and Lobster Salads.

Left: Brussel Sprout and Pork Belly Salad; Right: Special Lobster Salad.

For my main entree, I could not resist the special Pacific cod fricasse that the waitress exclaimed was one of the best things she’s ever tasted. Rarely served in east coast restaurants, the white fish from the West was superbly flaky and mild in flavor. The French fricassee cooking process involves first sautéing without browning and then adding liquid in which the fish can simmer. The filet was served with roasted fennel, drizzled with earthy fennel oil and topped with black caviar, all over a generous portion of creamy pureed yukon potatoes. I will admit that the dish was also one of the best I have ever had. The fish was perfectly cooked and subtly spiced, allowing the natural flavors to come forward. The fennel offered a hint of licorice without overpowering the cod. The oil drizzle and potatoes added richness, rounding off a near perfect plate. Under normal circumstances, Mr. Green Bean’s gluten-free grenache-braised beef short rib with glazed root vegetables, rosemary and pearl onions would have wowed me. But my dish was so satiating, I didn’t even pick at his leftover unwanted veggies!

Pacific Cod Fricasse Special.

Pacific Cod Fricasse Special.

To top off a quality meal, I ordered a hazelnut fudge brownie from the pastry display case, and three forks. To gluten-consuming Mr. Green Bean and Princess of Pinot, the brownie was decent. To Glutie Foodie, now two-plus years off the sauce, the brownie was pretty darn delicious. The thick square was fudgey in the middle, with a flaky layer on top. Let’s just say my fork worked overtime.

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie.

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie.

We finished our visit with a trip through the wine shop, perusing the unusual stock at a range of reasonable prices. Princess of Pinot introduced us to a couple of new red grapes that we look forward to trying. They are chilling to the suggested 57 degrees as we speak.

The Curious Grape, 2900 S Quincy St, Arlington, VA