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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City of Gluten-Free Love

Mrs. Refined Sugar and I have been friends for a long time, back when we were both unrefined. We shared some strange food adventures in our younger years, the details of which I will spare you, except to divulge that we chewed paper and analyzed various pulp qualities. Besides a few odd adolescent experiments, we ate very well between our two houses and experimented with our own cooking once we could be trusted. Now grown and living a few cities apart, we support each other’s independent culinary explorations, her’s being the highly successful ice cream blog, 365 Scoops. It was a true feat to steal away Mrs. Refined Sugar from her eight month old baby, Sugar in the Raw, to meet for a day in one of East Coast’s most advanced gluten-free foodie cities, Philadelphia.  For weeks we looked forward to indulging our now more sophisticated palettes with some quality grub. Between Refined Sugar’s vegetarian habits and my gluten-free demands, we narrowed down our options to a few recommended locations. I knew we were on the same page when we arrived wearing the same black, elastic waistband leggings: make room for food!

HipCityVeg      Spoons_FOUR
We started our eating tour with a light lunch at HipCityVeg, a locally sourced, environmentally friendly, vegan sandwich and salad joint. This fast-food spot has just one location off of Rittenhouse Square. I imagine the concept would make for a highly successful chain. The menu airs on the healthy side with a few treats mixed in, such as sweet potato fries and a few desserts. There are a number of gluten-free options and the staff is extremely versed in parsing ingredient lists to help navigate allergen-free choices, refreshing for a fast-food establishment. Mrs. Refined Sugar and I both ordered the Bistro Bella sandwich, mine deconstructed on a pile of arugula instead of the bun. The salad contained herb glazed portobello mushrooms, olive tapenade, tomato, artichokes and red onion, a unique alternative to my tired salad repertoire. With fuel to burn we were off to shop, what else?

HipCityVeg (image courtesy of hipcityveg.com)

HipCityVeg (image courtesy of hipcityveg.com)

Sweet Freedom Bakery      Spoons_FOUR
By late afternoon we were ready to recharge at Sweet Freedom, Philadelphia’s only bakery free of (long inhale) gluten, dairy, egg, corn, soy, peanut, casein and refined sugar (no offense to my companion of the same name). As we entered this sweet treat mecca, I checked my gluten-guard at the door and surveyed the cupcakes, donuts, cookies, brownies, oat crumbles, cake balls, etc. Mrs. Refined Sugar left the ordering to me, a weighty task. The friendly associate recommended the strawberry shortcake cupcake, yes please, and I couldn’t resist the chocolate salted caramel cupcake. Our fruity pick was a creative combination of classic shortcake and trendy cupcake. The dense, vanilla flavored, scone-like cake was layered with dairy-free cream, fresh strawberries and just a touch of strawberry syrup. This not-too-sweet delectable paired nicely with the rich and chocolaty cupcake, oozing gooey caramel from its center. A fudgy chocolate frosting was sprinkled with flakes of sea salt, rounding out a most stimulating feast for the taste buds.

Strawberry shortcake cupcake

Strawberry shortcake cupcake

Chocolate salted caramel cupcake

Chocolate salted caramel cupcake

Before leaving we felt it our duty to sample the newly released bread loaf that Sweet Freedom has worked diligently to perfect. Toasted with a smear of apricot jam, it was quite satiating. However standing alone, the slice was slightly too dense and bitter in flavor for my taste. Not bad for a first run, but perhaps in need of some more fine tuning.

Sweet Freedom's new loaf of bread with apricot jam

Sweet Freedom’s new loaf of bread with apricot jam

Zahav      Spoons_FOUR
After a quick visit to The Barnes Foundation’s world-famous art collection in its new Philadelphia home, we rushed to make our dinner reservation. The final stop of the day was Zahav, a gem tucked away on quiet St. James Place. Chef and owner Michael Solomonov was born in Israel and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. At the age of 19 he returned to Israel, fell into the culinary world, and later returned to work in the restaurant industry in Philadelphia. The death of his brother in the Israeli army clarified for Solomonov his mission to share the flavors of his native land, and Zahav was born.

Stepping into the airy, limestone laden dining space and peering into the open kitchen, Mrs. Refined Sugar and I both had the same first impression: We’ve just entered Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Yet Zahav offers its own interpretation of the the little country’s big flavors. We were greeted by an enthusiastic server who was unperturbed by our many dietary restrictions. She grabbed a pen and swiftly lined through items to avoid on each of our paper menus. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Refined Sugar’s vegetarian sheet was more marked up than mine. The server then explained the restaurant’s sharing style and pointed out the tempting $39 Tayim tasting menu, which offers a generous sampling from each section of the menu. We weighed our should’s and could’s over a Lemonnana cocktail and Israeli Salad Martini and decided the day called for an indulgent finale.

