Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Bienvenue à Washington

Le Diplomate     Spoons_FOUR

I walk past the northeast corner of 14th and Q streets five days a week. Of all the construction projects in Logan Circle, this corner has been particularly fascinating. Over many months, a long-abandoned laundromat building was slowly gutted and reborn into the dazzling French bistro that now stands pompously as the new emperor of 14th. Starr Restaurants’ Le Diplomate has been bursting with activity from the second it openend. Mr. Green Bean and I wanted to see for ourselves what the buzz was about and were happy to find an open reservation on a recent Friday night.

Entrance to Le Diplomate

Entrance to Le Diplomate

If you can elbow your way through the crowd at the entrance of Le Diplomate, you will find yourself transported to something between an elegant Parisian brasserie and a casual French cafe. A central bar is flanked by expansive, split level dining spaces packed with simple cafe chairs and tables lined with white paper. A handfull of burgundy leather booths accent the dark woodwork and salt-and-pepper tiled floor. Murky mirrors reflect the globe lighting fixtures hanging from high ceilings. A green tiled garden room off to the side transitions into a spacious outdoor patio filled with bright yellow folding chairs. Too hungry to wait for an outdoor seat, we opted for a cozy two-top by the window. Yet the interior space is so alluring, even the finest of days may not draw me outside. We settled in and perused the menu.

I began composing  questions for our server, planning to challenge the new restaurant’s gluten-free preparedness and bracing myself for an arduous process. To my amazement, our server didn’t blink an eye as I waited for his reaction to my “I’m a special diner” introduction. “Have you had many gluten-free customers yet?” I prodded further. “Of Course! No problem.” was his response (in a French accent) as he took me through the menu. I was stunned that flour is not a key thickening agent in items such as Friday’s special, Bouillabaisse, and that the Frites are fried separately from glutenous ingredients.

Tempting hors d’oeuvres, such as the Steak Tartare and Tuna Carpaccio, are free of gluten. All four starter salads are either gluten-free or easily adaptable. Entrees offer a number of options in steak, chicken, veal, lamb, skate, scallops, etc. I was repeatedly distracted by the towering platters of raw seafood whizzing by, as our server continued to list dishes I could eat. Mr. Green Bean’s meal decision was easy. When in Rome (or Paris, rather)…it would be the Steak Frites for him. I followed his lead and ordered another French staple, the Moules Frites. G-free frites are impossible to pass up.

To start, Mr. Green Bean and I shared the Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette. Large, crisp bibb lettuce leaves were sprinkled with Mr. Green Bean’s favorite veggie and thin slices of magenta radishes. The dish was light and fresh, a welcome beginning to the richness that lay ahead.

Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette

Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette

Mr. GB’s Steak Frites arrived as requested, without the wad of maître d’ butter on top. The thick, generous, cut of hanger steak is smothered in butter before pan roasting and needed not a bit more. He sliced me a piece to taste (the dish is g-free). The beef was cooked to a perfect medium (although Mr. GB thought slightly too pink), with a crisp exterior sealing in all the juices and flavor. I later went back for second and third bites.

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

The moules are prepared marinière style, which I learned at Le Diplomate means white wine, fresh herbs, and plenty of butter. The sauce was aromatic and well balanced with the subtle flavor of the mussels. While not a huge serving, the dozen or so mussels were each plump, flavorful, and situated loosely in open shells. There was not a bad egg in the bunch. I paired my meal with a glass of the house’s unusually yellow-toned rosé, light and refreshing.

Moules marinière style

Moules marinière style

The frites were everything I hoped they would be: double fried for an extra crispy shell, and just thick enough to maintain a soft potato interior. I alternated dips between the creamy mussel broth and the accompanying mayonnaise sauce (I can only stomach mayo when it is house-made French style and not squeezed from a plastic bottle). The serving was huge, surely I would not eat them all. Somehow, 30 minutes later, I reached back in the cup and found only crumbs.

Frites!

Frites!

