Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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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
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Unsure at Shirley’s

Miss Shirley’s     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Last Saturday night Mr. Green Bean, Sister Seitan and I packed the car and headed to Baltimore for some holiday celebrations with my in-laws, Ma and Pa Green Bean. The night was festive with the Green Bean family friends’ annual party and epic gift swap, followed by a trip to Hampden’s 34th Street Christmas lights. So as not to break with tradition, the weekend continued with Sunday morning brunch at a Baltimore favorite, Miss Shirley’s.

The restaurant is named in loving memory for Miss Shirley McDowell, a Baltimore chef and culinary educator for more than 30 years. The restaurant’s original Roland Park location has a modern, upscale-diner atmosphere, embellished during the holidays with beautiful wreaths, pine garlands, and metallic ornaments. The menu indulges preferences of all sorts, from the nutritious yogurt filled Banana Split, to the greasy Chicken ‘N Waffles. Upon arrival, we were shocked to find a wait of merely 10 minutes, highly unusual for this southern comfort food brunch and lunch staple that designates a large room lined with chairs just for waiting. I guess we had holiday travelers and last minute shoppers to thank.

Pre-g-free I would have treated myself to the famous sweet potato fries. While our waiter was unsure of a potential flour coating, the golden crispy sticks are off-limit for being fried in shared oil. The restaurant’s southern flare also means buttery biscuits adorn every plate. I requested mine on a separate plate, as I know the Green Bean men would hate for it to go to waste. Miss Shirley’s is certainly one place where my healthy conscience thanks my celiac for protecting me against tough menu temptations like Coconut Cream-Stuffed French Toast and The Mac Crabby. Miss Shirley’s offers a few gluten-free options such as the Veggie Egg Tower, with tomato, bermuda onion, avocado, basil, poached eggs, and fresh mozzarella (careful of the hollandaise), and the Garden Omelet, with egg whites, broccoli, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, peppadews & fresh mozzarella. I opted to create my own three egg omelet and was quite satisfied with my selection of smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms to stuff it up. A side of fresh fruit was substituted for the choice of hash browns or grits. While there are plenty of glutenous carbs to avoid on the menu, Miss Shirley’s does make a gluten-free pancake that I have yet to try. If their regular version is any indication, I’m sure it’s delicious.

Create Your Own Omelet with smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms.

Three Egg Omelet with smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms; side of fruit.

With three locations throughout Baltimore and a solid reputation, Miss Shirley’s could easily step up it’s already budding accommodations for dietary restrictions. The menu marks chef favorites and heart healthy options with small symbols next to the item descriptions. How about vegetarian, nut-free, and gluten-free markings as well. What if they even tried substituting a gluten-free biscuit upon request. I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult considering every kind of bread I’ve tried to make ends up tasting like some version of a dense, dry biscuit. The ingredients are all there, but a few steps and greater awareness among staff would bring this establishment to the forefront of conscientious dining. Dare I say 2013 New Year’s resolution?

Miss Shirley’s, Roland Park, 513 West Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore, MD


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First Impressions

8407 Kitchen Bar    Spoons_FOUR

This past weekend, Mr. Green Bean and I spent another night out with the Oreos in Silver Spring, MD. This time we were joined by our good friends Mr. and soon-to-be Mrs. Pickles (very excited for their future nuptials). Our mission was to impress our out-of-town guests, Irish Coffee and Breakfast Blend, who will be moving to Silver Spring from Boston in just a couple of weeks. With lots to celebrate and our reputations at stake, The Oreos picked the perfect location, 8407 Kitchen Bar.

The restaurant is entered through a spacious bar and lounge with plenty of seating options for a more casual experience. We were escorted upstairs to a large dining room, rustic with its exposed brick surfaces and wooden beams, and elegantly cozy thanks to soft, warm lighting. Large windows line the front side of the restaurant, providing ample light in the daytime, and romantic reflections of glistening holiday decor at night. The atmosphere is classy yet unpresumptuous, inviting for both my sparkling ensemble (having just come from a holiday party), and Mr. Pickle’s oversized hoody (having just awoken from a nap, I assume). Our motley crew was seated and we all turned straight to the cocktail menu. The liquid list offers several tempting concoctions, such as the Oreos’ favorites, the Ginger Lime Martini, and the Root of All Evil (bourbon, root liqueur, Licor 43, lime and ginger beer). I opted for a festive glass of cava.

