Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Pita that Pleases

Roti Mediterranean Grill     Spoons_TWO_76x25

Roti is an unleavened flatbread integral to South Asian cuisines such as Indian and Pakistani. It is also the name of a health conscious fast-food chain in Washington DC and Illinois, and quickly expanding to Virginia, Maryland and New York. I knew I needed to try it when I found out they offer gluten-free bread! I pictured walking into a shop filled with the aromas of curry and basmati rice. You can imagine my confusion when I approached the Roti location in Union Station and read the restaurant’s full name above the entrance: Roti Mediterranean Grill.

Roti executives, Larry Lessans and Mats Lederhausen, market themselves as champions of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. The Roti website references bonafide resources to describe the ancient diet and its many health benefits. The eating style, based  on olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry, is maintainable and heart-healthy (I especially appreciate the endorsement of a daily glass of wine). However Roti’s good intentions are victims of the insatiable American appetite, capable of turning any healthy meal into a gluttonous eating escapade. Roti’s portions are large and disproportionately heavy on proteins rather than vegetables. The topping bar offers ample opportunities to pack on extra empty calories or unnecessary fat. Diners can choose a sauce, a dressing, and various salads already prepared with their own oils. What results can easily fall far from what nutritionists have in mind when they preach the Mediterranean diet.

Roti's Topping Bar

Roti’s Topping Bar

Having said all of that, Roti’s food actually tastes decent. Meals can be assembled as a salad, over rice, or in a sandwich with pita or laffa breads. My choice is the bed of greens with a side of gluten-free pita that is warmed up securely in uncontaminated tinfoil on a sandwich press. The bread is satisfying with a soft, stretchy consistency that endures even hours after cooling (a rarity, as we gluties know). The mild pita flavor acts as a pleasant compliment to the salty spices in Roti’s dishes. With 155 calories, little fat, low sodium, no sugar and minimal protein, this carbohydrate treat is neither beneficial nor all that harmful (there’s the American in me talking).

Roti's Gluten-Free Pita Bread

Roti’s Gluten-Free Pita Bread

I will be honest, I am only a repeat customer to Roti for the g-free pita. However, its worth mentioning that most of the other items in their repertoire are also gluten-free. The personnel seem to be informed and prepared for gluten-free patrons and help guide the ordering process. While I can’t vouch for the rotisserie spit from which servers scrape shreds of g-free white meat, the Chicken Roti is very flavorful and fairly fresh, being constantly rotated on the grill. The Roasted Vegetables, a blend of carrots, broccoli, onions and peppers, are a bit over-oiled but are vibrant and crunchy. The Spanish Eggplant topping gets lost in an ambiguous sauce that renders this side a bit slimy. But the tomato and cucumber Israeli-style salad is light and simple.

Salad Plate with Roasted Vegetables, Spanish Eggplant, Tomato and Cucumber Salad and Olives.

Salad Plate with Roasted Vegetables, Spanish Eggplant, Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Olives and Hummus.

Overall the establishment is making an effort to provide health conscious food. The restaurant’s interior design and ambiance is closer to a McDonalds than the more upscale local fast-food vendor, Cava Grill (stay tuned for my future review). And though the chicken and steak are cooked on sight, the small staff and compact kitchen space indicates that not much else is. With the fast-food industry making such strides in quality these days, Roti may need to make some changes inorder to keep up.

Roti Mediterranean Grill, Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington DC (plus various locations throughout DC, MD and VA)

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Time to BisTANGO

Bistango     Spoons_FOUR

In familial terms, Washington DC is like New York City’s younger sibling. Aspiring to be just as cool its trendier role model, DC can’t help but exhibit certain copy-cat tendencies, like opening shops such as Shake Shack and Pinkberry (both gluten-free friendly, FYI). At the same time, the District aims to find its own voice and is growing into a mature epicurean center of its own. Despite major exciting advancements in the culinary department, DC has a lot to learn from NYC when it comes to gluten-free dining. On a recent visit to New York, I was reminded of how many more options the Big City offers for every type of diet. I took advantage and ate a lot! I began this blog to build a catalogue of reviews on DC area restaurants, and I am still working toward that end. However, DC can benefit from reports on how America’s foodie capital is handling the gluten-free demand. Perhaps it will fuel some growth spurts in this town.

Which brings me to dinner at Bistango with Mr. Green Bean, my college bestie, Salsa, and her boyfriend, Chips. Chips and Salsa brought us to the modest Murray Hill establishment that opened in 1988 as a cozy Italian neighborhood spot like so many throughout the city. What set Bistango apart in 2006 was their introduction of a full gluten-free menu and certification by the budding advocacy group, Celiebo. You know you’re in good hands when the waitress opens with “do we have any food allergies tonight?” My eyes widened as she explained that the entire menu is available gluten-free. As the bread basket arrived, so too did my very own gluten-free roll with olive oil and garlic for dipping. It was a toasted French variety, thick and crusty. While tasty and satisfying, the novelty made it all the more delicious.

Toasted gluten-free bread with olive oil and garlic

Toasted gluten-free bread with olive oil and garlic

Bistango does a sneaky and brilliant thing, creating a menu that seems typically Italian, but manages to offer healthier meal choices by eliminating fried finishes and flour thickeners. The calamari antipasta is sauteed, the braised short-rib starter is served over polenta and the bone-in pork chop entree tops an arugula salad. I knew I had to indulge in the rarest g-free item on the menu, fresh stuffed pasta with a choice of homemade sauces. I ordered the gluten and dairy-free eggplant ravioli with marinara sauce. The dish was light and fresh with half a dozen large pasta pillows smothered in the simplest of sauces. The only giveaway that this pasta wasn’t wheat was the slightly soft texture, just passed al dente. While the sauce itself was delicious, my choice of marinara sadly overwhelmed the subtle eggplant filling, and the dish was in desperate need of salt. The generous portion of broccoli rabe complemented the acidity of the pasta dish, nicely heated with pepper flakes and full of roasted garlic.

Left to right: Gluten-free Eggplant Ravioli with Marinara; Broccoli Rabe

Left: Gluten-free Eggplant Ravioli with Marinara; Right: Broccoli Rabe

Bistango sources its gluten-free bread, crust and stuffed pastas from several different companies throughout the States and imports the penne all the way from Italy. Were it not for post-holiday diets, we certainly would have succumbed to the many tempting g-free dessert options such as the Homemade Cheesecake or the Warm Caramelized Apple Tart. Amazingly, with 11 different sweet options on the menu, only 2 are off limits! I will surely be back for a more sinful experience. Overall, Bistango was a delight for my restricted diet without compromising on quality for Mr. Green Bean, Chips and Salsa. Now someone please copy-cat that, DC!

Bistango, 415 Third Avenue, New York, NY