Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Isabella Rocks with Feta

Kapnos     Spoons_FOUR

My birthday rarely goes unnoticed, thanks to Mr. Green Bean’s love for throwing parties in my honor.  This year I somehow convinced my husband to let me fly under the radar. On the evening of my birthday, we found ourselves wandering around town in a Car2Go, hungry and hoping to feel inspired. We were in front of a very dark Red Hen (closed on Monday nights) when I realized it would be the perfect occasion to try Kapnos. Mike Isabella’s newest Greek-inspired mezze restaurant was pleasantly quiet, and we jumped at the opportunity to sit at the chef’s counter overlooking sauté pans, prep stations, and two pigs rotating slowly on spits. It just so happened to be the sous chef’s birthday as well. I felt a pang of guilt for celebrating while he worked and silently hoped he wouldn’t sabotage our food.

At first glance, the interior of Kapnos has that ever-popular, industrial-chic look. But a closer examination reveals embellishments such as arched niches, lamps, tchotchkes and floor patterns inspired by ancient Greek designs. The menu draws from Northern Greece, focusing on spreads, an abundance of vegetable mezze, and wood roasted and spit-roasted meats. Servers are well informed and trustworthy guides through a menu that is largely gluten-free. I assuredly let down my guard after making clear my limitations, knowing whatever we ordered would be properly modified to meet my needs. Our server proved herself when she retracted our order of Greek Fries after checking on the contamination in that day’s oil bath, saving me from morning after birthday woes.

We started with Mr. Green Bean’s favorite Greek dip, Tzatziki, and Kapnos’ take on hummus, Revithosalata, made with chickpeas, tahini, and a sultan chutney. Both spreads give new life to the basic Greek recipes. The tzatziki is topped with a bright pink pile of sweet watermelon that compliments the cool, cucumber yogurt perfectly and almost made me forget about the $7.00 price tag. While the house-made flatbread looks torturously delicious, Kapnos offers gluten-free patrons an accompaniment of lemon-sesame green tomatoes and kohlrabi, free of charge (unheard of in the gluten-free world). The crunchy vegetables are satisfying enough to be a dish all on their own.

Tzatziki and ??? with tomato and kohlrabi

Tzatziki and revithosalata with lemon-sesame tomatos and kohlrabi

Left to my own devices, I would have ordered every dish on the very intriguing, predominantly vegetarian, left side of the menu. But alas, there was my dining partner to consider. We stuck with the Farm House Vegetable Salad and Charred Brussels sprouts. From the right side of the menu, I ordered the signature wood-grilled, Charred Octopus with green harissa and eggplant, and Mr. Green Bean voted for the wood roasted, Marinated Spring Lamb with lemony potatoes instead of the ancient grain salad. The farm house, or should I say “full house” salad, arrived first, packed with zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives, capers, and large chunks of creamy feta cheese, tossed in a red wine vinaigrette. Mr. GB picked through the “foreign” objects to find all of the cucumbers and then pushed the bowl in my direction.

Field house salad

Farm house salad

A large, hooked octopus arm covered in popped amaranth quickly took my attention away from our salad. It was almost too beautiful to cut through; I got over that quickly. The meat is the tenderest octopus I have had, accented by toasty grains that crackle in the mouth and a smokey, spicy eggplant purée. The chefs behind the counter and I begged Mr. Green Bean to try a bite, thinking this dish would surely convert him. Mr. GB argued that fried calamari is the closest he would ever come to grilled octopus, which the birthday chef took as a challenge. Moments later we were presented with a small plate of lightly fried octopus. Mr. GB tried it reluctantly and was polite enough to swallow.

Charred octopus

Charred octopus

The charred brussels sprouts are prepared with black garlic, kalamata olives, capers, onion, red pepper, hearts of palm, mint, white anchovy, and a citrus vinaigrette. The dish bursts with salty and zesty flavors that match the brussels’ boldness.

Charred brussels sprouts

Charred brussels sprouts

The marinated lamb is…soft as a lamb, and rich in flavor. Camouflaged fat might catch you off guard (and if you’re like Mr. Green Bean, turn you off). But there is no denying this hearty dish is cooked patiently and with love.

marinated lamb

Marinated spring lamb

We opted out of ice cream and sorbet (the only gluten-free dessert option), and headed home for a surprise final course of gourmet chocolates from Bryan Voltaggio’s Range candy counter, one of the few delicacies Mr. Green Bean and I can agree on.

