Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Pretty-Good Is the New Great!

HomeMade Pizza Co.   Spoons_THREE_76x25

It took two years, but I finally recalibrated my taste for pizza. Gluten-free pies are readily available in the DC region, I can’t complain about that. But a crust made from rice, chickpea or sorghum flour is just a different animal than its wheat-based counterpart. Gluten-eating sympathizers will often compare and acknowledge that g-free is “not bad” or “actually pretty good!” But that “pretty good” pizza is mine forever. Now, when I crave pizza, I salivate thinking about the thin, delicate and often soggy kind. How delish.

One of the better options around town is the gluten-free crust at HomeMade Pizza Co. The DC and Illinois based company is unique to begin with. Gourmet pizza’s are prepared in-house using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and packaged with instructions for baking at home. It’s brilliant, actually. After 15 minutes in the oven you have a piping hot pie that taste like a lot more at-home labor.

Gluten-free HomeMade Pizza ready to be baked

Gluten-free HomeMade pizza ready to be baked

The HomeMade Pizza Co. menu allows customers to build their own pie if the pre-curated combinations don’t strike it just right. Start with a choice of crust (regular, whole wheat, deep dish or gluten-free), then add a base (tomato sauce, olive oil, BBQ sauce, ranch, pesto), and a selection of toppings from cheeses to meats, vegetables and herbs. The gluten-free crust, offered since 2011, is comprised of rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch and corn starch. The dough is prepared, rolled out, and sealed in an off-site, certified gluten-free kitchen, then delivered to HomeMade locations to be topped off.

A "Build-your-own" creation with some extra veggies laying around my kitchen

A “Build-your-own” creation with some leftover roasted veggies thrown in

Unfortunately the tiny storefronts do not accommodate separate work stations. While staff is careful to keep gluten-free crusts contamination-free, a thin coating of wheat-flour dusts even the cash register at the 14th Street location that I frequent. If I appear antsy when I pick up my orders it’s because I’m anxious to get back outside for a full breath of fresh air! At least the baking takes place in the safety of my own kitchen. Mr. Green Bean’s cheese pizza (sometimes on whole wheat to justify eating a slice too many) goes on the bottom rack. My HomeMade favorite, the Spinach Pie with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, pine nuts, Kalamata olives and oregano over an olive oil glaze, sits daintily on the top. The result: well, thin, of course, with a crispy “crust” (indistinguishable from the rest of the pie, except that it’s topping-less) and a light, buttery flavor. Toppings are fresh, plentiful, and easily modifiable (think light-on-the-cheese, extra saucy or added anchovies for free).

Spinach Pie with feta cheese, sundried tomatoes, roasted garlic, pine nuts, and oregano over an olive oil glaze

Spinach Pie with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, pine nuts, and oregano

Rated relative to other gluten-free pies, HomeMade definitely wins a spot on my fast food rotation. However, the company should make some improvements to avoid cross-contamination and control the wafting flour that us gluties avoid like second-hand smoke.

HomeMade Pizza Co., various locations in Washington DC and VA.


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Spreading Love

Cava Mezze Grill     Spoons_FOUR

Cava is a permanent item on my grocery list. No, Mr. Green Bean and I are not popping the Spanish sparkling wine on a regular basis (we prefer Prosecco for cheap, bubbly thrills anyway). I’m talking about Cava Mezze’s variety of Greek-inspired dips and spreads, now sold at Whole Foods and other select grocers along the East Coast. This sounds like a paid endorsement. I promise it’s not. We just really love the stuff! It was one of Mr. Green Bean’s proudest moments the first time he returned home from a food shopping expedition with Cava’s traditional hummus in hand, like an accomplished hunter with a prized kill. Our friends can attest that dinner parties at our apartment always begin with a platter of Cava hummus and tzatziki, baby carrots and some variety of gluten-free crisps.

We were introduced to the spreads at Cava Mezze on Capitol Hill (now one of three Cava Mezze locations). It was one of our first dining experiences in DC. The hip, Greek tapas restaurant by trio Ike Grigoropoulos, Ted Xenohristos and chef Dimitri Moshovitis quickly became our go-to spot to bring out-of-town guests for reliable, quality food in a festive environment. But where the Cava Mezze enterprise really succeeds is with their take home products and casual fast-food spin off Cava Mezze Grill.

Cava opened its first grill concept on Bethesda Row in 2011. Mr. Green Bean and I frequently trekked from Cleveland Park until two locations opened in more convenient neighborhoods, Tenleytown and Columbia Heights. Doors have also opened in Virginia’s Tysons Corner (McLean) and the Mosaic District (Merrifield). Cava Mezze boils down their industrial-chic restaurant look for the grill’s more casual atmosphere with reclaimed wood surfaces and heavy metal detailing. The menu concept is familiar, thanks to Chipotle: start with a base and add dips and toppings of your choosing. The well curated selections from chef Dimitri’s oeuvre all play nicely together, making it impossible to mess up an order. A wall decal as you enter lists all of Cava’s ingredients with allergen information, breaking down which items are gluten-free, soy-free, vegetarian, vegan, etc. Gluties will happily note that most ingredients are gluten-free, save for obvious culprits such as pita, meatballs and falafel.

Salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

Power greens salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

Gluten-free diners can choose from a variety of greens for a salad bowl or a brown or white basmati rice bowl. The power greens mix, with shredded brussels sprouts, kale, and other crunchy leaves, starts the bowl off with a nutritious kick. Gluten-free protein options such as chicken, braised lamb and braised beef make for a substantial meal; but I am often just as satisfied forgoing animal meat. Those renown spreads and dips come next, with a choice of tzatziki, traditional hummus, red pepper hummus, jalepeño-infused “crazy feta”, eggplant/red pepper, and spicy harissa (which I cautiously order on the side). Lastly comes an assortment of chopped salads, pickled onions, olives, herbs and more. Dressings are available but the flavorful concoctions never really need more than a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Harissa

Spicy Harissa…on the side

Gluties should be aware that while Cava Grill has the best intentions of accommodating gluten-free patrons with a variety of meal options and readiness to change gloves for an allergy, cross-contamination is a problem. Knives are used to spread the dips onto pita bread and placed back into the same bins that are used to scoop dips for the bowls. Food containers are closely packed together, making it easy for occasional droppings here and there. In part, the nature of an open preparation space reveals much of what happens behind the scenes at many restaurants. And fast-food is never the safest venue for highly sensitive individuals. But Cava Grill is certainly making an effort. Any place where I can get a hearty salad, stat, with a glass of wine to wash it down, ranks high on my chart.

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

Cava Mezze Grill, 4832 Bethesda Avenue, Bethesda, MD (and various locations in DC and VA)


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Casa Corn Pasta

Casa Luca     Spoons_THREE_76x25

For quite some time now, DC area residents have rejoiced over a burgeoning restaurant industry. Not so welcome, however, are the slowly rising menu prices. Fabio Trabocchi is an anomaly among his peers. The chef and restauranteur opened Casa Luca this past summer as an “accessible” alternative to his more upscale trattoria, Fiola. The menu at his new osteria represents the simpler delicacies of Italian cuisine at more reasonable (though still not cheap) prices. Trabocchi chose decor elements from his hometown in Le Marche, a region in central Italy along the Adriatic coast, to create a warmer environment than the space’s former tenant, British gastropub Againn. He curated a menu that encourages sharing in the tradition of Le Marche, with piccoletti (small plates), antipasti, salumi, formaggi, pastas offered in half and full portions and family-style entrees. Mr. Green Bean and I arrived at Casa Luca primed to share an indulgent evening with our friends Mr. and soon-to-be Mrs. Potato Salad (I’m told to pronounce their name with a Fonzie-esk, Italian-American accent).

Wine was the first item on the agenda, this was a Friday night after all. Casa Luca’s wine menu makes it easy to keep the vino flowing. A selection of quality Italian varieties are offered at $28/bottles or $12/glass (who’s not going to order the bottle?). We began with a Sangiovese as we perused the menu. I was well aware before arriving that Casa Luca offers gluten-free pasta. One would assume, therefore, that the staff would be proficient in attending to gluten-free diners. Yet, I found myself faced with a blank stare as I probed our server for some guidance with the menu’s gluten-free offerings and suggested pasta preparations. The kitchen stocks both rice and corn based pastas (not house-made like their wheat counterparts). When I asked our server why they offer both and which one he recommends, he hesitated, then shared, “the corn is chewier and more popular.”

Our server agreeably made repeat trips to the kitchen to discover what else I could eat. The meatball appetizer contains breadcrumbs (disappointing but not surprising); the salsa romesco in the lobster crudo antipasti contains breadcrumbs (somewhat surprising); and as we discovered later on, the affogato on the dessert menu also contains breadcrumbs (um, surprising!). With the server’s help and some compromise on my part, I muscled together a safe and mouth-watering order, sharing the misticanza of winter citrus salad and salumi with the table, a modified lobster crudo and roasted cauliflower side with soon-to-be Mrs. Potato Salad (she’ll lose the pesky prefix in April), and a half portion of the oxtail ragù with corn pasta to be shared with no one.

Chef's pick of 3 Salumi

Chef’s pick of 3 salumi

First to arrive was a wooden plank filled with a generous serving of sliced meats and a small cup of olives. Mr. Green Bean and Mr. Potato Salad quickly notice the absence of accompanying bread and were pointed to the breads listed on the menu for an additional charge. The men ordered grilled Italian toast, lest they should have to eat their meats without a crusty base. The table guzzled the meatballs while I shared my winter salad, packed with leafy greens, radishes, grapefruit, Mandarin orange, green apple, red grapes, pomegranate seeds, and pistachios. The dressing was light and the salad refreshing, though a bit schizophrenic.

Mizcanzia Winter

Misticanza of winter citrus, with all the fixings

Our lobster crudo with pickled vegetables and toasted hazelnuts was prepared with a barely noticeable pesto sauce instead of the glutenous salsa romesco. The lobster was plentiful and fresh, though slightly overpowered by the vegetables spiced with cloves like a man doused in too much cologne. The roasted cauliflower side with pine nuts and parsley was cooked perfectly, florets peeling apart with the encouragement of the fork. They sat on a creamy puree, adding a textural juxtaposition. I did miss the sweet punch of golden raisins that the menu promised but our dish seemed to lack.

Lobster crudo

Lobster crudo

My bowl of corn pasta with oxtail ragù was filled with large pieces of tender, slow-cooked meat, and a deep red tomato sauce, sans pine nuts and golden raisins the menu described (raisin shortage perhaps?). A little fatty for my taste, the ragù had a deliciously rich flavor, disguising any characteristic qualities (for better or worse) of the almost too al dente corn pasta. I give the kitchen credit for not crossing over into mushy pasta territory, all too easy with gluten-free varieties. I’d rather crunchy to gooey any day.

Gluten-free corn pasta with oxtail ragu

Gluten-free corn pasta with oxtail ragu

We were all sufficiently stuffed, and I had more red meat in me than I’d had in weeks. But that didn’t stop us from another bottle of red and a look at the dessert menu. We confirmed that the panna cotta was gluten-free and placed our order with a few extra scoops of sorbet to go around the table. The cup of thick, creamy, lightly sweetened custard was topped with a tart cherry/strawberry sorbet. Each spoonful tasted sinfully amazing. Our accompanying deep, dark chocolate sorbet lent itself perfectly to double dipping for a combination of flavors that excited every taste bud.

