Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Chef De Pue’s Redo

Menu/MBK     Spoons_TWO_76x25

I left feeling embarrassed for the restaurant. There was plenty of tasty food last Saturday night at Menu/MBK with Mr. Green Bean and our good friends, The Oreos. But, oh, I cringe recollecting our dining experience. Let’s start from the beginning…

Menu/MBK is Chef Frederik De Pue’s second attempt at reviving the old Café Atlántico space in Penn Quarter. He shuttered his seafood-themed Azure six months ago and reimagined the four story space into a layer cake of culinary delights. The ground floor of Menu/MBK features a Market open 9am to 9pm for gourmet grocery items, prepared foods, fancy sandwiches and coffee to go or to enjoy with free wi-fi on the third floor living room lounge. At 5pm the lounge and forth floor dining room become BistroBar, serving Belgian inspired beverages and thoughtful European fare. The frosting in the middle is the second floor open Kitchen with a six-seater chef’s counter serving a special prix-fixe menu that changes daily.
Menu MBK

On that particular Saturday night, we were led up to the top floor via the service stairs, avoiding the large private party at the bar. The view from up top reveals eclectic decor with a homey, loft feel. Bare bulbs and bird cage assemblages dangle down the central cavity as if inspired by Maurizio Cattelan’s 2012 retrospective installation at the Guggenheim, NY. We were seated and perused the drink list for what felt like eons until a server finally approached and opened with an apology. They were out of the three signature cocktails Miss Oreo had her eye on, and beverage service was likely to take longer than usual due to one bartender and a thirsty bar crowd.

The Bistro menu is small (literally…the card could fit in my back pocket), and divided into price categories ranging from $8 to $34. I asked the server if he would mind going through the gluten-free options with me and he preferred I ask him specifically about the dishes that interested me. I was interested in everything. He seemed fairly knowledgeable, but proceeded with caution, looking at me wearily after every “you can’t eat that”, as if I my head might implode after too many disappointments. To his relief, we managed to find some gluten-free options that appealed. We started off easy with a cheese and charcuterie plate that arrived with three sad looking toast corners on the side, one for each wheat-bellied guest. Sensing the table’s dissatisfaction the server quickly supplemented with more toast. We slowly nibbled, waiting an uncomfortable amount of time before we saw our server again to place our food order. He asked my three dining partners if they would like homemade parker rolls with bits of bacon baked into the center, as if any gluten and pork-eating American would say “no” to that!

Cheese and Charcuterie

Cheese and Charcuterie

As our main course was served the Chef De Pue I know and love from Table finally performed. Mr. Oreo and Mr. Green Bean both ordered the Chapel Hill Farm Veal Meatballs with panisse (chickpea fritters, though not gluten-free here) and cucumber mostarda. The masculine dish was plated daintily and apparently tasted “really, really good”. Miss Oreo’s Crispy Cod with lemon parsley remoulade and fennel looked and tasted just as our server had described/warned: like a fish and chips egg roll. According to Miss Oreo, the rolls’ potato and fish filling could have used some classic tartar sauce to combat the dryness. Neither dish was fair game for my fork. Luckily I was perfectly happy with my Artic Char, served skin-side-up over artichoke hearts and diced vegetables in a light broth with dabs of what the menu calls “lemon puree”, but I call butter. The fish was delicate with a crispy skin and mild flavor that allowed the artichokes to shine.

Artic Char with artichokes and lemon puree

Artic Char with artichokes and lemon puree

We were enjoying the last bites of our entrées when our server reappeared to apologize for the tardiness of our Peas and Carrots side. Once they arrived, it was clear they were worth the wait. These buttery, plump, green peas with carrot and potato slices redefine the TV dinner’s most common filler.

