Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


Leave a comment

Casa Corn Pasta

Casa Luca     Spoons_THREE_76x25

For quite some time now, DC area residents have rejoiced over a burgeoning restaurant industry. Not so welcome, however, are the slowly rising menu prices. Fabio Trabocchi is an anomaly among his peers. The chef and restauranteur opened Casa Luca this past summer as an “accessible” alternative to his more upscale trattoria, Fiola. The menu at his new osteria represents the simpler delicacies of Italian cuisine at more reasonable (though still not cheap) prices. Trabocchi chose decor elements from his hometown in Le Marche, a region in central Italy along the Adriatic coast, to create a warmer environment than the space’s former tenant, British gastropub Againn. He curated a menu that encourages sharing in the tradition of Le Marche, with piccoletti (small plates), antipasti, salumi, formaggi, pastas offered in half and full portions and family-style entrees. Mr. Green Bean and I arrived at Casa Luca primed to share an indulgent evening with our friends Mr. and soon-to-be Mrs. Potato Salad (I’m told to pronounce their name with a Fonzie-esk, Italian-American accent).

Wine was the first item on the agenda, this was a Friday night after all. Casa Luca’s wine menu makes it easy to keep the vino flowing. A selection of quality Italian varieties are offered at $28/bottles or $12/glass (who’s not going to order the bottle?). We began with a Sangiovese as we perused the menu. I was well aware before arriving that Casa Luca offers gluten-free pasta. One would assume, therefore, that the staff would be proficient in attending to gluten-free diners. Yet, I found myself faced with a blank stare as I probed our server for some guidance with the menu’s gluten-free offerings and suggested pasta preparations. The kitchen stocks both rice and corn based pastas (not house-made like their wheat counterparts). When I asked our server why they offer both and which one he recommends, he hesitated, then shared, “the corn is chewier and more popular.”

Our server agreeably made repeat trips to the kitchen to discover what else I could eat. The meatball appetizer contains breadcrumbs (disappointing but not surprising); the salsa romesco in the lobster crudo antipasti contains breadcrumbs (somewhat surprising); and as we discovered later on, the affogato on the dessert menu also contains breadcrumbs (um, surprising!). With the server’s help and some compromise on my part, I muscled together a safe and mouth-watering order, sharing the misticanza of winter citrus salad and salumi with the table, a modified lobster crudo and roasted cauliflower side with soon-to-be Mrs. Potato Salad (she’ll lose the pesky prefix in April), and a half portion of the oxtail ragù with corn pasta to be shared with no one.

Chef's pick of 3 Salumi

Chef’s pick of 3 salumi

First to arrive was a wooden plank filled with a generous serving of sliced meats and a small cup of olives. Mr. Green Bean and Mr. Potato Salad quickly notice the absence of accompanying bread and were pointed to the breads listed on the menu for an additional charge. The men ordered grilled Italian toast, lest they should have to eat their meats without a crusty base. The table guzzled the meatballs while I shared my winter salad, packed with leafy greens, radishes, grapefruit, Mandarin orange, green apple, red grapes, pomegranate seeds, and pistachios. The dressing was light and the salad refreshing, though a bit schizophrenic.

Mizcanzia Winter

Misticanza of winter citrus, with all the fixings

Our lobster crudo with pickled vegetables and toasted hazelnuts was prepared with a barely noticeable pesto sauce instead of the glutenous salsa romesco. The lobster was plentiful and fresh, though slightly overpowered by the vegetables spiced with cloves like a man doused in too much cologne. The roasted cauliflower side with pine nuts and parsley was cooked perfectly, florets peeling apart with the encouragement of the fork. They sat on a creamy puree, adding a textural juxtaposition. I did miss the sweet punch of golden raisins that the menu promised but our dish seemed to lack.

Lobster crudo

Lobster crudo

My bowl of corn pasta with oxtail ragù was filled with large pieces of tender, slow-cooked meat, and a deep red tomato sauce, sans pine nuts and golden raisins the menu described (raisin shortage perhaps?). A little fatty for my taste, the ragù had a deliciously rich flavor, disguising any characteristic qualities (for better or worse) of the almost too al dente corn pasta. I give the kitchen credit for not crossing over into mushy pasta territory, all too easy with gluten-free varieties. I’d rather crunchy to gooey any day.

Gluten-free corn pasta with oxtail ragu

Gluten-free corn pasta with oxtail ragu

We were all sufficiently stuffed, and I had more red meat in me than I’d had in weeks. But that didn’t stop us from another bottle of red and a look at the dessert menu. We confirmed that the panna cotta was gluten-free and placed our order with a few extra scoops of sorbet to go around the table. The cup of thick, creamy, lightly sweetened custard was topped with a tart cherry/strawberry sorbet. Each spoonful tasted sinfully amazing. Our accompanying deep, dark chocolate sorbet lent itself perfectly to double dipping for a combination of flavors that excited every taste bud.