8407 Kitchen Bar is a rare foodie find in Silver Spring, with an artisanal American menu based on seasonal, locally sourced, and sustainable foods. Diners can choose from a variety of plates, from oysters, mussels and other seafood appetizers, to cheese and charcuterie plates, to salads and sandwiches, and finally a nice assortment of starters and larger entrees that change seasonally. I cut right to the chase with our waitress and was not surprised to find her well prepared for my inquiries regarding gluten-free selections. Many items on the menu are naturally gluten-free, such as the Lavender-Lemon Roasted Air-Chilled Chicken and the Organic Scottish Salmon. Others, such as the Pan Roasted Bronzino, can be easily adjusted. I am a sucker for a big bowl filled with every creature under the sea; thus, the g-free Red Curry Seafood Stew was tempting. With the waitress’ guidance I opted instead for the lighter Seared Scallops, prepared atop warm beluga lentils (a shiny little black variety that resembles caviar), beet and frisee salad, and truffle vinaigrette. I was thrilled with my selection. Three large scallops went a long way in this plentiful and hearty dish. Flavors were perfectly balanced between the sweetness of the beets, saltiness of the scallops and lentils and contrasting sharpness of the mustard seed vinaigrette.

Seared Scallops with beluga lentils, beet and frisee salad, and truffle vinaigrette

Seared Scallops with beluga lentils, beet and frisee salad, and truffle vinaigrette

My dining mates were also happy with their selections, which included a couple of Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes, a Bronzino filet, and a Roasted Chicken. It will come as no surprise to my loyal readers that despite the many unique menu options, Mr. Green Bean chose the basic beef burger with house-made fries. Mr. Green Bean described the patty as “pretty good”, which translates to: delicious but not the best he’s had. He’s a tough critique when it comes to beef filled buns and their fried accompaniments.

Lavender-Lemon Roasted Air-Chilled Chicken with yukon gold potato puree, sauteed greens, and lavender gastrique

Lavender-Lemon Roasted Air-Chilled Chicken with yukon gold potato puree, sauteed greens, and lavender gastrique

The large portions left us no room for dessert, which head chef Rita Garruba is known for. However, a quick peek at the menu revealed a few nice gluten-free finales, such as house-made ice creams and sorbets and an artisan cheese plate. Had we stayed, I personally would have opted for another glass of cava. It seems Irish Coffee and Breakfast Blend received a positive introduction to their future surroundings. Let’s hope Silver Spring has enough gourmet spots brewing to keep these beans around our parts for a while.

8407 Kitchen Bar, 8407 Ramsey Ave., Silver Spring, MD


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Sushiko a Go-Go

Sushiko     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie recently came to town for a visit. At the end of a hectic weekend filled with lots of indulgent eating and exhausting activities, Ma and Pa, Sister Seitan and I were all in the mood for something low key, light and healthy. Sushi sounded perfect and I knew just the place. Washington DC has Sushiko to thank for leading the bandwagon of authentic Japanese cuisine in the District.  The restaurant opened its Georgetown doors in 1975 and expanded in 2008 to a second location in Chevy Chase, MD.  In a city of mediocre Americanized sushi and Asian Fusion confusion, Sushiko’s traditional simplicity and reliable quality is refreshing. Their mission is to honor Japanese culinary techniques, using care and precision in the preparation of exemplary food.

Despite Japanese cuisine’s minimalist characteristics, it is often a challenge for gluten-free diners to enjoy sushi worry-free. Between wheat-based components like soy sauce and tempura, and language barriers, gluten-free awareness can vary greatly between restaurants. Thus, I was thrilled to learn that Sushiko is once again ahead of the game with a gluten-free menu that includes dozens of tempting options. To start, Sushiko offers a couple of salad options dressed with oil and rice vinegar, a simple accommodation that should be offered at all Japanese establishments (I have no idea why it’s not). Items in the hot dishes category are stripped down to their bare bones, sans sauce. Chicken Teriyaki, Beef Tenderloin Kushi Yaki and Grilled Salmon Miso Yu-an are simply cooked with salt and pepper, healthy yet uninspiring. While I appreciate every effort made, I urge Sushiko to go one step further. Gluten-free tamari sauce is readily available to accompany the sushi; why not try cooking up a sauce with the tamari to dress up the hot dishes.

If you’re in the mood for more zest, the maki section of the menu offers a nice variety of options. For safety purposes in other Japanese restaurants, I typically stick to basic rolls comprised of some combination of salmon, tuna, yellowtail avocado and cucumber. While delicious, it gets boring! Luckily Sushiko provides some color. I was thrilled to see a Spicy Tuna roll listed, something I always avoid due to ambiguous spicy sauce recipes. Other exciting options include Rock Shrimp Cilantro maki with jalapeno and mayo, and the Soft Shell Crab maki, with gluten-free flour for the tempura.