Both of our meals left Mr. Green Bean and I little room for something sweet. However, it should be noted that astonishingly more than half of Le Diplomate’s desserts are gluten-free, or can be with slight modifications. That isn’t even counting cheeses and dessert wines. From what I hear the desserts are belt-loosening worth it and I will definitely be back to try the Milk Chocolate Pot de Crème and Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée.

Le Diplomate has done everything right. Executive chef Adam Schop’s solid food is almost besides the point when considering how seamlessly this zoo is managed. I was impressed with the service from the on-her-toes hostess, to our confident and knowledgeable server, to the sommelier hand delivering my  wine, to the general manager’s visit to check on our experience. The authentic French ambience allows diners an opportunity to escape, relax and enjoy good food and drink in Parisian fashion. Bienvenue à Washington, Le Diplomate.

Le Diplomate, 1601 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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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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Charmed, I’m Sure

Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Anyone who knows Mr. Green Bean pictures him in his Boston Red Sox baseball hat. Actually, he has many hats. One for when he plays tennis, one for long car rides, and one for going out on the town. But each one is a navy cap with that iconic, red, embroidered “B”. What’s confusing is that Mr. GB is not from Boston. It is the city where we met (aw) and spent the first few years of our “adult” lives. It is the town near which Ma and Pa Green Bean grew up, obliviously crossing paths with Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie, funny enough. While Mr. GB grew up in the Midwest, and has now lived more years in Washington DC than he did in Boston, it is the scarlet “B” that he proudly wears morning to night. Mr. GB’s hat is evidence of Boston’s contagious and lasting charm.

Mr. Green Bean and his hat saw me off as I boarded a train the weekend of the Boston Marathon bombing. I was headed to Boston to spend time with my hometown loved ones and hopefully help them move past the week’s horrid events. Dr. Glutie Foodie’s prescription for the weekend was good food and company. I arrived at Boston Correspondent, a.k.a. Souper Girl‘s, apartment bearing g-free brownies and a bottle of prosecco. The next morning, Souper Girl was prepared with a reservation for a festive brunch at her new favorite haunt, Barcelona, in Brookline, MA.

The Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant group was founded in 1995 by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer who aimed to bring authentic Spanish and Portugese flavors to the States. With locations in Brookline, MA, Atlanta, GA, and throughout Connecticut, the group is quickly expanding and has a fall 2013 opening planned for the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington DC. The Brookline location is large, with dark wood covering every surface from floors and walls to tables and chairs. Light pours in through large windows that line the front of the space, looking out onto a patio and outdoor bar area to accommodate those few beautiful months of warm Boston air.

We found the service abundantly friendly as the manager showed us to our table and our server warmly greeted us. Souper Girl could hardly contain herself as she described the tapas she has enjoyed at numerous visits since the restaurant’s recent opening.  Her excitement grew as she salivated over the brunch items she had yet to try. Our server was patient and informative as we asked our share of g-free questions and deliberated our order back and forth. We agreed to start with the Potato Tortilla with chive sour cream. The dish was a delicious version of the Spanish classic, with large pieces of potato fused together by creamy egg filling and complimented by refreshingly cool and herbaceous sour cream.

Potato Tortilla with Chive Sourcream

Potato Tortilla with Chive Sour Cream

We were tempted by the Char-Grilled Lamb Burger, fare g-free game without the crispy shallots, french fries or bun. As a substitute, we ordered a side of the Kale Salad with anchovy vinaigrette (and no breadcrumbs). The salad arrived well before the burger due to a kitchen miss-understanding. In true tapas style we ate in whatever order the plates arrived, digging into the bright green leaves subtly flavored by small flakes of anchovies and onions. The otherwise light salad was heavily tossed in an unnecessary amount of olive oil.

Kale Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Kale Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Our burger arrived next, looking lonely on the plate without an accompaniment other than a generous heaping of tadziki. The meat was dripping with juice, its rich lamb flavor enhanced with garlic and salt to deliver an eye popping delight. The creamy cucumber sauce balanced the burger’s intensity.