Panna cota with cherry/strawberry sorbet

Panna cotta with cherry/strawberry sorbet

Casa Luca succeeded in bringing friends together for jubilant time over delicious food and drink in a comfortable, relaxed, yet sophisticated environment. Though a few missteps with food preparations and some gluten free education in order, Casa Luca is a wonderful addition to the transforming landscape of Penn Quarter and a noteworthy restaurant among the droves.

Casa Luca, 1099 New York Ave NW, Washington DC


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Once in a Blue Moon

Blue Moon Cafe     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Let’s get personal for a second. I am a morning person. Don’t misunderstand me; I like my sleep. But an ideal Sunday morning involves waking up early enough to enjoy a light snack, flow through yoga class and return home to prep brunch before Mr. Green Bean even stirs. It’s my restorative start to the day, my defense against inevitable weekend indulgences.

Sarah Simington of the Blue Moon Cafe is a different kind of morning person. She is a morning person 24 hours of the day. Her superstar diner never sleeps on the weekends and serves greasy, carb-loaded plates that count as one of those weekend indulgences. Several weeks ago Mr. Green Bean and I were in Harbor East, Baltimore, for the much-anticipated wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Pickles. Our usual routine went out the window as Mr. Green Bean rose early for a full day of groomsman duties, and I slept in with nowhere to be except mid-day brunch with the in-laws.

Baltimore residents, Ma and Pa Green Bean, suggested we try the famed Blue Moon Cafe. We walked toward Fell’s Point and spotted the crowd in the distance, lining the otherwise quiet street. The 30 seater restaurant is accustomed to managing twice that many on a wait list. It was a solid hour before the restaurant turned over 1.5 times and we were brought inside to join the fun. Before I continue, gluten-free readers heed this warning: salacious, glutenous dishes described ahead!

For such a tiny place, The Blue Moon Cafe packs in a lot of personality. Mismatched tables and chairs are surrounded by a hodgepodge of wall surfaces decorated with kitschy artwork. We were seated and soon greeted by an enthusiastic server, high on sugar fumes emanating from the kitchen. As she took our coffee orders, I was distracted by plates of the diner’s main attraction whizzing past on servers’ hands: Captain Crunch French Toast. The dish caught the attention of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and is as gluten-filled as it sounds. While my mouth watered, my nutrition-conscious head chimed, “saved-by-the-belly.”

I scanned the menu for something healthy, mistake number 1. Clearly Simington’s forte is not healthful cooking. G&G’s Country Scramble features a homemade biscuit topped with eggs, bacon and cheddar cheese, smothered in sausage gravy. The Sweet Baby Jesus covers hash browns with Old Bay seasoned, jumbo lump crab meat, diced tomatoes, cheddar cheese, two eggs any style and creamy hollandaise. The menu does offer several lighter meat-free, modifiable options to appease the likes of me, including several egg scrambles, omelets and benedicts that at closer examination are really different preparations of the same ingredients.

Our server didn’t blink an eye when I revealed my gluten allergy and suggested the chef’s “gluten-free specialty” with sauteed veggies and hash browns, served with eggs any style. Sounded to me like another version of the Vegetarian (omelette and scramble), but I was woo’ed by the off-menu item, mistake number 2, and ordered my eggs poached, mistake number 3. The plate arrived with a shallow pile of a bland veggie medley, a generous side of fruit and two unevenly cooked eggs with runny whites and half-hard yokes.

Gluten-free Chef's Choice with veggies, fruit and poached eggs

Gluten-free chef’s choice with veggies, fruit and poached eggs

I attempted to assemble a more complex layering of flavors myself. Perhaps the greasy, crispy hash browns would enliven the vegetables and soak up some egg white. But the plate ended up looking like this:

Glutie Foodie's attempt to re-plate her meal

Glutie Foodie’s attempt to re-plate her meal

Ma and Pa Green Bean ordered the Vegetarian omelette and scramble respectively, Ma Green Bean’s with just a few (ahem) modifications—where do you think Mr. Green Bean gets his sensitive palette? Both dishes looked delicious (amazing what a slathering of cheese and a little extra oil will do). Still, we all agreed that the hash browns were the one item worth the wait.

Pa Green Beans vegetarian egg scramble

Pa Green Beans vegetarian egg scramble

If I were an afternoon crash and nap kind of person, perhaps a meat-loaded or sugar-filled dish would have served me better. Mistake number 4 was not trying the buckwheat pancakes that our server claimed contain no wheat (gluties, please double check before ordering). But my low fat, high protein plate with a side of starch kept my engine running through the long night of dancing to celebrate Mr. and Mrs. Pickles.

The short of it? If the sight and smell of gooey homemade cinnamon rolls that you can’t eat still ruins your day, stay clear of Blue Moon. But if you’re looking for an upbeat atmosphere, friendly service, eggs done mostly well, and a meal that will squash your day’s calorie count, by all means put your name on the list. Simington hopes to expand her dining space vertically in the near future, perhaps relieving the extended wait time and appeasing those not-so morning people who can’t function before coffee.

Blue Moon Cafe, 1621 Aliceanna St, Baltimore, Maryland


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A Rare Occasion

Medium Rare     Spoons_THREE_76x25

A couple of weeks ago, as the turning leaves reached their most colorful hues, a northerly wind swept my family in for a visit. This epic weekend brought Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie and long overdue guests, Brother Bourbon and Sister-in-law Scotch, named for their fondness of the brown spirits. My older sibling and his wife trekked from NYC with my adorable 8 month old nephew, Mr. Bean.  Saturday night we would be joined by my aunt, uncle, cousin and his girlfriend for a big family night out. The pressure was on to come up with a restaurant that could accommodate our large crowd, be suitable for the vegetarian and gluten-free among us and impress with quality food and service, all while not burning a hole in Pa Glutie Foodie’s wallet. The Cleveland Park steak frites restaurant, Medium Rare, is one of Mr. Green Bean’s favorites and has been enjoyed by many of the Glutie Foodie characters, including Miss Zin, Irish Coffee and Weg-Man and Wife.  I deemed it the perfect choice for our party.

