Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Masa Misses?

Masa 14     

I understand that fusion food is trendy. But mole and soy are two sauces I’d rather not mix. In my opinion sake and Tequila belong at very different meals. Chef and restauranteur Richard Sandoval disagrees and tries to prove me wrong at his Latin-Asian creation, Masa 14. Sandoval blends his Mexican roots with international flavor in 26 restaurants throughout the US, Dubai and Qatar. Melding such diverse and broad cultures as Latin and Asian into one cohesive dining concept is not an easy task, and I’m not an easy judge. So on a recent first-time visit to Masa 14 with our friends Bagel and Lox, this Logan Circle staple had a challenge on their hands.

Masa 14 plays the atmosphere just right, mixing minimalist feng shui and bamboo surfaces with tequileria red lighting and exposed brick. We arrived without a reservation knowing full well that would mean a long wait. Squeezing out a space along the bar, we settled in and studied the drink list. Whiskey, rum, tequila and sake are all players on this list of inventive concoctions. I opted for a glass of red sangria with bourbon, citrus, brown sugar and cinnamon, a safe and rather delicious way to loosen up my judgmental spirits.

Forty-five minutes later Mr. Green Bean, Bagel, Lox, and I were escorted to a cozy booth, and I was promptly handed the gluten-free menu. This was one of those rare times I found myself relieved by the pared down list of small plates after glancing at the jumble of words on the full menu. Lucky for me, the gluten-free options include some table pleasers, putting me in the game for sharing. We started with the spicy edamame for munching and a carafe of sake for sipping.

Spicy Edamame

After placing our order, the plates arrived at a leisurely pace, starting with Lox’s top choice, Salmon Tartar (of course), with roasted red pepper and green mango chimichurri. The dish was beautifully presented, with a molded heap of pink salmon and a swipe of green chimichurri on the side. Both elements had a mild flavor, appropriate for the raw fish, but unexpected and disappointing for the chimichurri.

Salmon Tartar with roasted pepper and green mango chimichurri

Next came the Crunchy Shrimp, sprinkled with sesame, scallions, masago, and a drizzle of chipotle aioli (teriyaki sauce omitted to make it g-free version). The restaurant claims to use a separate fryer to make this plate safe as can be. The dish won Mr. Green Bean over (he still talks about it today). Admittedly, anything with tempura has an unfair advantage. But the rich chipotle aioli adds flare to the perfectly battered shrimps. I did miss the sweet touch that teriyaki sauce would offer, but Crunchy Shrimp is still an unusual treat for those of us who have been deprived of tempura for years.

Crunchy Shrimp with chipotle aioli, sesame, scallions, and masago

Not worth the buck is the Roasted Beet Salad, with arugula, curried goat cheese, taro straws and oil and vinegar substituted for the soy-citrus vinaigrette. I’m going to guess it’s the dressing that makes this salad, because without it, it was uninspired. What did charm me were the Wok Stir-Fried Mussels with aji amarillo cream sauce, chorizo, cotija cheese and scallions. I had to keep from spooning the spicy broth for fear of nose-dripping, mouth-burning torture. While the flavor of the mussels was completely overwhelmed by the sauce, only a few shells remained closed, an indication of a fresh batch.

Wok Stir-Fried Mussels with aji amarillo cream sauce, chorizo, cotija and scallion

The manly Boneless Beef Shortrib that appeared next was selected by Mr. Green Bean and Bagel. Surprisingly g-free, I gave it a try. The meat was decent, yet covered with a heavy hand of something far too brown and flavorless to be peanut cocunut-milk sauce. While arriving too late to act as the accompaniment it is, the Fried Rice with kimchi, chile, poached egg, corn, and cilantro was a fresh take on the traditional grain, with Korean spices dominating.

Boneless Beef Shortrib with peanut coconut-milk sauce, and baby bok choy

We certainly could have stopped there but were collectively tempted by the Salted Caramel Chocolate Flan on the dessert menu. Thrilled to learn it is gluten-free without the crispy wafer (which tastes like paper anyway, so we were told by our server), we had to try it. The flan was perfectly creamy with mild chocolate and caramel flavor, but proved more American pudding than Spanish custard. The marshmallow blob on top and the pool of blood orange reduction on the bottom were unavoidable, rendering the dish too sweet to finish, even four ways.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Flan with housemade s’mores (minus the wafer) and blood orange reduction

Overall, Sandoval impresses with his colorful and unique menu, while some execution may be lacking, leaving my taste-buds slightly confused. The designated gluten-free menu enables a stress-free dining experience, which makes up for some disappointing dishes. I may be persuaded to return, but likely will stick to edamame and drinks on the establishments best feature, it’s rooftop.

Masa 14, 1825 14th Street NW, Washington DC

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Jersey-D-licious

Graffiato      

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graffiato, 707 6th Street NW, Washington DC


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Ripple Effect

Ripple     

Everyone needs a Cheers pub in their life—a homey eating/drinking/socializing spot where the mood is alway right, the conversation easy, and the grub dependably nourishing. Ripple has been Cleveland Park foodies’ Cheers since opening it’s doors in May 2010. For Mr. Green Bean and I, Ripple is the casual night out for two, the restaurant to show-off to guests, and the nightcap detour (i.e. a glass of sparkling rose for moi and a plate of freshly baked cookies and milk for Mr. GB).