Our tasting menu began with half a dozen fresh salatim (salads), hummus, freshly baked pita for Mrs. Refined Sugar, and cucumber slices for me. Small bowls filled with beets in house-made tahini, pureed eggplant, sliced fennel, spicy green beans, chopped cucumber, and creamy hummus were all gluten-free. I avoided the tabouli salad, a cracked wheat based dish. The first course alone would have left us buzzing about Zahav. But there was much more to come.

Salatim

Salatim

Aware of our limited time, our server kept the food rolling with a second set of dishes: the watermelon salad with marinated cobia, israeli olives and smoked honey; the roasted zucchini with bulgarian feta, hazelnuts and zucchini babaganoush; and the heirloom tomato salad with matbucha (roasted tomatoes) and house-made ricotta. We ferociously tasted each plate’s complex combination of flavors and textures. A symphony of “mmmm’s” hummed from our table.

Watermelon salad, roasted zucchini and heirloom tomato salad

Watermelon salad, roasted zucchini and heirloom tomato salad

The Al Ha’esh (grilled over coals) course followed with spiced eggplant, prepared with harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina, and the highly recommended hanger steak with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug. (I channeled Mr. Green Bean for my one meaty choice.) Our server graciously treated us to the trumpet mushrooms, which we had been eyeing, served with shakshuka, fried egg and legumes. A dozen or so dishes now crowded our little table, and we attempted to take it all in (figuratively of course, we couldn’t possibly clean our plates).

Spiced eggplant, accompanied by harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina

Spiced eggplant with harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina

Hanger steak with with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug

Hanger steak with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug

With our elastic waistbands fully extended we made room for just a few bites of dessert. I ordered the tahini semifreddo, a rich and creamy mousse with hints of nutty sesame flavor, accented by sweet cherry compote topping. I melted over a couple of spoonfuls and still regret not taking the rest home.

Tahini semifreddo with a cherry compote

Tahini semifreddo with a cherry compote

Overall, elaborate preparations and beautiful presentations of fresh produce, hearty grains and quality proteins resulted in an impressive representation of the melting pot of Israeli cuisine. I am critical of the kitchen’s heavy hand with salt and weak pour for expensive cocktails, small crimes for an otherwise first-rate meal.

Although the establishments we visited offered some pretty delicious items, credit must be given as well to Mrs. Refined Sugar. Some dining partners just make food taste a little sweeter and a little richer. Before we parted ways, we made plans for a reprise rendezvous in The City of Brotherly (and gluten-free) Love.

HipCityVeg, 127 S 18th Street, Philadelphia, PA
Sweet Freedom Bakery, 1424 South Street, Philadelphia, PA
Zahav, 237 St. James Place, Philadelphia, PA


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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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Home on the Range

Range     Spoons_FOUR

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

Once past the sweets counter, diners are guided through a spacious interior with dark floors and light wood table tops. A marble countertop lines the enormous kitchen, offering alternative seating with a view of some food preparation. The L-shaped space opens up in the back to an even larger dining area. We slid into a comfortable freestanding booth with a view of J.Crew and soon-to-be H&M.
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It was no surprise given the restaurant’s infancy that our ever-so-sweet server took a while to articulate the opening spiel. But we learned that Range focusses on traditional dishes with a modern twist, using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. The menu is divided by category of food and method of cooking, with each section prepared in a different kitchen. Diners can choose from raw bar items, carved meat and cheese platters, house-made baked goods, cold starters, house-made pastas, wood grilled steaks, wood oven pizzas, pan roasted poultry and fish, and a selection of side dishes. Small to medium-sized plates are meant for sharing and eating family style. With two gluten-freers, one vegetarian, and one picky eater, it took some time to decide on our combination of plates. We started simple with the sampler cheese plate, accompanied by fresh apple and pear compotes and cinnamon-raisin toasts (on the side of course).