My impromptu birthday dinner pleased beyond my expectations. I look forward to trying Kapnos again for more unusual garden mezze, such as gigandes beans with onion seeds, bulbs, stems and flowers, and salsify with turnips, baby carrot, sweet potato and dates. More gluten-free friendly than Isabella’s American-Italian hot spot, Graffiato, Kapnos is worth the trip from north of U to Northern Greece.

Kapnos, 2201 14th Street NW, Wasington DC


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Spreading Love

Cava Mezze Grill     Spoons_FOUR

Cava is a permanent item on my grocery list. No, Mr. Green Bean and I are not popping the Spanish sparkling wine on a regular basis (we prefer Prosecco for cheap, bubbly thrills anyway). I’m talking about Cava Mezze’s variety of Greek-inspired dips and spreads, now sold at Whole Foods and other select grocers along the East Coast. This sounds like a paid endorsement. I promise it’s not. We just really love the stuff! It was one of Mr. Green Bean’s proudest moments the first time he returned home from a food shopping expedition with Cava’s traditional hummus in hand, like an accomplished hunter with a prized kill. Our friends can attest that dinner parties at our apartment always begin with a platter of Cava hummus and tzatziki, baby carrots and some variety of gluten-free crisps.

We were introduced to the spreads at Cava Mezze on Capitol Hill (now one of three Cava Mezze locations). It was one of our first dining experiences in DC. The hip, Greek tapas restaurant by trio Ike Grigoropoulos, Ted Xenohristos and chef Dimitri Moshovitis quickly became our go-to spot to bring out-of-town guests for reliable, quality food in a festive environment. But where the Cava Mezze enterprise really succeeds is with their take home products and casual fast-food spin off Cava Mezze Grill.

Cava opened its first grill concept on Bethesda Row in 2011. Mr. Green Bean and I frequently trekked from Cleveland Park until two locations opened in more convenient neighborhoods, Tenleytown and Columbia Heights. Doors have also opened in Virginia’s Tysons Corner (McLean) and the Mosaic District (Merrifield). Cava Mezze boils down their industrial-chic restaurant look for the grill’s more casual atmosphere with reclaimed wood surfaces and heavy metal detailing. The menu concept is familiar, thanks to Chipotle: start with a base and add dips and toppings of your choosing. The well curated selections from chef Dimitri’s oeuvre all play nicely together, making it impossible to mess up an order. A wall decal as you enter lists all of Cava’s ingredients with allergen information, breaking down which items are gluten-free, soy-free, vegetarian, vegan, etc. Gluties will happily note that most ingredients are gluten-free, save for obvious culprits such as pita, meatballs and falafel.

Salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

Power greens salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

Gluten-free diners can choose from a variety of greens for a salad bowl or a brown or white basmati rice bowl. The power greens mix, with shredded brussels sprouts, kale, and other crunchy leaves, starts the bowl off with a nutritious kick. Gluten-free protein options such as chicken, braised lamb and braised beef make for a substantial meal; but I am often just as satisfied forgoing animal meat. Those renown spreads and dips come next, with a choice of tzatziki, traditional hummus, red pepper hummus, jalepeño-infused “crazy feta”, eggplant/red pepper, and spicy harissa (which I cautiously order on the side). Lastly comes an assortment of chopped salads, pickled onions, olives, herbs and more. Dressings are available but the flavorful concoctions never really need more than a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Harissa

Spicy Harissa…on the side

Gluties should be aware that while Cava Grill has the best intentions of accommodating gluten-free patrons with a variety of meal options and readiness to change gloves for an allergy, cross-contamination is a problem. Knives are used to spread the dips onto pita bread and placed back into the same bins that are used to scoop dips for the bowls. Food containers are closely packed together, making it easy for occasional droppings here and there. In part, the nature of an open preparation space reveals much of what happens behind the scenes at many restaurants. And fast-food is never the safest venue for highly sensitive individuals. But Cava Grill is certainly making an effort. Any place where I can get a hearty salad, stat, with a glass of wine to wash it down, ranks high on my chart.

