Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Grape Explorations

The Curious Grape     Spoons_FOUR

Wine? Check. Dine? Check. Shop? Check. The Curious Grape in Shirlington, VA, is like a playground for foodies and winos, which is why it came highly recommended by our dear friend, Princess of Pinot. Mr. Green Bean and I treat trips to Virginia like expeditions, even though it can take half as long to get from our Cleveland Park apartment to Arlington as it does Bethesda. We are beginning to appreciate this foreign land west of the Potomac and Princess of Pinot is the perfect guide.

The Curious Grape, which opened as a friendly, unpretentious wine shop in 2001, recently expanded to include a cafe with house-made pastries and quality cheeses, a bar with a well curated wine list, and a fine-dining restaurant serving dinner and Sunday brunch. In the restaurant, Executive Chef Eric McKamey creates a seasonal fleet of intriguing dishes. The dinner menu is cleverly designed with a wine key to guide diners toward appropriate pairings. The menu also marks dishes that do not contain gluten-ingredients and adds a disclaimer that reads, “Please note that we are not an allergen-free facility.  All dishes are prepared in a kitchen that uses wheat, dairy, shellfish, nuts, and peanuts.” The statement is refreshingly honest, as this is the reality in most restaurants, but few rarely admit it forwardly.

We met Princess of Pinot at The Curious Grape on a recent Friday night and were promptly seated at a comfortable table in the dining room. The back dining space is separated just enough from the shop and cafe to transition into fine-dining while still keeping it casual. Like many restaurants that pride themselves on being gourmet and laid back, our waitress teetered on the line of over-sharing menu details and took her time finding our bottle of Côtes du Rhône. But the wine was chilled to near perfect drinking temperature and decanted through an aerator so that even the tasting sip was lip-smacking.

My challenge of the night was choosing from a handful of unusual options that all sounded wonderful. Lucky for me Princess of Pinot has a sophisticated palette. We shared a couple of starters while Mr. Green Bean picked at the parts he could tolerate. The brussels sprout salad with crispy pork belly, apple cider gastrique and candied walnuts had a pleasant salty/sweet balance. The rich pork belly paired well with the light and fresh brussels sprouts and crisp apple pieces. The evening’s special starter was a lobster salad with fresh lobster meat, beets, blood oranges, avocado, fennel and curry vinaigrette. The plate of ingredients cut into bite-sized chunks resembled an Italian antipasto with independent components offering a variety of flavors.

Brussel Sprout and Lobster Salads.

Left: Brussel Sprout and Pork Belly Salad; Right: Special Lobster Salad.

For my main entree, I could not resist the special Pacific cod fricasse that the waitress exclaimed was one of the best things she’s ever tasted. Rarely served in east coast restaurants, the white fish from the West was superbly flaky and mild in flavor. The French fricassee cooking process involves first sautéing without browning and then adding liquid in which the fish can simmer. The filet was served with roasted fennel, drizzled with earthy fennel oil and topped with black caviar, all over a generous portion of creamy pureed yukon potatoes. I will admit that the dish was also one of the best I have ever had. The fish was perfectly cooked and subtly spiced, allowing the natural flavors to come forward. The fennel offered a hint of licorice without overpowering the cod. The oil drizzle and potatoes added richness, rounding off a near perfect plate. Under normal circumstances, Mr. Green Bean’s gluten-free grenache-braised beef short rib with glazed root vegetables, rosemary and pearl onions would have wowed me. But my dish was so satiating, I didn’t even pick at his leftover unwanted veggies!

Pacific Cod Fricasse Special.

Pacific Cod Fricasse Special.

To top off a quality meal, I ordered a hazelnut fudge brownie from the pastry display case, and three forks. To gluten-consuming Mr. Green Bean and Princess of Pinot, the brownie was decent. To Glutie Foodie, now two-plus years off the sauce, the brownie was pretty darn delicious. The thick square was fudgey in the middle, with a flaky layer on top. Let’s just say my fork worked overtime.

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie.

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie.

We finished our visit with a trip through the wine shop, perusing the unusual stock at a range of reasonable prices. Princess of Pinot introduced us to a couple of new red grapes that we look forward to trying. They are chilling to the suggested 57 degrees as we speak.