Medium Rare’s success over the past two and a half years can be attributed to an all-star cast, including owners Tom Gregg and Mark Bucher (founder of BGR The Burger Joint), manager Brian Zipin (last seen at Ray’s The Steaks), and consulting chef Cedric Maupillier (formerly of Central Michel Richard), who came together to design the well packaged experience. For $19.50 (plus tax), diners enjoy a first course of bib lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette, followed by sliced top sirloin cap steak cooked to your liking, drizzled with “secret sauce” and accompanied by crispy hand-cut frites. Servers circle the table as soon as plates are cleaned to deliver a second helping from a sizzling hot grill pan. While some indulge in the encore, many box it up to go. Gluten-free diners are in for a treat, as the meal is entirely gluten-free, minus the homemade bread served right when you settle in, and which I gather from Mr. Green Bean is quite delicious.

Bibb lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette

Mixed green salad with mustard vinaigrette

The atmosphere is far more charming than the space’s former tenant, Yanni’s Greek Taverna. Medium Rare chose simple decor, with dim lighting, white paper table liners and vinyl flooring that tends to be slippery (I have come frighteningly close to falling right on my butt several times). The music selection (think classic rock) seems a little out of place, but the bathroom soundtrack, lessons in French pick-up lines, reminds visitors of the restaurant’s French influence.

Medium Rare does not take reservations on weekends. But call 30 min ahead and they will add your name to the wait list. On this rare occasion, a fluke in their system (i.e. a new employee who made a mistake) won us a reservation for 11 at 7:30pm on a Saturday. Awesome. We arrived, were promptly seated and debriefed by our waiter on how our meal would work. No time is wasted on a menu, no long-winded inquisition of gluten ingredients necessary, just state how you like your meat cooked and Voilà.

Brother Bourbon, a fairly savvy carnivore, summed up his meal just as I would: The steak is good, but the salad, fries and gravy really make the meal. Medium Rare doesn’t serve up the finest, most flavorful cut, and they don’t always get the temperature perfect—just ask Mr. Green Bean about his very pink portion—but they do enough right that it truly doesn’t matter. You get just what you pay for, and at a fair price, I’m fine with that.

Culotte steak and hand-cut fries with "secret sauce"

Culotte steak with “secret sauce” and hand-cut fries

Where the restaurant fails is in their accommodations for vegetarians. The non-meat option is a grilled portobello steak with a red pepper sauce, priced the same as the regular meal. The mushroom does a nice job of acting like a meat steak, but doesn’t quite satisfy in the protein department. Sister Seitan took one for the team and didn’t complain…too much. I often use the vegetarian option to my advantage by ordering it and stealing a few slices of Mr. Green Bean’s steak for a perfectly well rounded meal.

Grilled portobello steak with red pepper sauce and hand-cut fries

Grilled portobello steak with red pepper sauce and hand-cut fries

The process is so efficient that tables turn quickly. It’s a great place to grab dinner before catching a movie at The Uptown, but often feels rushed for a leisurely meal. However, our large party slowed the service down, giving us plenty of time to enjoy several bottles of wine. The carefully curated wine list offers half a dozen reds and whites well suited for this particular cut of steak. We further extended our meal by ordering a few notoriously enormous desserts. The House Specialty hot fudge sundae is gluten-free if ordered without the chocolate crunch balls, and is well worth the extra trip to the gym the next morning.

House Specialty: hot fudge sundae

House Specialty: hot fudge sundae

The bill arrived with a glass full of bubblegum, a sweet something to soften the blow of a final tally unsurprisingly inflated from the $19.50/person base rate. Large parties beware of the ambiguous “Dine In” fee, a 20% tip added to the bill that can easily be missed. The family departed chomping on our gum with full stomachs and smiling faces. By the time they visit again, the restaurant will have opened its impending second location on Barracks Row. Well-done, Medium Rare.

Double Bubble gum

Double Bubble gum

Medium Rare, 3500 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington DC 


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Mexican Dating Game

El Centro D.F.     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Growing up, taco night was my favorite night. Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie would have to cut me off after a messy 5 or 6 Old El Paso shells filled with ground beef or beans and cheese. Mexican cuisine is still one of my most beloved. Give me spicy salsa, fresh avocado, and crispy tortillas and I’m a happy glutie. There are plenty of mediocre Mexican offerings in the DC area; but following a trip to Richard Sandoval’s El Centro D.F., I thought I had met my Mexican soulmate.

El Centro and I met a few years back, when my good friend Lox (of Bagel and Lox) and I stopped in for nourishment after an evening of art reception hopping. We sat on two stools in the casual taqueria’s open seating area and were helped by a jovial server who informed me that the menu is nearly completely gluten-free. We gulped down house margaritas made with fresh lime and agave nectar (as apposed to sugar filled, artificially flavored and potentially gluten-containing mix), and I enjoyed every bite of my Chipotle Shrimp, served with black bean puree, market vegetables and white rice. El Centro offers delicious corn based, authentic Mexican comfort food in a hip, upscale environment, at more reasonable prices than many of its 14th street neighbors. I enthusiastically introduced El Centro to Mr. Green Bean. And Mr. GB and I returned with Sister Seitan, The Muffins, Souper Girl, Irish Coffee, Breakfast Blend… We met friends for frozen drinks on the lively rooftop bar and for more formal dining in the dark and sexy basement tequileria. It was a blissful time.