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

Cava Mezze Grill, 4832 Bethesda Avenue, Bethesda, MD (and various locations in DC and VA)


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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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Not So Wild Child

Wildwood Kitchen      Spoons_FOUR

Chef and restauranteur Robert Weidmaier is a family man. He named his first restaurant, the highly acclaimed Marcel’s, after his first-born and the ever-popular Brasserie Beck after his second son. His restaurant progeny is treated with the same diplomatic paternalism. Over the past 14 years, Weidmaier has indiscriminately set roots in Washington DC (the above mentioned restaurants), Alexandria, VA (Brabo and Brabo Tasting Room), and Bethesda, MD (Mussel Bar & Grill, with a rebellious second location in Atlantic City). Six rocking establishments all serve up expertly executed cuisine inspired by Weidmaier’s German/French upbringing.

The chef’s latest creation, Wildwood Kitchen, exposes Weidmaier’s quieter side.  The restaurant is a neighborhood gem, a casual go-to spot for well-to-do Bethesda dwellers, with a menu offering healthy Mediterranean inspired food, far lighter than Weidmaier’s typical fare. Dying to try the place, Mr. Green Bean and I dragged Ma and Pa Green Bean and Sister Seitan from all the fabulous dining options in DC, up the long stretch of Old Georgetown Road.

The space, modestly tucked into the Shops at Wildwood in North Bethesda, is surprisingly bright and airy for its small size. High ceilings cut down on noise, a much appreciated feature for this slightly older crowd (I’m being kind). A “woodsy” theme abounds with exposed beams, natural wood tables and a trim of wallpaper featuring a glowing forest of plush trees.  We were seated and soon greeted by our server sporting a custom-made plaid button-down uniform.

The menu is small, yet offers a wide variety of appetizers and entrées featuring fresh seasonal vegetables, seafood, and white and red meats. As we looked over our options, we were served a basket of crusty french bread with a side of fresh tuna salad in a bowl of olive oil, sprinkled with fresh peppers and spices. While my table mates reached for the gluten, I was the only one enjoying the far more noteworthy condiment (which I’m sure would have tasted even grander spread on that bread).

Tuna salad with olive oil and spices.

Tuna salad with olive oil and spices

I started in with my waiter to size up Wildwood’s gluten-free consciousness. The restaurant proved to be one of my favorite types: predominantly gluten-free or happy to adapt with staff that is sincerely concerned but not alarmed by the allergy. At restaurants like this, there is no need for a gluten-free menu or gluten-free indicators, as the chef will make sure to customize whatever you’re craving. I decided to start with the gazpacho, a predictable summer starter that I usually refuse to order in protest of its unoriginality. However, this one was unique with its yellow tomatoes pureed to a translucent broth, poured table-side over finely diced watermelon and one tiny shrimp packed with a salty ocean punch. The bowl was perfectly balanced between its acidic, salty and sweet components.

Yellow Gazpacho with watermelon, shrimp and sweetie drop peppers

Yellow gazpacho with watermelon, shrimp and sweetie drop peppers

For my main course, I opted for the night’s special: skin on fillet of trout, simply grilled with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lime. The fish was topped with roasted tomatoes, green Mexican chickpeas, olives, sesame seeds, and a light pesto vinaigrette. Trout itself is not the most spectacular of fishes. But it acts nicely as a neutral platform from which scrumptious sauces and toppings can be laid. The dish was light, fresh, and perfectly portioned with a variety of textures and flavors. I actually felt healthier after cleaning my plate.

Evening Special: Grilled tilapia with Mexican chickpeas, roasted tomatoes, olives, sesame seeds, and a pesto vinaigrette

Evening Special: Grilled trout with roasted tomatoes, Mexican chickpeas, olives, sesame seeds, and a pesto vinaigrette

To my dismay the other plates ordered at the table were off-limits for my wandering fork. But the Pan-Seared Salmon, Grilled Farmhouse Chicken, and Braised Short Ribs all received fine marks. Sister Seitan had the chef cook up a vegetarian option, making sure it included something starchy (flashback to BlackSalt where the chef concocted a $28 plate of vegetables). She was pleased with her mystery dish, featuring her most favorite food group, pasta, and cashing in at an appropriate $18. With the menu as versatile and health conscious as it is, I’m baffled that Wildwood does not have a vegetarian item listed with its entrées. It’s amazingly true that being vegetarian is often more limiting than being gluten-free.

