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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Almost Paradise

Pizzeria Paradiso     Spoons_TWO_76x25

I am officially a food writer. Every meal I eat is analyzed down to the last detail. My hyper-focused taste buds are constantly at work critiquing each bite. My family likes to think of themselves as sous-food writers. They love offering their unsolicited opinions when dining with me, in exchange for a potential mention on the blog. I appreciate and welcome the assistance. If nothing else it makes for interesting dinner conversation. Following Medium Rare and a few other major meals the weekend of my family’s visit, we decided to take it easy Sunday night and order in Pizzeria Paradiso, one of the most reputable artisanal pizza restaurants around, with three locations between DC and NoVA.

Pizzeria Paradiso

Pizzeria Paradiso

Known for their big crust, thin pie, and gourmet toppings, Pizzeria Paradiso debuted a gluten-free crust in the winter of 2012. I was one of the first to try the gluten-free pie and was underwhelmed with the product at the time. However, unwilling to believe that such a successful pizzeria could fail at their gluten-free option, I was willing to give it another try.

The 8-inch gluten-free crust costs an additional $2 more than a regular individual pie. Fellow glutie, Sister-in-law Scotch, and I ordered two to share and made sure to pack on the toppings just in case the crust was lacking. The Siciliana was an easy selection, loaded with zucchini, eggplant, capers, minced garlic, oregano, sweet peppers, red onion, mozzarella, pecorino, and Paradiso’s signature chunky tomato. (Note to those like Mr. Green Bean, who prefer their sauce as a backdrop: make sure to replace the default Paradiso Tomato with Birreria Tomato Sauce, a smoother choice.) The Siciliana succeeded in piling the long list of ingredients onto each slice without completely flopping under the weight. For our second pizza, we created a sauceless pie with pesto, marinated artichokes, spinach, sundried tomato, mozzarella and feta. Bravo to us for a superb combination of bold flavors, serving as a nice contrast to the light and fresh Siciliana. The absence of saucey tomatoes kept both crusts from getting soggy, a typical concern for wheat-free pizzas.

Siciliana with Paradiso Tomato, Zucchini, Eggplant, Capers, Minced Garlic, Oregano, Mozzarella, Pecorino, Sweet Peppers and Red Onion

Siciliana with Paradiso tomato, zucchini, eggplant, capers, minced garlic, oregano, mozzarella, pecorino, sweet peppers and red onion

Paradiso makes their gluten-free crust on-site, and rather than par-baking the crust as they first tried, they now freeze the rolled out dough until ready to pop in the wood-burning stone oven. The result is a thin body with a thick, chewy crust that doesn’t stick to your teeth (you know what I’m talking about fellow gluties). What a novelty to have a hefty edge to hold onto, something to sink one’s teeth into. How rare to have extra bread leftover after all the cheese, sauce and veggies are gone.

Our own creation with

Our own creation with pesto, marinated artichokes, spinach, sundried tomato, mozzarella and feta

The crust recipe calls for a combination of buckwheat, tapioca, white and brown rice, fava and garbanzo flours. The dominant buckwheat nuttiness reminded me of the days when I could enjoy a hearty wholewheat crust, with a certain wholesome flavor that makes one feel less guilty for her meal choice. This dough proved a refreshing change from flavorless, cracker-like, gluten-free flatbreads that call themselves pizzas.

Now the reason for Paradiso’s two-spoon rating. After further research into the pizzeria’s gluten-free precautions and preparation methods, I am sorely disappointed and am having second thoughts about returning to the establishment. Paradiso seems to have sacrificed safety for a winning product. While commendable that they make their gluten-free dough in-house, it is prepared in the same kitchens as the wheat dough with flour flying freely about. The pizzas are assembled using the same topping containers and cooked in a shared stone oven, sliding in and out on the same surface as wheat pizzas. Cross-contamination is inevitable. The restaurant covers themselves by warning of their cooking practices on their website and instructing their waitstaff to do the same at the table. Pizzeria Paradiso took a piece of the gluten-free pie, but isn’t truly serving those who need contamination-free wheat-less crust. What a tease.

I end by sharing my family’s two cents on their regular pizzas. Pa Glutie Foodie likes his pizza saucy and found Paradiso’s too dry. Brother Bourbon thought that for the hefty price there was too much crust. While Sister Seitan loved the unusual Genovese pie topped with pesto, potato and parmesan, Brother Bourbon preferred the very cheesy Quattro Formaggi with gorgonzola, pecorino, fontina, mozzarella, minced garlic and parsley. Surprise, surprise, Mr. Green Bean stuck to the simple cheese pizza with smooth Birreria Tomato Sauce. And easy to please Ma Glutie Foodie was so elated to have us all together around one dinner table, the pizza could have been cardboard…but she loved it!