Peas and Carrots

Peas and Carrots

Pre-dessert we spent a few minutes analyzing how Miss Oreo and Mr. Green Bean’s second round of tea-infused, beer and gin based cocktails varied significantly from their first glasses and didn’t quiet resemble each other either. One bartender, really? I ordered a coffee for my second round and finished the mug before the milk appeared (they were out of cream). I was quickly distracted by the dessert menu’s Sundae with caramel popcorn and nougat ice creams, Coca Cola sorbet and peanut brittle. Our server was happy to finally bring some good news: the sundae could be served gluten-free without the unnecessary cookie crumble garnish. Of course, it was delivered with the glutenous crumbles anyway and soon disappeared to melt sadly in the kitchen while an actually gluten-free version was prepared. The ice creams and brittle were unanimous winners while the sorbet looked and tasted more like a 7-Eleven Slurpee.

Sundae with caramel popcorn and nuagat ice cream, Coca Cola sorbet and peanut brittle

Sundae with caramel popcorn and nougat ice cream, Coca Cola sorbet and peanut brittle

We ended the evening filled with good food but a bad taste in our mouths. Even after all the hiccups, not one reparation was made. A simple courtesy dessert or on-the-house peas and carrots would have spoken volumes. Instead I am left to hope that Menu/MBK was just having a bad night but fear that De Pue’s recipe for this multipurpose space has a couple of bad eggs.

Menu/MBK, 405 8th Street NW, Washington DC 

 


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A Reheat You Can’t Beat

The Green Spoon     Spoons_FOUR

I can cook. I can paint and draw too. However, I am a much better spokesperson for others’ artistic creations. So, nearly two years ago when Glutie Foodie was born, I chose to write about my adventures in restaurants rather than in my own kitchen. That was before The Green Spoon came to town, an Arlington based upstart delivering chef-cooked, gluten-free, healthy meals to local living rooms within hours of their preparation; now that’s a TV-dinner worth writing about.

The Green Spoon’s founder and owner, Hanson Cheng, grew up on gourmet food with his family in the restaurant industry. It was not until he benefited first-hand from a strict Paleo diet that he realized the positive affects of healthy, clean eating and his mission became clear. Cheng explains, “People in DC work hard, sit for hours in traffic, have families, have schedules so packed that they barely have time for themselves or their families. If I could help people eat great food and make it convenient for them, I felt that would be very valuable….They would have access to healthy food that tastes great!

Cheng designed a weekly meal program to include 100% gluten-free dishes that borrow from his Paleo practices. He interviewed a couple dozen chefs before finding Donn Souliyadeth, who was working as a private chef at the time and has cooked with celebrity chef Morou Ouattara at both his Farrah Olivia and Kora restaurants in Northern Virginia. “I’ve never met someone that works as hard as he [Souliyadeth] does” Cheng admires. “He puts his heart and soul into his food. For our tortillas, he probably made six to seven versions of them before we found one we were happy offering to our clients.”

From the first taste of a Green Spoon meal, Souliyadeth’s talents are clear. He is a pro at preparing well-balanced, packaged meals that taste as delicious re-heated the next day as they would right off the pan. Souliyadeth shops for his locally sourced produce and proteins once the week’s orders are in, to ensure the freshest ingredients with nearly no waste. The seared haddock with a “soy sauce” glaze, cauliflower rice, baby bok choy and sweet peppers spent 15 minutes in my 350 degree oven, right in the eco-friendly container in which it was delivered. Another 15 minutes later, that container was licked clean, tossed into the recycling bin and I had the rest of my night to…well, work on this post.

Seared haddock with a soy glaze, riced cauliflower, baby bok choy and peppers

Seared haddock with a soy glaze, cauliflower rice, baby bok choy and sweet peppers

The salmon filet I received was served with a mound of sweet and tangy mango salsa atop a bed of brown rice that crisped on the edges after its 15 minutes in the oven.

Salmon filet with mango salsa and brown rice

Salmon filet with mango salsa and brown rice

The lunch menu’s napa cabbage salad with grape tomatoes, red grapes, pistachios and avocado was accompanied by a hearty portion of mahi mahi and a balsamic vinaigrette that Mr. Green Bean and I nearly drank! We spent the entire meal trying to figure out how to replicate our new favorite dressing.

