Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Too B or not Too B

B Too      Spoons_THREE_76x25

There is a distinct difference between the smokey scents of a July Fourth BBQ and an indoor kitchen’s charcoal oven. The later aroma conjures the vibe of an old, cozy tavern on a cold winter’s night. Yet, B Too was bustling on a recent sticky summer evening, and the state of the art Josper oven, the only of its kind used in DC, was firing away. Mr. Green Bean and I met our favorite Sicilian-Italian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sfingi, at this new edition to 14th Street for a much needed grown-up evening (albeit complete with smart phone documentation of their adorable 14 month old daughter).

B Too is the second location for Belga Café creator and chef Bart Vandaele. The award winning chef prides himself for bringing traditional, high quality, Belgian cuisine and brews to Washington DC. B Too certainly looks the part. Surfaces covered in dark wood, chestnut leather, exposed brick and animal hide create a rustic, huntsman vibe. The decor stimulates a craving for beer, and luckily there are three gluten-free options amidst the pages of IPA’s, pilsners and ales. Cocktails and an extensive wine list also fill the pages of the beverage binder, which we nearly finished perusing after a few visits from our server.

The food menu requires time to contemplate as well. Each of the cold starters, hot starters, soups, sides, mussels, entrees, and casseroles is described with a list of ingredients that intrigue and confuse, leaving the diner to wonder how the dish is actually prepared. I commend our server’s patience as my usual line of questioning was made more extensive due to general befuddlement and curiosity. What was very clear was that we would be starting with the evening’s special appetizer, prosciutto with goat cheese stuffed grilled figs, frisée salad, and balsamic reduction. The sweet, creamy figs melted in the mouth, the winning feature of this dish that could have used more prosciutto and less greenery (it’s not often I say that).

Prosciutto and grilled fig special

Prosciutto and grilled fig special

We also started with a pot of the mussels marinière, one of the few mussel preparations that does not use beer. The white wine based broth was bursting with flavor and contained large slices of shallots, garlic and parsley to slurp down with the mussel meat. The aromas wafting from the pot were tempting enough to get Mr. Green Bean to try his very first mussel. “Not bad,” he shrugged, a far better response than I feared. Baby steps, baby steps.

Mussels mariniere

Mussels Marinière

Already full, I braced for my main course, concocted, as is often my habit, from a starter and a side. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the server confused which of the two shrimp dishes I ordered and I ended up with both. I had meant to order the Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen, baby shrimp prepared two ways, after the server gave the thumbs up on the accompanying krupuk (prawn crackers). The dish arrived without the krupuk, apparently not really gluten-free, leaving three hefty heaps of tiny grey shrimps separated by grape tomatoes and frisee salad. One stack of shrimp was mixed with a creamy aioli, resembling shrimp salad you might find at that July Fourth BBQ. The other two heaps seemed like the same recipe, minus the dressing, leaving me to wonder if something was missing. The abundance of shrimp became monotonous after the first few bites, and the accompanying salad offered little versatility.

Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen,tiny grey shrimp with tomato confit and basil

Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen, tiny grey shrimp with tomato confit and basil

What I should have ordered from the beginning was the Gamba “M’as Tu Vue” dish that they let me feast on while my correct order was being made. Huge pieces of shrimp (two shrimps totaling 0.25 lbs) were perfectly cooked and served chilled with chopped and separated egg white and yolk, and a small lettuce and tomato salad drizzled with a creamy dressing. Dollops of what I can best describe as American French Dressing decorated the plate. The menu lists a Belgian whiskey sauce that I couldn’t decipher in the dish iteself (perhaps an imperceptible ingredient or omitted in the kitchen due to my allergy). But caution if you avoid grain-based alcohols.

Big Shrimp

Gamba “M’as Tu Vue”, Giant shrimp “Belle-Vue”, Belgian whiskey sauce, lettuce, tomato and farm egg

To accompany my plethora of shrimp, I ordered a side of the Josper cooked root vegetables with black garlic dressing. Brussels sprouts, carrots, and other more unusual root vegetables were heavily oiled and packed with delicious salty, smokey, garlicky flavor.