Guacamole prepared tableside

Guacamole prepared tableside

Then came the visit that left me wary. Miss Zin and I were excited to gorge on guacamole mashed table-side and perfectly salted tortilla chips fried in gluten-free oil. I began to explain my gluten “allergy” to the server as I always do, and instead of the usual rap, “just avoid the empanadas and dessert”, he started to scrunch his nose, wrinkle his forehead and pierce his lips. “Hmmmm, you can not eat anything”, was more or less his unapologetic response. He had to be kidding. You mean, the Mushroom Huarache (flatbread) I ordered last time has flour in the dough they swore was gluten-free? And the soft taco tortillas I’ve now eaten on multiple occasions are not 100% corn? He double checked with the kitchen and returned with more bad news. I could eat the ceviche. That was it. Feeling nauseous just thinking about all the gluten I had consumed over the past months, raw fish in an acid bath was the last thing I wanted. Miss Zin felt terrible and I was embarrassed. Was it possible my Mexican crush was breaking up with me?

But alas, on this very evening, the manager was making the rounds and stopped by our table to ask how everything (my ceviche) was. “Actually…”, and I told her my tale. Shocked, she apologized and rescinded the server’s misinformation. El Centro’s menu has always been nearly 80% gluten-free. So why the server’s certainty of quite the opposite? Was it a language barrier? This is not the first time I have had major confusion in a Mexican restaurant. But I never expected it from mi amore. The manager treated me to the Grilled Skirt Steak Huaraches I would have ordered had this alarming experience not occurred, and I ate it tentatively. We exchanged few words with our server after that.

I have since returned to El Centro and learned how to trust again. Just last week Miss Lox and I shared another indulgent dinner after burning all our energy at a schmoozy networking reception. After we were seated, I glanced at the menu, slightly modified since my last visit, and quizzed a clearly new employee, waiting for another alarming incident to begin. But to my relief, he understood my food restriction and was confident that the crispy shrimp tacos were safe for me to eat. Lightly fried baby shrimps are stuffed into three soft, 100% corn shells and served with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeño, roasted corn and mexican rice. My usual favorite, the baja fish tacos, now have major competition.

Crispy Shrimp tacos with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeno, roasted corn, and mexican rice

Crispy Shrimp tacos with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeño, roasted corn, and mexican rice

Baja tacos with grilled market fish, Mexican slaw, tomato, corn, avocado and chipotle aioli

Baja tacos with grilled market fish, Mexican slaw, tomato, corn, avocado and chipotle aioli

Despite it’s imperfections, El Centro has a magnetic pull. And with his new location in Georgetown, it will be even more difficult to stay away. Though I try to play hard to get, he remains a strong favorite in my restaurant rotation. Oh, El Centro, cómo te quiero.

Chips, salsa and guacamole

Chips, salsa and guacamole

El Centro D.F., 1819 14th Street NW, Washington DC
El Centro D.F. Georgetown, 1218 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington DC


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Night Crawling

As an epicurean with celiac, I’m like the kid left out of the sandbox when it comes to culinary adventures. I dream to participate in chef tastings, secret supper clubs and the newest trend, underground restaurants with no menu, all challenging experiences when one has a severe “allergy”. But one foodie venture is capitalizing on the rise of celiac and gluten-sensitive diners by offering a gluten-free experience not to be missed. Dishcrawl was founded in 2010 in San Jose, CA, and now has chapters in numerous cities throughout the country. It hosts ticketed progressive dinners that take participants to four restaurants for four different dishes over a three hour period. The DC chapter, led by ambassador Qui-Juan Jones, organizes themed crawls in various neighborhoods around the District and surrounding areas, to acquaint a group of strangers both to each other and to the many sides of DC’s gourmet kitchens. Last week’s first ever gluten-free DC Dishcrawl in Barracks Row attracted 17 hungry individuals on all spectrums of the gluten-free diet (strict observers, occasional subscribers, and loyal supporters). I couldn’t wait to mingle with fellow gluties on a mystery food tour of Capital Hill.

The Chesapeake Room     Spoons_THREE_76x25
We began our journey at the The Chesapeake Room, a small, casual restaurant with an interior dominated by a long narrow bar, a couple of horseshoe leather booths, and a few high tops. A large outdoor patio offers more seating, but certainly not on this scorching hot DC summer evening. The bar brought in a selection of Omission Beers and Angry Orchard Cider just for the occasion and are considering keeping one gluten-free bottle option on the menu. We were served our first dish by the executive chef who explained that their American/French/Italian fusion menu offers several gluten-free options. Our plates, winning for best presentation of the night, included a trio of tastings starting with a seared scallop over a fava bean and mushroom risotto. While the scallop was over-salted it was nicely seared to produce a caramelized surface while retaining its soft interior. In the middle of the plate was a scoop of crab salad on a slice of raw tomato with an avocado dressing (adapted from the menu’s fried-green tomato version). A sprinkling of greens added texture to the mayo-heavy yet fresh tasting crab. The final element was a watermelon gazpacho, a refreshing choice for the heatwave we were in. The addition of orange juice to the recipe pushed the chilled soup too far on the sweet spectrum. But overall the variety of flavors between all three items and the well portioned plate made for a successful first stop.