Napa salad with mahi mahi and balsamic vinaigrette

Napa salad with mahi mahi and balsamic vinaigrette

The Green Spoon caterers to little people too, with a separate kids menu that tempts the Mr. Green Bean in all of us. I was particularly intrigued by the almond crusted fish sticks served with broccoli, carrots, and a cauliflower mash that kids will never know isn’t the starchy staple they’re used to. The accompanying tartar sauce tasted so fresh I actually felt good about eating it. Beware that this finger food is meant to be eaten with a fork, due to the fish’s delicate texture. In fact, all the fish portions were cooked to a perfect, flaky consistency after their second rounds in an oven, a virtue I wish I could replicate with my own leftovers.

Almond crusted fish sticks with cauliflower mash, broccoli and carrots

Almond crusted fish sticks with cauliflower mash, broccoli, carrots and tartar sauce

It was a week filled with fish, as you can tell. Mr. Green Bean was a good sport to put up with the fresh ocean smell that engulfed our apartment. Our Kashrut observance prohibited us from bringing in dishes like the Green Spoon’s Jerk chicken with sweet plantains and spanish brown rice, or Kofte (Meditteranean meatballs) with tzatziki, chickpeas and spiced spinach, which my husband surely would have loved, and I have no doubt make for delicious dinners.

Though The Green Spoon sought me out to taste test their cooking, I am a new fan of the company on my own volition. I am convinced after tasting multiple dishes that what I initially thought were steep prices for “take-out” meals ($13 per lunch and $17 per dinner), are more than fair considering the product’s quality and quantity. The Green Spoon makes major efforts to support organic, local, and sustainable farming as much as possible and has no minimum order requirements or membership fees. Orders are taken the week before they are cooked and delivered, and meals are meant to be eaten within a couple of days of their arrival.

The Green Spoon eco-friendly containers

The Green Spoon eco-friendly containers

Hanson Cheng has big hopes for The Green Spoon, and there certainly is room for growth. The company is working on marketing the gluten-free, clean eating philosophy more prominently on the website and has plans to add organic juices, designed by a top DC mixologist, to their repertoire soon. Not surprisingly, there are still some limitations for the young company: While customers can list allergies on their user profile, specific food needs other than gluten-free are subject to the week’s offerings and may not be able to be accommodated. Delivery is currently only available in NW DC, Arlington, and Old Town Alexandria. Cheng hopes to expand the delivery radius once the kitchen can support the expansion without compromising quality. But anyone is welcome to our apartment where The Green Spoon will be making regular delivers from now on.

The Green Spoon, Arlington VA, (703) 477-2237, eatgreenspoon.com


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Around Town for On Tap

Glutie Foodie is on the job! Read this month’s issue of On Tap Magazine for the Gluten-free Griddle Report, where Glutie Foodie reveals the area’s best gluten-free pancakes. Quinoa, buckwheat and rice flour batters offer something special for brunch, lunch and even dinner. Get the full report HERE.

Let us know what you think and if there are other g-free flapjack shacks gluties should know about.

Happy flipping!

Glutie Foodie

Quinoa Coconut Pancakes from the Silver Diner.

Quinoa Coconut Pancakes from the Silver Diner


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Spreading Love

Cava Mezze Grill     Spoons_FOUR

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

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

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

Salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

Power greens salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

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

Harissa

Spicy Harissa…on the side

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

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

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


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Once in a Blue Moon

Blue Moon Cafe     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Let’s get personal for a second. I am a morning person. Don’t misunderstand me; I like my sleep. But an ideal Sunday morning involves waking up early enough to enjoy a light snack, flow through yoga class and return home to prep brunch before Mr. Green Bean even stirs. It’s my restorative start to the day, my defense against inevitable weekend indulgences.

Sarah Simington of the Blue Moon Cafe is a different kind of morning person. She is a morning person 24 hours of the day. Her superstar diner never sleeps on the weekends and serves greasy, carb-loaded plates that count as one of those weekend indulgences. Several weeks ago Mr. Green Bean and I were in Harbor East, Baltimore, for the much-anticipated wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Pickles. Our usual routine went out the window as Mr. Green Bean rose early for a full day of groomsman duties, and I slept in with nowhere to be except mid-day brunch with the in-laws.