The dessert menu is a bit disappointing for us gluties with only sorbet and ice cream as options. We decided to pass, or so we thought. As we were celebrating the occasions of Mr. Green Bean’s birthday and our wedding anniversary, the obligatory sweet treat was served, accompanied by our family’s first-rate singing. How can I resist a bright yellow scoop of mango sorbet sprinkled with….I stopped as soon as I noticed suspicious chocolate balls adorning the bowl. The dish was whisked away (though it was a shame to waste and should have been left for others to enjoy), and a gluten-free, ball-less bowl was soon presented. Though not the most original dessert, it was some of the best mango sorbet I have tasted—sweet, tangy and creamy beyond what I thought a mango was capable of.

Mango sorbet with fresh mint

Mango sorbet with fresh mint

Overall, our experience was relaxing and delicious. I have some scruples about slightly overpriced appetizers, such as the night’s special tomato salad, featuring a meager amount of heirlooms and not much else, priced at $12, and the absence of a veggie main dish on the menu. However, of all the Weidmaier enterprises I’ve tried, Wildwood is my favorite child.

Wildwood Kitchen, 10223 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, MD


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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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Hummus Holiday

A Gluten-free Exploration of Israel

I begin with an apology for my silence over the past few weeks. I have a good excuse: Mr. Green Bean and I have just returned from a trip to Israel and are processing our 10 days filled with the sights, smells and tastes of this magical Middle Eastern nation. You can be sure I ate my way through our journey in order to report back to you on the status of Israel’s gluten-free awareness. I was aided tremendously by my hard-working Israeli correspondent who spent days preparing for my visit, as much for my comfort and health as to be awarded a spot on this blog. Aunt Fudgie deserves major recognition for the information I am about to divulge. I consider Aunt Fudgie now a top resource for gluten-free dining in Israel, and I personally volunteer her consulting services and delicious home-cooked meals to any glutie traveling through Tel Aviv. (you can thank me later, Aunt Fudgie.)

In planning this trip, I was comforted by the fact that Israeli cuisine is fairly gluten-free friendly. The country’s Middle Eastern fare, influenced by numerous cultural migrations over centuries, tends to be free of unnecessary wheat. Rye is hardly ever used and barley, cracked wheat and couscous show up only in obvious places. In all my restaurant experiences, whether a top-rated foodie destination or a casual Druze village restaurant, I found gluten-free (or “l’lo gluten” in Hebrew) to be a familiar phrase. Servers were often prepared to guide me through menus and answer my questions confidently. (I pause to make the first of a few generalization about Israelis, all meant to be non-offensive observations. Sabras have a tendency to talk with confidence, even when they are not completely sure. Gluten-free travelers should be persistent and emphasize the severity of their “allergy”.)

Fresh off the plane and hazy with jetlag, Aunt Fudgie took us for our first dinner to Gehalim, a typical Middle Eastern, family style restaurant. Dozens of salads and dips accompanied by warm fluffy pitas were sprawled across the table as the server took our order for meat skewers to round off the meal. Israelis love to break and swipe pieces of pita through plates of hummus (chickpea spread), baba ganoush (pureed eggplant), and labneh (soft strained cheese), leaving traces of flour on table tops and in shared spreads. Gluten-free diners can advocate for serving spoons. But as habits are tough to break (and Israelis are a stubborn bunch—generalization #2), I reached for the spreads first and served myself a sampling before the rest started dipping.

First Course at Gahalim, Tel Aviv

Salad Course, Gehalim Restaurant, Tel Aviv

Our introduction to Israeli dining revealed some trends we would encounter throughout our trip. Salads and spreads are usually prepared without added gluten. However, be cautious of  fried vegetable purees cooked in contaminated oils and the very rare addition of wheat to spreads like hummus. Grilled meats, such as chicken hearts, chicken livers, chicken thighs, and lamb, are most often simply grilled with olive oil and pure spices.

Gluten-free breads are occasionally available at restaurants, and can be found in many grocery store freezers. Aunt Fudgie was well stocked with g-free pita, challah, and bagels. Pita pockets by GreenLite—an Israeli gluten-free bakery with fresh and frozen products available in major cities throughout the country—were particularly satisfying, tasting quite like their glutenous counterpart. I always kept a piece close at hand as some restaurants, like Gehalim, are agreeable to bringing your own bread.