The Chesapeake Room: Seared scallops over mushroom risotto, crab stack, and watermelon gazpacho

The Chesapeake Room: Seared scallops over fava bean and mushroom risotto, crab stack, and watermelon gazpacho


Pacifico Cantina
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For our next dish, the group crossed 8th Street SE to Pacifico Cantina for some Tex-Mex flare. We were greeted by festive Mexican decor and music and servers ready to take our margarita and mojito orders. Fresh guacamole was served family style at our table, accompanied by salsa and corn tortilla chips fried separately from anything glutenous. The guac was heavy on the salt, but the salsa had just my speed of heat. We were then served a cup of shrimp ceviche with jicama, corn, tomato, cilantro and cucumber over a touch of spring greens served with a few chips (not a regular menu item). Around me my fellow diners started reaching for liquid relief from the spice. I seemed to get a mild batch that was well balanced and tasty. Our plates were cleared and we prepared to move on when surprisingly another fleet of dishes headed our way…then turned on its heels and disappeared. The manager embarrassingly explained that the kitchen accidentally prepared a chicken taco on a flour tortilla, this after his speech on how gluten-free friendly Pacifico Cantina is. The staff quickly rebounded and soon delivered a soft corn tortilla topped with chopped chicken, pico de gallo, salsa verde and cilantro. The double layered tortilla was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and folded nicely over the slightly overcooked yet flavorful chicken. We walked away stuffed after that plentiful sampling of average tasting Tex-Mex. Overall, Pacifico Cantina is a fun spot to sip on sweet drinks and nosh on addictive tortilla chips.

Pacifico Cantina: Chips and guacamole, shrimp ceviche, and chicken taco

Pacifico Cantina: Chips and guacamole, shrimp ceviche, and chicken taco


Cafe 8
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We hobbled just a couple of doors down from Pacifico Cantina to our third location, Cafe 8, which offers unpretentious Turkish/Greek cuisine in an authentic, Mediterranean atmosphere. Unfortunately the air conditioner was having technical difficulties, but we filed into the bar area and were served cold water on the spot. Plates soon arrived with plentiful helpings of shaved doner meat over white long grain rice, covered with tomato sauce. The meat heavy dish made up for its unrefined appearance with its rich, salty flavor (notice a trend?) and tender consistency. The kebab is made in-house with 80% lean beef and 20% lamb that marinates for days in milk and spices before being pitched on the spit. The dish was a crowd pleaser, even given our full stomachs. I forced myself to stop after a few bites for fear of impending button popping. Cafe 8 offers a number of gluten-free options, as is often the case with Mediterranean menus. The quaint restaurant’s low key, eccentric vibe and quality, reasonably priced food tempts me to return for another try on a cooler night. Pleasing carnivorous Mr. Green Bean will be the true test.

Cafe 8: Doner kebab over rice

Cafe 8: Doner kebab over rice


Pitango Gelato
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We had one more stop to go and luckily it was dessert. After all that high sodium food, I relished the thought of something sweet. We walked toward Eastern Market to bombard the tiny storefront of Pitango Gelato. A young, spirited associate was prepared to manage our group and pitch us the spiel about Pitango’s direct line to fresh milk from Mennonite farmers, pistachios sourced from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Italy, and nuts roasted with infrared light for the most natural flavor possible. Pitango now has five locations in DC, Maryland and Virginia, all serving the highest quality, seasonally changing gelato and sorbet. We were thrilled to learn that everything in the store is gluten-free accept for the cones. But the tiny colorful spoons are so fun, who wants a cone anyway? Our server’s patience astounded me as she allowed each of us to try multiple flavors before ordering. I am a frequenter of this gelato joint and can vouch for every flavor I’ve tried, which is many. The classic Pistachio di Bronte is nutty bliss, the Green Tea is subtly herbalicious, and the Chocolate with Chips is born-again classic. The vegan sorbets taste nearly as creamy as their dairy counterparts. Nothing compares to the mango, which you’ll swear is packed with fat. When the rush to order was over, we passed around cups and swapped spoons. Gelato has a way of making even strangers fast friends.

Pitango Gelato: White grapefruit and rhubarb sorbets

Pitango Gelato: White grapefruit and rhubarb sorbets

On that sweet note, I solicited some reflections on the night and received overall positive responses. While the food was not the finest Barracks Row has to offer, it is a challenge to find committed and enthusiastic restaurants given the size of the group, our food limitations, and the logistics of the program. Thanks is due to Qui-Juan Jones, Dishcrawl DC, and the participating restaurants for providing us gluties the opportunity to let down our guard and dine out free of the usual hassle and stress. It should be mentioned that these pre-set, traveling dinners may still be a challenge for those who are less adventurous or more limited in their eating habits. While Dishcrawl makes every effort to take into account food restrictions, the substitutions seemed lacking (in other words, had Mr. Green Bean accompanied me, he may not have gotten his money’s worth). But for someone like Glutie Foodie who will eat anything (gluten-free), I enjoyed myself immensely knowing that our Dishcrawl ambassador had done all the work, asked all the tough questions, and cleared a safe and healthy path for a night of culinary indulgence.

The Chesapeake Room, 501 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Pacifico Cantina, 514 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Cafe 8, 424 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Pitango Gelato, 660 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC


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Too B or not Too B

B Too      Spoons_THREE_76x25

There is a distinct difference between the smokey scents of a July Fourth BBQ and an indoor kitchen’s charcoal oven. The later aroma conjures the vibe of an old, cozy tavern on a cold winter’s night. Yet, B Too was bustling on a recent sticky summer evening, and the state of the art Josper oven, the only of its kind used in DC, was firing away. Mr. Green Bean and I met our favorite Sicilian-Italian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sfingi, at this new edition to 14th Street for a much needed grown-up evening (albeit complete with smart phone documentation of their adorable 14 month old daughter).

B Too is the second location for Belga Café creator and chef Bart Vandaele. The award winning chef prides himself for bringing traditional, high quality, Belgian cuisine and brews to Washington DC. B Too certainly looks the part. Surfaces covered in dark wood, chestnut leather, exposed brick and animal hide create a rustic, huntsman vibe. The decor stimulates a craving for beer, and luckily there are three gluten-free options amidst the pages of IPA’s, pilsners and ales. Cocktails and an extensive wine list also fill the pages of the beverage binder, which we nearly finished perusing after a few visits from our server.

