Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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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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A Duck Worth the Buck

Blue Duck Tavern     Spoons_FIVE

I must be a masochist. I gripe about spending too much money at restaurants that hardly live up to their price tags in quality or service, while I reserve restaurants that are worth the extra buck for the occasional celebratory meal. I suppose the torment makes those few special experiences that much tastier.

Mr. Green Bean and I have now commemorated two wedding anniversaries at Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt Washington. This West End establishment has been an award winning beacon since its opening in 2006. Executive Chef Sebastien Archambault and Chef de Cuisine John Melfi create refined American food using traditional cooking methods and fresh local ingredients. The restaurant’s sleek, clean design and bright, airy atmosphere is sophisticated, yet casual and comfortable. An open kitchen and bakery energize the space and titillate the palette. Add to all of that their friendly and informative staff and Blue Duck Tavern qualifies as a triple-threat, excelling in the arenas of food, atmosphere, and service.

The Blue Duck Tavern menu is divided into starters, entrées and sides and sub-categorized by vegetables, seafood, poultry and meat. Though the menu changes seasonally, our servers on both occasions were able to confidently highlight the many gluten-free offerings. Mr. GB and I both grinned when the server on our first visit confirmed that the Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries are fried in gluten-free duck fat. We placed an order before she even finished her sentence. These massive potato sticks served piping hot with homemade aioli and ketchup are a must.

Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries with homemade aioli and ketchup

Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries with homemade aioli and ketchup

On our more recent visit last month, I informed our server of my gluten “allergy”, and he appeared soon after with several slices of gluten-free bread. I could have toasted better Udi’s at home, but the gesture was thoughtful. We snacked on our much anticipated order of BDT Fries (just as amazing as I had remembered), while I struggled to make a decision on my main course. I had the seared scallops last year and, though the preparation had changed, was tempted to order them again. I opted instead for the market fish of the day, a monkfish with a red wine jus, bacon and foie gras bits, and a green bean salad (yes, I promised Mr. GB he could have some veggies).

Gluten-free toast

Gluten-free toast

A fleet of hands cleared our appetizer plates (they didn’t dare remove the last remaining fries from my watchful eye), and reset the silverware for our main courses. Monkfish, also known as the sea-devil, is one scary looking species with a body that’s mostly mouth. The meat of the fish comes from its tail and has a lobster-like toughness. Blue Duck Tavern prepared the ugly creature beautifully. Large pieces of meat were seared golden. The mild fish was complimented by the bold flavors of the jus, foie gras and bacon. Slices of crunchy bean pods added texture and respite from the other rich accompaniments.

Monkfish with red wine jus, foie gras, bacon and green bean salad

Market fish of the day: Monkfish with red wine jus, foie gras, bacon and green bean salad

Though portions are sizable, the many intriguing menu items make it impossible to resist add-ons.  We tried the side of sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs.  The brilliant red skin and white flesh of the radishes accented the bright green shells and cut the peas’ sweetness with a slightly bitter crunch.

Sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs

Sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs

Blue Duck Tavern is known for their incredible desserts. The flaky pastry crusts are difficult to ignore en route to the bathroom through the dolce kitchen. But a main feature of the menu is the selection of gluten-free, homemade ice creams and sorbets with chocolate, caramel or raspberry toppings a la carte. Having experienced the ice cream and caramel sauce on our first visit, Mr. GB and I determined to skip dessert this time around. Then our server arrived with the dessert menus and two glasses of a sweet, sparkling red wine in honor of our anniversary (one year prior we were served two glasses of bubbly upon our arrival). How could we say no to dessert now! We succumbed to scoops of the honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt, and cherry blossom sorbet. Our server surprised us with a jar of the chocolate sauce, with his personal congratulations. How could I have skipped this chocolate, I thought as I began bypassing the frozen treats and spooning dark brown gooey heaven into my mouth.

Honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt and cherry blossom sorbet with a side of chocolate sauce

Honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt and cherry blossom sorbet with a side of chocolate sauce

Very few restaurants can truly make an occasion feel special. I hand it to BDT for not merely relaying on outstanding food in a stunningly designed space. The attentive and gracious service sets Blue Duck Tavern apart, making any diner’s experience worth the price tag.

Blue Duck Tavern, 1201 24th 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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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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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


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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.
IMG_2153_interior405

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