GreenLite Gluten-free Pita Bread and Other Products

GreenLite Gluten-free Pita Bread and Other Products

Tasting the diverse flavors of Israel in the crowded and colorful shuks (markets) is an experience that should not be missed. However, gluties beware: Vendors often add flour to their nuts in the roasting process, arguably to increase the weight of their goods and make some extra shekels. Make sure to ask first, or be safe and purchase packaged domestic nuts from the grocery store.
Machane Yehuda Shuk

Machane Yehuda Shuk

Falafel, those scrumptious deep-fried chickpea balls available at every street corner, whether it be in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv or ancient and mystical Tsfat, is the bane of a gluties Israeli food journey. Pitas stuffed with falafel, Israeli salad, spicy skhug, hummus, tahini, and chips (french fries) are the go-to quick meal or snack. Falafel’s sensuous aroma wafts from the tiny stands that each claim to serve “the best in Israel”. Unfortunately most of their falafel recipes include pesky wheat. But ask around and you will find that there are a token few that make their mixtures purely from chickpeas. One such gluten-free (and organic) falafel establishment is Hippo Falafel, with two locations in Tel Aviv. Named for the vegetarian animal, Hippo offers a slightly more nutritious version of this indulgent treat, with a healthier frying method and no added wheat fillers in their falafel, spreads or salads. The restaurant tried their hand at gluten-free pitas as well, but failed to develop a pocket that could bear the weight of its fillings. I enjoyed every bite of the hot crispy fritters on a plate surrounded by fresh salads. Picky Mr. Green Bean and his discerning Israeli cousin both gave the thumbs up (a challenge while holding onto a bursting pita pocket).

Falafel Plate, Hippo Falafel, Tel Aviv

Falafel Plate, Hippo Falafel, Tel Aviv

When a gluten-free falafel stand isn’t close nearby, an Aroma Cafe probably is. This popular Israeli coffee shop is accustomed to handling gluten-free diners. They offer a number of hearty salad options and a safely packaged gluten-free roll that is airy in consistency and mild in flavor. Portions are huge, as is the case in most restaurants (Like your typical Jewish mother, Israelis never want guests to walk away hungry—generalization #3). But the profusion of bright, fresh vegetables served with every meal leaves one feeling healthfully stuffed.

Salad with Tofu and Gluten-free Roll, Aroma Cafe, Jerusalem

Salad with Tofu and Gluten-free Roll, Aroma Cafe, Jerusalem

For some finer dining, a couple of restaurants are worth noting both for their superior food and service. In Jerusalem we were generously hosted by our good DC pal, Lox, who spends a few months each year working out of her Jerusalem office. She had been waiting for an occasion to try out Machneyuda, a modern Mediterranean, upscale establishment with a lively and homey vibe. The menu changes daily and all ingredients are sourced from the local Machane Yehuda market, for which the restaurant is named. Dishes like fish tartar with watermelon soup, creamy polenta with mushrooms and parmesan, and risotto ragu cooked with soft sour cheese delighted our senses. The surprisingly patient staff  (Israelis tend to be short fused—generalization #4) took their time to parse nearly every dish in search of hidden gluten ingredients.

Machneyuda Restaurant, Jerusalem

Machneyuda Restaurant, Jerusalem

At northern Rosh Pina’s Mizpe Hayamim Hotel and Spa, Muscat offers an elegant dining experience with a breathtaking view of the mountainous Golan Heights. Highly regarded chef Haim Tibi gathers fresh produce from the hotel’s farm to cook up French influenced Mediterranean cuisine. Aunt Fudgie mentioned my “allergy” when making the reservation and our server was prepared with two freshly baked gluten-free rolls, served with a dish of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a poached tomato slice that melted at the touch. My snapper fish was served over creamed cauliflower, with a bouquet of beautifully arranged vegetables. Our halva and pistachio semifredo dessert was the best sweet treat of the trip, with a chocolate crunch and creamy, subtle sesame flavor that wowed both me, a halva fan, and Mr. Green Bean, not such a halva fan.