The food menu requires time to contemplate as well. Each of the cold starters, hot starters, soups, sides, mussels, entrees, and casseroles is described with a list of ingredients that intrigue and confuse, leaving the diner to wonder how the dish is actually prepared. I commend our server’s patience as my usual line of questioning was made more extensive due to general befuddlement and curiosity. What was very clear was that we would be starting with the evening’s special appetizer, prosciutto with goat cheese stuffed grilled figs, frisée salad, and balsamic reduction. The sweet, creamy figs melted in the mouth, the winning feature of this dish that could have used more prosciutto and less greenery (it’s not often I say that).

Prosciutto and grilled fig special

Prosciutto and grilled fig special

We also started with a pot of the mussels marinière, one of the few mussel preparations that does not use beer. The white wine based broth was bursting with flavor and contained large slices of shallots, garlic and parsley to slurp down with the mussel meat. The aromas wafting from the pot were tempting enough to get Mr. Green Bean to try his very first mussel. “Not bad,” he shrugged, a far better response than I feared. Baby steps, baby steps.

Mussels mariniere

Mussels Marinière

Already full, I braced for my main course, concocted, as is often my habit, from a starter and a side. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the server confused which of the two shrimp dishes I ordered and I ended up with both. I had meant to order the Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen, baby shrimp prepared two ways, after the server gave the thumbs up on the accompanying krupuk (prawn crackers). The dish arrived without the krupuk, apparently not really gluten-free, leaving three hefty heaps of tiny grey shrimps separated by grape tomatoes and frisee salad. One stack of shrimp was mixed with a creamy aioli, resembling shrimp salad you might find at that July Fourth BBQ. The other two heaps seemed like the same recipe, minus the dressing, leaving me to wonder if something was missing. The abundance of shrimp became monotonous after the first few bites, and the accompanying salad offered little versatility.

Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen,tiny grey shrimp with tomato confit and basil

Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen, tiny grey shrimp with tomato confit and basil

What I should have ordered from the beginning was the Gamba “M’as Tu Vue” dish that they let me feast on while my correct order was being made. Huge pieces of shrimp (two shrimps totaling 0.25 lbs) were perfectly cooked and served chilled with chopped and separated egg white and yolk, and a small lettuce and tomato salad drizzled with a creamy dressing. Dollops of what I can best describe as American French Dressing decorated the plate. The menu lists a Belgian whiskey sauce that I couldn’t decipher in the dish iteself (perhaps an imperceptible ingredient or omitted in the kitchen due to my allergy). But caution if you avoid grain-based alcohols.

Big Shrimp

Gamba “M’as Tu Vue”, Giant shrimp “Belle-Vue”, Belgian whiskey sauce, lettuce, tomato and farm egg

To accompany my plethora of shrimp, I ordered a side of the Josper cooked root vegetables with black garlic dressing. Brussels sprouts, carrots, and other more unusual root vegetables were heavily oiled and packed with delicious salty, smokey, garlicky flavor.

Josper cooked root vegetables

Josper cooked root vegetables

Mrs. Sfingi ordered the Josper roasted lobster, which unfortunately is baked with breadcrumbs. Mr. Sfingi and Mr. Green Bean of course ordered the Belgian steak, served with a side salad and cone of frites. After some mixed responses, I finally confirmed that the frites are fried in shared glutenous oil. I did, however, taste the thick, generous portion of gluten-free steak, cooked perfectly, slightly smokey and well seasoned. I could tell it won Mr. Green Bean’s favor.

Le Vrai Steak Belge Met Frietjes, Belgian steak and salad

Le Vrai Steak Belge Met Frietjes, Belgian steak and salad

We skipped on dessert, ice cream being the only option for gluten-free diners, and opted for a short walk to nearby gelato. Overall, B Too is still finding its gluten-free legs, but the staff is helpful in navigating past the many tempting and off-limit options. Well portioned dishes are heavy and rich, with a price tag to match. While the freshly baked bread served out of a paper bag was easy enough to ignore, B Too brunch featuring sweet, buttery Belgian waffles would be a real test of willpower for us Glutie Foodies. I will be back for dinner I’m sure. But it may not be until winter approaches and a heavy meal is needed to warm the bones.

B Too, 1324 14th Street NW, Washington DC


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Close for Comfort

Open City     Spoons_THREE_76x25

When Mr. Green Bean and I have out-of-town guests on a Sunday morning, are too tired to cook on a Wednesday night, or are up for a short walk to dinner on a warm summer evening, Open City is our reliable destination. This Woodley Park cornerstone is a bustling coffeehouse/American diner serving fresh comfort food with a health conscious twist. Open City is in the Tryst, The Diner, and The Coupe family of restaurants, which all offer slightly different versions of comfortable atmosphere and dependable food and drink. In my opinion, Open City wins for having the most reasonably priced and comprehensive menu, with large, homey dining spaces both inside and out.

Gluten-free customers beware of the tantalizing baked goods case at the entance to Open City. It has yet to include g-free sweets. Just make it to the table and one look at the menu’s g-free food options will quickly make you forget what you’re missing. Any place that concocts unique egg dishes and serves them all day long is my hero. But with other options such as big salads, bun-less burgers, g-free pizza, interesting appetizers and sides, mussel pots, and classic entrees, there is something to feed any craving. The coffee and tea list is just as abundant, offering Counter Culture Coffee and an assortment of teas in Black, White, and everything in between. Just remember to order your cup of choice sans the animal cracker garnish. I tend to forget this detail and end up with lion crumbs on my teaspoon.