Baltimore residents, Ma and Pa Green Bean, suggested we try the famed Blue Moon Cafe. We walked toward Fell’s Point and spotted the crowd in the distance, lining the otherwise quiet street. The 30 seater restaurant is accustomed to managing twice that many on a wait list. It was a solid hour before the restaurant turned over 1.5 times and we were brought inside to join the fun. Before I continue, gluten-free readers heed this warning: salacious, glutenous dishes described ahead!

For such a tiny place, The Blue Moon Cafe packs in a lot of personality. Mismatched tables and chairs are surrounded by a hodgepodge of wall surfaces decorated with kitschy artwork. We were seated and soon greeted by an enthusiastic server, high on sugar fumes emanating from the kitchen. As she took our coffee orders, I was distracted by plates of the diner’s main attraction whizzing past on servers’ hands: Captain Crunch French Toast. The dish caught the attention of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and is as gluten-filled as it sounds. While my mouth watered, my nutrition-conscious head chimed, “saved-by-the-belly.”

I scanned the menu for something healthy, mistake number 1. Clearly Simington’s forte is not healthful cooking. G&G’s Country Scramble features a homemade biscuit topped with eggs, bacon and cheddar cheese, smothered in sausage gravy. The Sweet Baby Jesus covers hash browns with Old Bay seasoned, jumbo lump crab meat, diced tomatoes, cheddar cheese, two eggs any style and creamy hollandaise. The menu does offer several lighter meat-free, modifiable options to appease the likes of me, including several egg scrambles, omelets and benedicts that at closer examination are really different preparations of the same ingredients.

Our server didn’t blink an eye when I revealed my gluten allergy and suggested the chef’s “gluten-free specialty” with sauteed veggies and hash browns, served with eggs any style. Sounded to me like another version of the Vegetarian (omelette and scramble), but I was woo’ed by the off-menu item, mistake number 2, and ordered my eggs poached, mistake number 3. The plate arrived with a shallow pile of a bland veggie medley, a generous side of fruit and two unevenly cooked eggs with runny whites and half-hard yokes.

Gluten-free Chef's Choice with veggies, fruit and poached eggs

Gluten-free chef’s choice with veggies, fruit and poached eggs

I attempted to assemble a more complex layering of flavors myself. Perhaps the greasy, crispy hash browns would enliven the vegetables and soak up some egg white. But the plate ended up looking like this:

Glutie Foodie's attempt to re-plate her meal

Glutie Foodie’s attempt to re-plate her meal

Ma and Pa Green Bean ordered the Vegetarian omelette and scramble respectively, Ma Green Bean’s with just a few (ahem) modifications—where do you think Mr. Green Bean gets his sensitive palette? Both dishes looked delicious (amazing what a slathering of cheese and a little extra oil will do). Still, we all agreed that the hash browns were the one item worth the wait.

Pa Green Beans vegetarian egg scramble

Pa Green Beans vegetarian egg scramble

If I were an afternoon crash and nap kind of person, perhaps a meat-loaded or sugar-filled dish would have served me better. Mistake number 4 was not trying the buckwheat pancakes that our server claimed contain no wheat (gluties, please double check before ordering). But my low fat, high protein plate with a side of starch kept my engine running through the long night of dancing to celebrate Mr. and Mrs. Pickles.

The short of it? If the sight and smell of gooey homemade cinnamon rolls that you can’t eat still ruins your day, stay clear of Blue Moon. But if you’re looking for an upbeat atmosphere, friendly service, eggs done mostly well, and a meal that will squash your day’s calorie count, by all means put your name on the list. Simington hopes to expand her dining space vertically in the near future, perhaps relieving the extended wait time and appeasing those not-so morning people who can’t function before coffee.

Blue Moon Cafe, 1621 Aliceanna St, Baltimore, Maryland


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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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Bienvenue à Washington

Le Diplomate     Spoons_FOUR

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

Entrance to Le Diplomate

Entrance to Le Diplomate

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

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

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

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

Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette

Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette

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

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

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

Moules marinière style

Moules marinière style

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

Frites!

Frites!

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

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

Le Diplomate, 1601 14th Street NW, Washington DC