Housemade Gluten-free Rolls, Muscat Restaurant, Rosh Pina

Housemade Gluten-free Rolls, Muscat Restaurant, Rosh Pina

I end by thanking Aunt Fudgie, the Fudgie family, Lox, and my patient partner, Mr. Green Bean, for their attention to my dietary needs throughout our travels. While our dining experiences were fantastic, it deserves to be said that Aunt Fudgie’s home cooked meals were some of my favorites. She outdid herself with quinoa and cabbage salads, eggplant and squash purees, stuffed chicken, roast beef, turkey legs, chopped liver and more, combining Israeli, American and Persian flavors into festive meals. My gratitude goes to Aunt Fudgie for transforming her home into a gluten-free friendly zone. Even if you don’t have your own Aunt Fudgie, I am happy to report that Israel is with, if not ahead, of the times when it comes to gluten-free awareness.

Picking Mishmish (apricots) in the Golan Heights

Picking Mishmish (apricots) in the Golan Heights


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Pita that Pleases

Roti Mediterranean Grill     Spoons_TWO_76x25

Roti is an unleavened flatbread integral to South Asian cuisines such as Indian and Pakistani. It is also the name of a health conscious fast-food chain in Washington DC and Illinois, and quickly expanding to Virginia, Maryland and New York. I knew I needed to try it when I found out they offer gluten-free bread! I pictured walking into a shop filled with the aromas of curry and basmati rice. You can imagine my confusion when I approached the Roti location in Union Station and read the restaurant’s full name above the entrance: Roti Mediterranean Grill.

Roti executives, Larry Lessans and Mats Lederhausen, market themselves as champions of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. The Roti website references bonafide resources to describe the ancient diet and its many health benefits. The eating style, based  on olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry, is maintainable and heart-healthy (I especially appreciate the endorsement of a daily glass of wine). However Roti’s good intentions are victims of the insatiable American appetite, capable of turning any healthy meal into a gluttonous eating escapade. Roti’s portions are large and disproportionately heavy on proteins rather than vegetables. The topping bar offers ample opportunities to pack on extra empty calories or unnecessary fat. Diners can choose a sauce, a dressing, and various salads already prepared with their own oils. What results can easily fall far from what nutritionists have in mind when they preach the Mediterranean diet.

Roti's Topping Bar

Roti’s Topping Bar

Having said all of that, Roti’s food actually tastes decent. Meals can be assembled as a salad, over rice, or in a sandwich with pita or laffa breads. My choice is the bed of greens with a side of gluten-free pita that is warmed up securely in uncontaminated tinfoil on a sandwich press. The bread is satisfying with a soft, stretchy consistency that endures even hours after cooling (a rarity, as we gluties know). The mild pita flavor acts as a pleasant compliment to the salty spices in Roti’s dishes. With 155 calories, little fat, low sodium, no sugar and minimal protein, this carbohydrate treat is neither beneficial nor all that harmful (there’s the American in me talking).

Roti's Gluten-Free Pita Bread

Roti’s Gluten-Free Pita Bread

I will be honest, I am only a repeat customer to Roti for the g-free pita. However, its worth mentioning that most of the other items in their repertoire are also gluten-free. The personnel seem to be informed and prepared for gluten-free patrons and help guide the ordering process. While I can’t vouch for the rotisserie spit from which servers scrape shreds of g-free white meat, the Chicken Roti is very flavorful and fairly fresh, being constantly rotated on the grill. The Roasted Vegetables, a blend of carrots, broccoli, onions and peppers, are a bit over-oiled but are vibrant and crunchy. The Spanish Eggplant topping gets lost in an ambiguous sauce that renders this side a bit slimy. But the tomato and cucumber Israeli-style salad is light and simple.

Salad Plate with Roasted Vegetables, Spanish Eggplant, Tomato and Cucumber Salad and Olives.

Salad Plate with Roasted Vegetables, Spanish Eggplant, Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Olives and Hummus.

Overall the establishment is making an effort to provide health conscious food. The restaurant’s interior design and ambiance is closer to a McDonalds than the more upscale local fast-food vendor, Cava Grill (stay tuned for my future review). And though the chicken and steak are cooked on sight, the small staff and compact kitchen space indicates that not much else is. With the fast-food industry making such strides in quality these days, Roti may need to make some changes inorder to keep up.

Roti Mediterranean Grill, Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington DC (plus various locations throughout DC, MD and VA)