Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Self-Centraled

Central Michel Richard     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Whimsical: An adjective often used in describing downtown DC’s Central Michel Richard. Yet, whimsy doesn’t quite capture what is at the heart of this James Beard Award winning restaurant. Indulgence seems the foundation of a menu that takes American food’s most pleasurable staples and gourmetifies them with a French twist. What results is an amusement park for fine diners. Yet, with American classics come fried finishes, flour coatings and wheat filling, deeming us Glutie Foodies unfit to board the best rides.

I arrived at Central on a recent Saturday night with my girlfriends, Mrs. Muffin, Miss Zin, and Zin’s childhood friend, a new arrival to DC. The scene by the bar was boisterous, with seats filled by couples making a night of it, and diners waiting for tables attempting a pre-dinner cocktail. The dining room was filled with creamy light, reflecting off the warm wood tables and chairs and earth-toned marble floors. Michel Richard’s face graces a large wall by the wine cellar, reminding visitors who’s the boss.

We ordered our wine and a dozen oysters as I divulged my “allergy” to the server.  It did not surprise me, this being a high profile restaurant on a busy Saturday night, that the server seemed slightly put-off by a complicated customer and did not offer much guidance. I decided to survey the menu further and strategize my questioning. When he returned, I asked a handful of questions, most of which he had to check on. We discovered together that besides the obviously breaded items, many of the sauces and marinades contain either soy sauce or flour. The tuna carpaccio, mussels in white wine, miso salmon, sea scallops with bellpepper sauce, and rotisserie chicken dishes are all off-limits. Most of the sharing plates and starters either have to be adapted or skipped altogether, and the tempting ahi tuna and lobster burgers are both glutenous, even without the bun. With my options severely limited, I took the server’s advice and ordered the 100% gluten-free loup de mer (sea bass) with mushrooms.

Oysters!

Oysters!

Central is lucky it has quality on its side.  Patrons know that regardless of what is ordered, it is always terrific. The freshest ingredients are used in the most complimentary combinations. Complicated preparations are perfectly executed to create consistently superior food. Needless to say, the sea bass was fantastic. The flaky 10 inch filleted fish was served skin side up, topped with a heap of rosemary infused mushrooms, and accompanied by a side of arugula, simply dressed with olive oil, lemon and shaved parmesan. The dish was light, fresh, healthy and hearty.

Loup De Mer with Mushrooms and Arugula

Loup de Mer with Mushrooms

The pleasant surprise of the night were the French macaroons on the dessert menu (not always available), made in-house and definitely gluten-free. I treated our figure-conscious table to one of each flavor, just a few bites each to finish on a sweet note.

French Macaroons

French Macaroons

My meal was delightful enough to almost forget my earlier anxieties. While I will gladly return to Central for another first-rate dinner, I was disappointed with the server’s aloof attitude and the menu’s limitations. I suppose a chef as renown as Michel Richard doesn’t have to be concerned with accommodating little ol’ me.

Central Michel Richard, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave 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


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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