Pizzeria Paradiso, 3282 M Street NW, Washington DC (see other Locations HERE)


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Pulpo-tential

Pulpo     Spoons_TWO_76x25

Bravo to Pulpo. Last summer, Cleveland Park’s modern American/Spanish tapas restaurant successfully transformed the former Tackle Box space with minimal interior reconstruction. My memory has faded of the picnic tables and steamed clams, replaced by elegant, dark wood, ruffed-up brick, and sweet sangria. Mr. Green Bean and I patronize the under-publicized neighborhood establishment on occasion. We always arrive happy to see the restaurant pleasantly packed. Yet Pulpo is still trying to find just the right formula for success, switching up the menu frequently, offering an all you can eat and drink brunch, advertising extended happy hours and drink specials, and most recently making a staffing change with newly hired general manager David Hansen and executive chef Billy Klein, formerly of Café Saint-Ex. The $25 bottomless brunch smells the most desperate, a ghost of past management that Hansen and Klein are hoping to restructure soon. On a recent Sunday afternoon, Mr. Green Bean and I gave it a go, meeting our newly wedded friends, Weg-Man and Wife, for a midday feast that had its ups and downs.

If there were ever a question of how excessive American culture is, Pulpo’s brunch makes it quite clear. Our waiter, a quiet and mysterious type, handed out menus and allowed us a quick glance before he offered to do the picking on our behalf. He would choose an assortment of tapas from all the menu categories:  breakfast items, lunch items, salads and vegetables, taking into account my gluten allergy. Mr. Green Bean was the only one with premonitions about relinquishing our ordering control. The rest of us happily leaned back and awaited our mimosas.

What unfolded from that point was a never ending ensemble of plates, arriving one at a time, in no particular order, and too slowly to explain why requests—such as coffee, milk for our coffee, spoons for stirring the coffee, hot coffee to replace the now cold and milk-less coffee—were granted in a much delayed fashion, or not at all. It turns out that a number of the brunch items contain gluten. Most surprisingly the frittatas, typically a gluten free alternative to quiche, are made in flour-laced pans. The slow service was partly due to chef Klein’s gracious attempt to modify dishes for my diet while keeping up with a restaurant full of expanding stomachs.

We were given a number of naturally gluten-free items to start, including the white bean salad with cucumber, roasted red pepper, olives and feta,  the spinach with citrus, and the mushrooms with garlic. While most of the lighter dishes were predictable and forgettable, the golden quinoa made an impression, with perfect pearls of toasted quinoa slightly sweetened by apricots and honey.

Golden quinoa with apricots and honey

Golden quinoa with apricots and honey

We were served a fleet of modified gluten-free dishes such as the shrimp salad without the roll (a preparation preferred by our waiter anyway), meatball sliders slipped off the bun, crostini-less smoked salmon with lemon goat cheese, eggs benedict with smoked salmon served over rice pilaf without the orzo, and pan-fried (rather than deep fried) patatas bravas with garlic aioli.

Meatballs with manchego cheese

Meatballs with manchego cheese

Most of the plates faired rather ordinary. However, a highlight of the group was a gluten-free version of the roasted pork belly and black bean tostada, a hearty bowl of pulled pork with corn tortilla triangles for scooping. Unfortunately the dish arrived too late to fully enjoy, our stomachs cramping from overindulgence.

Roasted pork belly and black bean tostada

Roasted pork belly and black bean tostada

The onslaught of food left us confused and disappointed. We would have been better served with a few standout dishes and not all subpar fill-ins that resulted in both overeating and wasted leftovers. Unfortunately, the meal’s only sparsities were refills of our mimosas. Oh, and hot coffee.

Mr. Green Bean and I parted ways with Weg-Man and Wife and walked home reflecting on our more positive dinner experiences at Pulpo. I can’t say I have ever had flawless service at Pulpo, and with a menu that has been restructured a few times it’s difficult to keep up. But I have been pleased on every dinner occasion by more refined menu items that are executed quite well. One ingredient Pulpo makes sure they get right is the sea creature for which the restaurant is named. Pulpo’s newest menu features four octopus dishes. Though I have yet to try them out, my guess is they will fare well based on the success of past octopus preparations .