Josper cooked root vegetables

Josper cooked root vegetables

Mrs. Sfingi ordered the Josper roasted lobster, which unfortunately is baked with breadcrumbs. Mr. Sfingi and Mr. Green Bean of course ordered the Belgian steak, served with a side salad and cone of frites. After some mixed responses, I finally confirmed that the frites are fried in shared glutenous oil. I did, however, taste the thick, generous portion of gluten-free steak, cooked perfectly, slightly smokey and well seasoned. I could tell it won Mr. Green Bean’s favor.

Le Vrai Steak Belge Met Frietjes, Belgian steak and salad

Le Vrai Steak Belge Met Frietjes, Belgian steak and salad

We skipped on dessert, ice cream being the only option for gluten-free diners, and opted for a short walk to nearby gelato. Overall, B Too is still finding its gluten-free legs, but the staff is helpful in navigating past the many tempting and off-limit options. Well portioned dishes are heavy and rich, with a price tag to match. While the freshly baked bread served out of a paper bag was easy enough to ignore, B Too brunch featuring sweet, buttery Belgian waffles would be a real test of willpower for us Glutie Foodies. I will be back for dinner I’m sure. But it may not be until winter approaches and a heavy meal is needed to warm the bones.

B Too, 1324 14th Street NW, 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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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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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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Unsure at Shirley’s

Miss Shirley’s     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Last Saturday night Mr. Green Bean, Sister Seitan and I packed the car and headed to Baltimore for some holiday celebrations with my in-laws, Ma and Pa Green Bean. The night was festive with the Green Bean family friends’ annual party and epic gift swap, followed by a trip to Hampden’s 34th Street Christmas lights. So as not to break with tradition, the weekend continued with Sunday morning brunch at a Baltimore favorite, Miss Shirley’s.

The restaurant is named in loving memory for Miss Shirley McDowell, a Baltimore chef and culinary educator for more than 30 years. The restaurant’s original Roland Park location has a modern, upscale-diner atmosphere, embellished during the holidays with beautiful wreaths, pine garlands, and metallic ornaments. The menu indulges preferences of all sorts, from the nutritious yogurt filled Banana Split, to the greasy Chicken ‘N Waffles. Upon arrival, we were shocked to find a wait of merely 10 minutes, highly unusual for this southern comfort food brunch and lunch staple that designates a large room lined with chairs just for waiting. I guess we had holiday travelers and last minute shoppers to thank.

Pre-g-free I would have treated myself to the famous sweet potato fries. While our waiter was unsure of a potential flour coating, the golden crispy sticks are off-limit for being fried in shared oil. The restaurant’s southern flare also means buttery biscuits adorn every plate. I requested mine on a separate plate, as I know the Green Bean men would hate for it to go to waste. Miss Shirley’s is certainly one place where my healthy conscience thanks my celiac for protecting me against tough menu temptations like Coconut Cream-Stuffed French Toast and The Mac Crabby. Miss Shirley’s offers a few gluten-free options such as the Veggie Egg Tower, with tomato, bermuda onion, avocado, basil, poached eggs, and fresh mozzarella (careful of the hollandaise), and the Garden Omelet, with egg whites, broccoli, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, peppadews & fresh mozzarella. I opted to create my own three egg omelet and was quite satisfied with my selection of smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms to stuff it up. A side of fresh fruit was substituted for the choice of hash browns or grits. While there are plenty of glutenous carbs to avoid on the menu, Miss Shirley’s does make a gluten-free pancake that I have yet to try. If their regular version is any indication, I’m sure it’s delicious.

Create Your Own Omelet with smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms.

Three Egg Omelet with smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms; side of fruit.

With three locations throughout Baltimore and a solid reputation, Miss Shirley’s could easily step up it’s already budding accommodations for dietary restrictions. The menu marks chef favorites and heart healthy options with small symbols next to the item descriptions. How about vegetarian, nut-free, and gluten-free markings as well. What if they even tried substituting a gluten-free biscuit upon request. I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult considering every kind of bread I’ve tried to make ends up tasting like some version of a dense, dry biscuit. The ingredients are all there, but a few steps and greater awareness among staff would bring this establishment to the forefront of conscientious dining. Dare I say 2013 New Year’s resolution?

Miss Shirley’s, Roland Park, 513 West Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore, MD