Left: Asparagus–Red Pepper and Spicy Tuna Maki; Right: Yellowtail and Green Onion and Smoked Salmon, Asparagus and Avocado

Left: Asparagus/Red Pepper Maki and Spicy Tuna Maki; Right: Yellowtail/Green Onion Maki, Smoked Salmon/Asparagus/Avocado Maki, and Akami Nigiri

Overall, Sushiko provides a stress-free environment to enjoy top grade raw fish and all the fixings. While the menu leaves room for improvement regarding gluten-free preparations, it aims to please more than just the g-free among us. Sister Seitan’s vegetarian palette was quite content, and Pa Glutie Foodie’s aversion to sushi proved inconsequential. But what pleased Pa the most were the reasonable prices, a relief after a long weekend of treating his girls.

Sushiko, 2309 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 
Sushiko, 5455 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD


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American Wat

Jackie’s Restaurant     

 It seems I have been hearing an awful lot lately about Ethiopian food. Or perhaps it’s a case of selective hearing. I have been tempted by the cuisine for a long time, but shied away from it when led to believe that the injera (a spongy flat bread essential to an Ethiopian meal) is often made with a blend of teff (a gluten-free grass indigenous to Ethiopia) and wheat flours. So, I filed Ethiopian food in my drawer of deprived pleasures.

Which brings me to the other night at the contemporary American restaurant, Jackie’s, in Silver Spring, MD. Our good friends, “The Oreos”, introduced us to this beacon of deliciousness in a sea of mediocre Silver Spring establishments. Located in a converted auto parts garage, the restaurant breaths a 60s industrial-chic ambience. The cocktail and food menu reverberates the same “cool” vibe and fuses an assortment of flavors from around the world with seasonal, organic, local ingredients. For starters, “Guacamole with fresh radish, cucumber and jicama slices” is listed right above “zucchini cups with halloumi cheese and spicy sesame sauce” (both gluten-free). Several items sounded tempting. But then my eye scanned down to the entrees and stopped at the very first one. Jackie’s offers an “Ethiopian inspired vegetable platter served on local teff injera.” This injera is authentically made on sight with teff flour only, and the day’s vegetarian wat (thick stews) were gluten-free as well. “Glutie Foodie”, I said to myself (maybe out loud a little), “now is your chance” (the Oreos looked confused).

The platter arrived and commandeered a good portion of the table. My eyes widened and I inventoried my winnings—scoops of green beans in a tomato base, sweet lentil puree, garlicky eggplant with chickpeas, salty collard greens, and spicy tofu, all on a giant g-free pancake. With a napkin in my left hand I dug in with my right. Each stew complimented the other with a diverse range of flavors, spices and textures. Ethnic authenticity is beside the point for this American, farm-to-table rendition of an Ethiopian meal. It did not disappoint.

Ethiopian inspired vegetable platter served on local teff injera

My chosen liquid pairing furthered the meal’s cultural confusion. The blackberry lime margarita, made with Hornitos Reposado, triple sec, blackberries, lime juice, and a salted rim, is surprisingly more tart than sweet. This refreshing cocktail provided a nice buzz and a smile, rather than a cavity. Topping off our world tour was the I-can’t-believe-it’s-gluten-free “Bittersweet Pavé”—flourless chocolate cake with sesame caramel and orange whipped cream. The sesame surprises the senses as a welcome compliment to the fluffy chocolate cake, which was just rich enough to split four ways.

Bittersweet Pavé–flourless chocolate cake with sesame caramel and orange whipped cream

Chef Diana Davila-Boldin creates confident dishes that flatter rather than imitate traditional cuisines. Her culinary riffs celebrate ethnic inspirations in American food. Ingredients and menu items change seasonally, which means come the winter months, a whole new list of inventive concoctions are in store. Despite menu change-ups, the staff knows their stuff and is happy to provide accurate gluten-free information. The kitchen is agreeable to modifications, as we found out when Mr. Green Bean ordered his Amish Chicken sans “bleu cheese potato mash, beets, fennel and watermelon”. He just wanted a side of green beans. Oye.

Jackie’s turned out to be a great baby step in my challenge to eat ethnic safely. I am now inspired to investigate further into gluten-free Ethiopian dining and hope to report back soon…

Jackie’s Restaurant, 8081 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910