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

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

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

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

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

Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp Cocktail

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

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

Salsify with Hazelnuts, Satsuma Mandarin and Parsley

Salsify with Hazelnuts, Satsuma Mandarin and Parsley

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

Wood Grilled Beef Heart with Chimichurri

Wood Grilled Beef Heart with Chimichurri

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

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

Range, 5335 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC


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Fresh Catch at Kushi

Kushi     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Japanese restaurants in Washington DC tend to offer quiet spaces with modest interiors for enjoying mediocre raw fish rolled with overly sticky rice. Most often I get my sushi to go, passing on the humdrum atmosphere for the comfort of my sunken spot on the couch and the DVR. Kushi, a modern Japanese izakaya in Mt. Vernon Square, defies the norm and breaths new energy into the DC sushi scene. The restaurant honors the spirit of a traditional izakaya, a place to share food, enjoy drinks, be social and stay awhile. That is just what Mr. Green Bean, Mr. and Mrs. Muffin and I intended to do on a recent Friday night.

Entering Kushi is itself a transformative experience. After a set of doors, guests pass through a thick dark drape into a sleek, modern, upscale Asian tavern with an open grilling station in the center, a sushi bar and beverage bar to one side, and a casual dining room to the other side. The Aromas and heat from the grill envelope the rather spacious interior. Stools surrounding the grill offer an entertaining seating option for a party of two. But the Muffins are our entertainment for the evening and a four-top in the dining room served us well. A carafe of sake was soon on the table as I selected a porcelain cup from the basketful. Transport to a Japanese watering hole was now complete.

Kushi’s menu utilizes seasonal ingredients in a selection of small plates that change daily based on fresh offerings. I scanned through the listing of raw bar items, charcoal grilled skewers, wood grilled plates, and sushi to find many mouth watering options. The modern take on traditional Japanese cuisine lends itself to simple protein or vegetable based dishes, a la carte style. Yet, marinades and accouterments are still suspect for the glutie diner. Luckily, the servers at Kushi are prepared. Our energetic server couldn’t wait to bring me gluten-free tamari sauce. In broken up English he answered some of my questions and ran back and forth to the chef to double check several unknowns. A few of the menu items are gluten-free as they come, such as the Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp, the Japanese Eggplant, and of course much of the sushi. Most of the other dishes, like the meat and seafood skewers, can be made sans-sauce. The tough part is deciding which dishes are the tastiest naked, and Kushi staff will tell you honestly.

We started with the Peel n Eat Shrimp dredged in spicy shichimi spices that get under your fingernails as you strip the sizable pink meat from its shell. Wet towels are provided to wipe away the mess, making these flavorful critters worth the fuss.

Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp

Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp

I ordered the Eringi Mushrooms, which, if I understood my waiter’s accent, are prepared normally without gluten. I love my mushrooms, especially when they’re wood grilled. However, the dish screamed for some seasoning, perhaps just a pinch of salt and garlic would have done it. What did benefit from mild flavor was the buttery salmon sashimi, three generous pieces to a plate and all superb quality.

Skuna Bay Prime Salmon Sashimi

Skuna Bay Prime Salmon Sashimi

My Spicy California roll with fresh lump crab meat & jalapeño was just as pleasing. I appreciated the use of actual crab meat (as opposed to gluten-containing fake crab) and jalapeño for the kick (rather than ambiguous “spicy sauce”). The server had the chef hold the tobiko for fear of some gluten containing marinade. Kushi’s rolls are perfectly bite-sized, not puffed-up with too much rice that falls apart at the touch of the chopsticks!

Spicy California with Fresh Lump Crab Meat & Jalapeño

Spicy California with Fresh Lump Crab Meat & Jalapeño

Mr. and Mrs. Muffin enjoyed sashimi-style cobb salads that would have been my pick were it not for the glutenous dressing. The men ordered some simply cooked chicken skewers. Mrs. Muffin and Mr. Green Bean both tried the Chicken Teriyaki roll with avocado mayo. Due to his hatred of avocado, Mr. GB ordered the roll without the necessary mayo which resulted in it being bland and dry (Aside: Sometimes I really think I should just feed my husband blindfolded and tell him what he’s eating later). I benefitted from Mr. Muffin’s over ordering and enjoyed most of his Japanese Wood Grilled Eggplant topped with a sweet plum sauce that was surprisingly gluten-free. Between the melt-in-your-mouth eggplant and the sugary sauce, the dish qualified as dessert.

Japanese Eggplant

Japanese Eggplant

Over another carafe of sake I concluded that the experience at Kushi is always a pleasant journey. The restaurant’s unique menu, high standards for quality ingredients and helpful service make up for some preparation missteps.

Kushi, 465 K Street NW, Washington DC