Lamb Burger with Tadziki Sauce

Lamb Burger with Tadziki Sauce

Last to arrive was the Golden Beet Salad with blood orange and pistachios. Large sections of sweet yellow beets were paired with deep red orange slices, topped with a pesto dressing and a sprinkling of crunchy pistachios. While a nice earthy contrast, the oily dressing was, again, a bit too plentiful. (Someone on the sauce station must have a heavy hand).

Beet Salad with Blood Orange an Pistachios

Golden Beet Salad with Blood Orange and Pistachios

With no room left for dessert, we sipped our coffee and tea while chatting with management about Barcelona’s much anticipated Washington debut. It will be interesting to see if the reasonably priced Boston menu (a very attractive feature) will transfer to the slightly pricier DC scale. Regardless, I plan to be first in line, with Mr. Green Bean and his Bean Town cap in tow. Even my picky husband is sure to find plenty of satisfying options at this charming American recreation of La Rambla, Barcelona.

Barcelona, 1700 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA (plus additional locations in GA, CT, and soon DC)


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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)


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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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Remember the Thai-tan

Rice     Spoons_FOUR

There is a small, inconspicuous Thai restaurant on 14th street that quietly chugs along while outside a tornado of new development and future competition engulfs the neighborhood. A product of Logan Circle’s first revival wave, Rice has been consistently cooking up high quality contemporary Thai cuisine for nearly a decade. The comfortable interior is chic and minimalist, with exposed brick and dark wood surfaces acting as a neutral backdrop for the colorful dishes prepared by Chef Lekki.

Lekki’s innovative menu distinguishes Rice from the monotony of Americanized Asian cuisine. She offers dishes in three categories: authentic Thai staples, lighter vegetarian medleys, and unusual specialties that flaunt her creative muscle. On my most recent trip to Rice, I was thrilled to discover that a new category has recently been implemented due to customer demand. Rice has composed a gluten-free menu with a generous sampling of soups, appetizers and entrees adapted from the regular menu. While Rice has been more versed in the gluten allergy than most Asian restaurants I frequent, the designated menu confirms their commitment to providing safe and delicious food free of soy sauce and other wheat products.

I eagerly scanned the many tempting offerings on the new g-free menu, items such as curries and soups that have been off-limits for years. Most Asian restaurants that accommodate gluten-free eating merely omit harmful ingredients, resulting in bland, sauteed whatevers. Rice goes well beyond the norm by preparing special sauces and dressings kept aside for us gluties.

I was excited to order Tom Yum Goong, shrimp lemongrass soup. The sizable bowl of broth with bobbing mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, parsley and large steamed shrimp was heavily seasoned with a day’s worth of salt and an abundance of lemon juice. It was fresh and satisfying nonetheless.

Tom Yum Goong (Shrimp Lemongrass Soup)

Tom Yum Goong (Shrimp Lemongrass Soup)

My soup was balanced with Rice’s famed brussels sprout salad, with spinach, walnuts and citrus soy dressing. Crispy brussels sprouts sit atop a bed of spinach, lightly dressed and sprinkled with slightly candied walnuts. Beet shreds and crispy rice flakes adorn the dish, adding a burst of color and crunch.

Brussels Sprout Salad

Brussels Sprout Salad

Rice’s pad thai puts all others’ to shame. The piping hot heap of noodles engulfs an abundance of tofu, chicken or shrimp, blanketed by a delicate sheet of egg and topped with sprouts, scallions and crushed peanuts. Each chewy bite delights the taste buds with a nutty, salty, sweet combination that makes this dish so universally loved.

Pad Thai with Tofu

Pad Thai with Tofu

Rice exceles not only in food quality, but in presentation as well, proving the kitchen’s attention to detail from start to finish. I often find myself peering at other diners’ selections, taking notes for next time. In a neighborhood of new and exciting distractions, Rice knows the value of keeping its patrons wanting more.

Rice, 1608 14th 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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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