Octopus with citrus quinoa

Past menu item: Octopus with citrus quinoa

Pulpo continues to wave around its tentacles hoping something will catch. What has been consistent since the restaurant’s opening is its romantic and cozy interior that sets the mood for a pleasant experience regardless of flaws in food and service. Now that chef Klein has been on board for a few months, perhaps this rocky boat is bound for some smooth sailing.

Pulpo, 3407 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC


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Crowd-FUN-ded

Gluten-free Biergarden by SourceHorse

You say, “come enjoy gluten-free donuts and beer to support the Celiac Disease Foundation,” and I say “hell, yes!”. This past Saturday night’s sold out Gluten Free Biergarden was organized by SourceHorse, crowdfunded through EventStir, and held at the multipurpose event space, Tabula Rasa. Guests donated $30 to enjoy gluten-free savories by Ridgewells Catering, sweets by Dough: A District Bakery, kegs of cider from Magners and Woodchuck and endless bottles of gluten-free beer from Bard’s, Dogfish Head and New Planet. I attended the event not only to enjoy all of these delectables, but also to grow awareness of my humble blog. Funny thing is, you get together a bunch of gluties in their 20s and 30s, offer them gluten-free treats, a pumping DJ and an outdoor courtyard on a beautiful October night, and the last thing they want to do is talk about being gluten-free. So I worked my mouth on the food and drink instead of the crowd.

Ridgwells Catering      Spoons_TWO_76x25
Bethesda based Ridgwells Catering must not have expected such a terrific turn out. The buffet of small bites ran out in the first half hour, well before Mr. Green Bean showed up. I arrived early enough to taste everything, in order to report back to you diligently, of course. The display included a Mediterranean skewer bar with grilled chorizo and spiced Shrimp that satisfied, and overcooked lemon oregano chicken that turned to sawdust in my mouth (harsh, I know, but true).

Mediteranean skewer bar with (left to right) chorizo, shrimp and chicken.

Mediteranean skewer bar with (left to right) chorizo, shrimp and chicken.

Vegetarian options included artichokes with sun-dried tomato tapenade, grilled vegetable rollers with guacamole and black bean spread, and tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers. Though the food didn’t offer much to get excited about, I was impressed by the soft, chewy wrapper used for the veggie rollers, maintaining a pleasing texture and holding together nicely.

(Left to Right) Vegetable rollups; artichokes with sun-dried tomato; tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers.

(Left to Right) Grilled vegetable rollers; artichokes with sun-dried tomato tapenade; tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers

Dough: A District Bakery    Spoons_FOUR
Dough’s baked goods were also tough to come by, mainly because guests couldn’t get enough of the bite-sized red velvet cupcakes, pumpkin spice donut holes, and miniature eclairs! The new DC bakery has yet to establish a store front, making accessibility a bit of a challenge. Founder and baker, Hilary Nelson, has utilized Tabula Rasa for a couple of Saturday pop-up events and is happy to take orders online. Nelson is all about fostering DC culture by sourcing local ingredients to supply the community, both gluten-free and not, with soulful sweet treats. I certainly tasted the love. Each piece I sampled was light, airy, fluffy…all adjectives typically used to describe what gluten-free is not! The oblong pastry of the eclair closely resembled that of a conventional eclair, filled with a touch of vanilla custard and decorated with a sweet chocolate frosting. My favorite was the donut hole, bursting with pumpkin flavor and enhanced by a glistening coating of cinnamon and sugar. Catch Dough if you can as she grows her budding business through upcoming local engagements.

(Left to right) Mini eclairs, red velvet cupcakes, and pumpkin spice donut holes

(Left to right) Mini eclairs; mini red velvet cupcakes; pumpkin spice donut holes

Once the food ran out, beer and cider flowed. I sipped on Dogfish Head’s Tweason’ale, a twist on traditional gluten-free brews, made with fresh strawberries, sorghum and honey. It was a refreshing choice for the night’s lingering summer air. I’m not a personal fan of Magners or Woodchuck cider, but red solo cups kept filling up. Good marks were also given to New Planet’s Blond Ale, a sorghum and corn extract based beer.

Dogfish Head Tweason'ale

Dogfish Head Tweason’ale

Stay tuned for future gluten-free crowd-funded events by SourceHorse. The young company aims to make  planning, funding, and promoting events of all kinds a cinch. The millennial generation to which SourceHorse caters is known for creative mindedness. SourceHorse brings their ideas to fruition. In the gluten conscious world we live in, it’s no surprise this g-free event drew such a crowd. Though SourceHorse admits that high overhead left little profit to be donated to the Celiac Disease Foundation, building awareness is worth a great deal.


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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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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