The waitstaff at Ripple shares their own love for food with menu suggestions and descriptive explanations of complex concoctions. Executive Chef, Logan Cox, is committed to creating seasonally changing menus featuring local ingredients. The plates (organized by small, medium and large), snacks and sides, and cheese and charcuterie all offer plenty of noshing combinations, like a “choose your own adventure” in dining. The wine by the glass and bottle list is smart, offering numerous reasonably priced options carefully chosen by Bar Manager, Josh Berner. Ripple accommodates the gluten-free diner like a good friend who wants to make you feel comfortable at her dinner party. The many naturally gluten-free items on the menu prove that gluten is often superflous to fresh and flavorful dishes.

Mr. Green Bean and I recently had the full Ripple dining experience with our good friend, Dr. Lobster. We constructed a delicious meal with lots to nibble, filling our small table with too many plates to fit! We started with a bottle of tasty wine, a selection of three cheeses, and hand cut fries with homemade apple ketchup (which I guiltlessly enjoyed after the waiter checked that nothing glutenous had shared the frier that evening). I cleaned the “composed seasonal vegetables” plate, garnished with dollops of goat yogurt and black cardamom puree. I can imagine now how Peter Rabbit felt tempted by all the delicious seasonal treats in Mr. McGregor’s farm! Poor disobedient bunny.

Left to Right: Cheese Plate, Hand Cut Fries, Composed Seasonal Vegetables

For our next course Dr. Lobster and I both tried the “delicata squash soup” poured at the table over “Lynnhaven oysters, sorghum, shaved chestnuts, and sorrel”. Total sensational pleasure. Each spoonful was sweet and slightly creamy, accented by the mild sorrel flavor. Were it not for the plump oysters, like anchors in the rich broth, this could have been dessert. Mr. Green Bean ordered the “pan-roasted strip loin” accompanied by “crushed sunchokes, radish, nasturtium, and marrow emulsion”. Though slightly scared by the foreign objects, I am proud to say Mr. GB bravely conquered the dish. The strip loin was cooked perfectly and well balanced with the plate’s unusual accessories. Admittedly my fork gravitated after the waiter offered that the dish was gluten-free.

Left to Right: Delicata Squash Soup, Pan-Roasted Strip Loin

Although already stuffed, our waiter talked us into a gluten-free sinful indulgance on Pastry Chef Alison Reed’s dessert menu, “baked butterscoth pudding, with spiced cream, and toffee pieces”. If I thought the soup could have been dessert, this was dessert they feed you in heaven. The smooth pudding and crunchy candy bits distracted me enough to not even consider Mr. Green Bean’s favorite “baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies and milk”, without which no Ripple dining experience would be complete.

Baked Butterscotch Pudding

Ripple, 3417 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC


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Must-Have Mezze

Zaytinya   

Zaytinya was high on my list of great DC restaurants well before going gluten-free. But shared plate style restaurants are now anxiety provoking given the inevitability of migrating forks and juggled dishes. It used to be my favorite way to dine, and boy does DC love the trend. But with time I have learned that by being slightly more cautious and aware, small plate format can still be an enjoyable night out. I have been pleased to find Zaytinya is an accommodating choice for innovative Mediterranean mezze.

Ask for the gluten-free menu and you’ll find a number of dishes listed that are naturally gluten-free. Although the list seems limited, a notation at the top mentions that many of the items on their regular menu can also be modified to be gluten-free. We were told the kitchen takes precautions to avoid contamination, and the waiter served all the g-free plates himself to ensure none were confused with unsafe dishes. A FAQ page on the restaurant’s website even indicates their willingness to accommodate all kinds of allergies and food limitations.

Gluten-free diners should be forewarned that the bottomless servings of freshly baked pita puffs are impossible to ignore. I have been told that they smell better than they taste…really? But fear not! Cucumbers are happily provided for a healthy option to accompany tasty spreads such as Hommus, Tzatziki, and Htipiti. The Seasonal Mushrooms with dates and toasted almonds are a standout in the vegetable mezze category; and the grilled octopus with yellow split-pea puree is light yet satiating and so beautifully presented that Mr. Green Bean was almost convinced to take a bite! (Mr. Green Bean is ordinarily repulsed by the little chewy specimen—that is unless they are fried.) The real treat of the night was the Garides Saganaki, sautéed shrimp with tomatoes, green onions, kefalograviera cheese, and ouzo.

Garides Saganaki, sautéed shrimp with tomatoes, green onions, kefalograviera cheese, ouzo

Like a Mediterranean version of veal parmesan, these large shrimp sit on a bed of plump tomatoes, are covered with a generous blanket of salty cheese and then are baked to golden perfection. Gluten-free eaters rarely get to indulge in such richness.

Zaytinya is one of several José Andrés establishments sprinkled throughout the DC region. Each of his restaurants make accommodations for the gluten-free diner, as well as other restricted eaters, to ensure every patron a comfortable and carefree experience.

Zaytinya, 701 9th Street NW, Washington DC 20001