Panna cota with cherry/strawberry sorbet

Panna cotta with cherry/strawberry sorbet

Casa Luca succeeded in bringing friends together for jubilant time over delicious food and drink in a comfortable, relaxed, yet sophisticated environment. Though a few missteps with food preparations and some gluten free education in order, Casa Luca is a wonderful addition to the transforming landscape of Penn Quarter and a noteworthy restaurant among the droves.

Casa Luca, 1099 New York Ave NW, Washington DC


4 Comments

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


2 Comments

Time to BisTANGO

Bistango     Spoons_FOUR

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.

Toasted gluten-free bread with olive oil and garlic

Toasted gluten-free bread with olive oil and garlic

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.

Left to right: Gluten-free Eggplant Ravioli with Marinara; Broccoli Rabe

Left: Gluten-free Eggplant Ravioli with Marinara; Right: Broccoli Rabe

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


1 Comment

Jersey-D-licious

Graffiato      

A pleasant dining experience usually begins with the server’s warm welcome. An entertaining dining experience begins with an opening line like, “I don’t usually dress like this.” It was October 31, and the staff at Graffiato was clothed in leopard print minis and bejeweled t-shirts to play the cast of MTV’s hit series, Jersey Shore. While my good friend, Miss Zin, and I were looking to catch up over delicious food and wine, Snooki made sure we did not forget Halloween.

Graffiato is Mike Isabella’s Italian-inspired restaurant in the Chinatown neighborhood, serving small plates and artisanal pizzas. With roots in New Jersey, Isabella first made his mark in DC as executive chef at José Andrés’ Zaytinya. He became nationally known after kicking major culinary butt on the Bravo TV series, Top Chef. Isabella opened Graffiato in June 2011, followed by the modern Mexican Bandolero this past spring, and in the new year will launch two new Greek and Italian concepts in the 14th Street Corridor. I had stayed away from Graffiato after hearing all about their amazing glutenous pizza. But following a closer inspection of the menu and the encouragement of Miss Zin, I decided it was worth a try.

Miss Zin and I entered into a grungy, chic, atmosphere with exposed brick walls and chrome surfaces. A long bar lines the length of the downstairs, with a few unfinished wooden booths in the back. We were escorted upstairs to a larger dining room, too cold and oddly too bright. But the staff took a hint when we left our jackets on, and we soon warmed up. Snooki oriented us to the restaurant’s small-plate style, unique cocktails, and extensive domestic wine list. After disclosing my gluten allergy, she promptly summarized the gluten-free dishes, which she swears are also some of the best dishes on the menu. My heart sank after learning that my favorite trendy small plate, the brussel sprouts, are fried in the same oil as breaded items. But the large number of tempting options lifted my spirits. The pastas can easily be made with gluten-free noodles and the risotto is fair game as it comes. Graffiato does not attempt a gluten-free pizza option, disappointing yet somewhat admirable. With so many tasty dishes to choose from, why muddy the waters with a sub-par substitute. However, I do believe Isabella is capable of a g-free crust that would knock the pepperoni off the DC pizza industry. It’s an opportunity for the taking.

After sampling and settling on a couple of glasses of red, the food starting rolling in. Oversized stems of broccoli rabe were decorated with golden raisins, parmesan shavings and pinenuts, offering a fresh and crunchy start. The soft and creamy Burrata is a must-try, garnished with sweet asian pear slices, crunchy walnuts, and salty pickled cauliflower. The Seared Scallops with fig, chard and radish, were perfectly golden on top and silky through the middle. More meaty is the Crispy Lamb, generously portioned and complimented with a cool greek yogurt. The colorful octopus dish is a chef favorite, almost too beautiful to eat. Large, lightly charred octopus arms are sprinkled with green olives and sit on an unusual potato and black garlic puree.

Left to right: Seared Scallops, Crispy Lamb and Charred Octopus.

Each dish, whether delivered by JWoww, The Situation, or Pauly D, arrived with verbal assurance of being gluten-free, a much appreciated gesture for those of us who have been victims of short-term memory loss among restaurant staff. After a whirlwind of plates and two more glasses of vino, Miss Zin and I found ourselves stuffed, just as Isabella’s Italian-American grandmother intended. Perhaps a table filled with pasta and pizza would have been more Jerseylicious, but our meal was definitely fist-pump worthy.

Graffiato, 707 6th Street NW, Washington DC