The Curious Grape, 2900 S Quincy St, Arlington, VA


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Fresh Catch at Kushi

Kushi     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Japanese restaurants in Washington DC tend to offer quiet spaces with modest interiors for enjoying mediocre raw fish rolled with overly sticky rice. Most often I get my sushi to go, passing on the humdrum atmosphere for the comfort of my sunken spot on the couch and the DVR. Kushi, a modern Japanese izakaya in Mt. Vernon Square, defies the norm and breaths new energy into the DC sushi scene. The restaurant honors the spirit of a traditional izakaya, a place to share food, enjoy drinks, be social and stay awhile. That is just what Mr. Green Bean, Mr. and Mrs. Muffin and I intended to do on a recent Friday night.

Entering Kushi is itself a transformative experience. After a set of doors, guests pass through a thick dark drape into a sleek, modern, upscale Asian tavern with an open grilling station in the center, a sushi bar and beverage bar to one side, and a casual dining room to the other side. The Aromas and heat from the grill envelope the rather spacious interior. Stools surrounding the grill offer an entertaining seating option for a party of two. But the Muffins are our entertainment for the evening and a four-top in the dining room served us well. A carafe of sake was soon on the table as I selected a porcelain cup from the basketful. Transport to a Japanese watering hole was now complete.

Kushi’s menu utilizes seasonal ingredients in a selection of small plates that change daily based on fresh offerings. I scanned through the listing of raw bar items, charcoal grilled skewers, wood grilled plates, and sushi to find many mouth watering options. The modern take on traditional Japanese cuisine lends itself to simple protein or vegetable based dishes, a la carte style. Yet, marinades and accouterments are still suspect for the glutie diner. Luckily, the servers at Kushi are prepared. Our energetic server couldn’t wait to bring me gluten-free tamari sauce. In broken up English he answered some of my questions and ran back and forth to the chef to double check several unknowns. A few of the menu items are gluten-free as they come, such as the Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp, the Japanese Eggplant, and of course much of the sushi. Most of the other dishes, like the meat and seafood skewers, can be made sans-sauce. The tough part is deciding which dishes are the tastiest naked, and Kushi staff will tell you honestly.

We started with the Peel n Eat Shrimp dredged in spicy shichimi spices that get under your fingernails as you strip the sizable pink meat from its shell. Wet towels are provided to wipe away the mess, making these flavorful critters worth the fuss.

Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp

Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp

I ordered the Eringi Mushrooms, which, if I understood my waiter’s accent, are prepared normally without gluten. I love my mushrooms, especially when they’re wood grilled. However, the dish screamed for some seasoning, perhaps just a pinch of salt and garlic would have done it. What did benefit from mild flavor was the buttery salmon sashimi, three generous pieces to a plate and all superb quality.

Skuna Bay Prime Salmon Sashimi

Skuna Bay Prime Salmon Sashimi

My Spicy California roll with fresh lump crab meat & jalapeño was just as pleasing. I appreciated the use of actual crab meat (as opposed to gluten-containing fake crab) and jalapeño for the kick (rather than ambiguous “spicy sauce”). The server had the chef hold the tobiko for fear of some gluten containing marinade. Kushi’s rolls are perfectly bite-sized, not puffed-up with too much rice that falls apart at the touch of the chopsticks!

Spicy California with Fresh Lump Crab Meat & Jalapeño

Spicy California with Fresh Lump Crab Meat & Jalapeño

Mr. and Mrs. Muffin enjoyed sashimi-style cobb salads that would have been my pick were it not for the glutenous dressing. The men ordered some simply cooked chicken skewers. Mrs. Muffin and Mr. Green Bean both tried the Chicken Teriyaki roll with avocado mayo. Due to his hatred of avocado, Mr. GB ordered the roll without the necessary mayo which resulted in it being bland and dry (Aside: Sometimes I really think I should just feed my husband blindfolded and tell him what he’s eating later). I benefitted from Mr. Muffin’s over ordering and enjoyed most of his Japanese Wood Grilled Eggplant topped with a sweet plum sauce that was surprisingly gluten-free. Between the melt-in-your-mouth eggplant and the sugary sauce, the dish qualified as dessert.

Japanese Eggplant

Japanese Eggplant

Over another carafe of sake I concluded that the experience at Kushi is always a pleasant journey. The restaurant’s unique menu, high standards for quality ingredients and helpful service make up for some preparation missteps.

Kushi, 465 K Street NW, Washington DC


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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