Open City recently switched from a dedicated gluten-free menu to indicating on their regular menu items that are gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan. I appreciate not having to ask for a separate menu, which I often feel draws too much attention to my “special” needs. (Note that many items not indicated as gluten-free can easily be adjusted. The omelets, for instance, are only missing the gluten-free indicator because of the accompanying bread.) The restaurant’s simple yet tasty American cuisine is hardly more sophisticated than what I can whip up in my own kitchen. But food always tastes better when you are not the one laboring over it, doesn’t it? The salmon scramble with tomato, chives and cream cheese is a salty pleasure. The Blanco omelet with egg whites, tomato, spinach, and mixed greens is light and satisfying. The large Turkey Burger patty plated without the bun is flavorful and juicy.

Bun-less Turkey Burger with Smoked Gouda and a  side of sauteed spinach

Bun-less turkey burger with smoked gouda and a side of sauteed spinach

For a treat, the side of gluten-free macaroni and cheese (yes, I did say gluten-free mac ‘n’ cheese) is deliciously chewy and cheesy. Mr. Green Bean, a Mac ‘n’ cheese aficionado, even gives the dish a thumbs-up. Pair it with one of Open City’s large, fresh salads to minimize the guilt. The kitchen uses Still Riding Pizza’s crust to offer rich pies that tend to be heavy on the cheese and grease, but gratifying when the pizza mood strikes. On a recent visit, I opted for a potpourri of sides to comprise one nourishing lunch. The quinoa with zucchini and corn, curried summer squash, and mixed greens offered a variety of textures and flavors, leaving me energized for the day.

Curried Squash, Quinoa with Zucchini and Corn, and Mixed Greens

Curried squash, quinoa with zucchini and corn, and mixed greens

Open City’s menu changes occasionally, preserving key items while sprinkling in new dishes here and there. It’s a tactic that keeps me coming back. This popular Northwest eatery delivers unpretentious food and prices while managing to maintain a local vibe in a neighborhood infiltrated with zoo-goers and tourists. You will wait to be seated for brunch on a nice weekend afternoon; but at least you’ll be among fellow DC’ers who all agree it’s worth the wait.

Open City, 2331 Calvert Street NW, Washington DC


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Charmed, I’m Sure

Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Anyone who knows Mr. Green Bean pictures him in his Boston Red Sox baseball hat. Actually, he has many hats. One for when he plays tennis, one for long car rides, and one for going out on the town. But each one is a navy cap with that iconic, red, embroidered “B”. What’s confusing is that Mr. GB is not from Boston. It is the city where we met (aw) and spent the first few years of our “adult” lives. It is the town near which Ma and Pa Green Bean grew up, obliviously crossing paths with Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie, funny enough. While Mr. GB grew up in the Midwest, and has now lived more years in Washington DC than he did in Boston, it is the scarlet “B” that he proudly wears morning to night. Mr. GB’s hat is evidence of Boston’s contagious and lasting charm.

Mr. Green Bean and his hat saw me off as I boarded a train the weekend of the Boston Marathon bombing. I was headed to Boston to spend time with my hometown loved ones and hopefully help them move past the week’s horrid events. Dr. Glutie Foodie’s prescription for the weekend was good food and company. I arrived at Boston Correspondent, a.k.a. Souper Girl‘s, apartment bearing g-free brownies and a bottle of prosecco. The next morning, Souper Girl was prepared with a reservation for a festive brunch at her new favorite haunt, Barcelona, in Brookline, MA.

The Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant group was founded in 1995 by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer who aimed to bring authentic Spanish and Portugese flavors to the States. With locations in Brookline, MA, Atlanta, GA, and throughout Connecticut, the group is quickly expanding and has a fall 2013 opening planned for the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington DC. The Brookline location is large, with dark wood covering every surface from floors and walls to tables and chairs. Light pours in through large windows that line the front of the space, looking out onto a patio and outdoor bar area to accommodate those few beautiful months of warm Boston air.

We found the service abundantly friendly as the manager showed us to our table and our server warmly greeted us. Souper Girl could hardly contain herself as she described the tapas she has enjoyed at numerous visits since the restaurant’s recent opening.  Her excitement grew as she salivated over the brunch items she had yet to try. Our server was patient and informative as we asked our share of g-free questions and deliberated our order back and forth. We agreed to start with the Potato Tortilla with chive sour cream. The dish was a delicious version of the Spanish classic, with large pieces of potato fused together by creamy egg filling and complimented by refreshingly cool and herbaceous sour cream.

Potato Tortilla with Chive Sourcream

Potato Tortilla with Chive Sour Cream

We were tempted by the Char-Grilled Lamb Burger, fare g-free game without the crispy shallots, french fries or bun. As a substitute, we ordered a side of the Kale Salad with anchovy vinaigrette (and no breadcrumbs). The salad arrived well before the burger due to a kitchen miss-understanding. In true tapas style we ate in whatever order the plates arrived, digging into the bright green leaves subtly flavored by small flakes of anchovies and onions. The otherwise light salad was heavily tossed in an unnecessary amount of olive oil.

Kale Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Kale Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Our burger arrived next, looking lonely on the plate without an accompaniment other than a generous heaping of tadziki. The meat was dripping with juice, its rich lamb flavor enhanced with garlic and salt to deliver an eye popping delight. The creamy cucumber sauce balanced the burger’s intensity.

Lamb Burger with Tadziki Sauce

Lamb Burger with Tadziki Sauce

Last to arrive was the Golden Beet Salad with blood orange and pistachios. Large sections of sweet yellow beets were paired with deep red orange slices, topped with a pesto dressing and a sprinkling of crunchy pistachios. While a nice earthy contrast, the oily dressing was, again, a bit too plentiful. (Someone on the sauce station must have a heavy hand).

Beet Salad with Blood Orange an Pistachios

Golden Beet Salad with Blood Orange and Pistachios

With no room left for dessert, we sipped our coffee and tea while chatting with management about Barcelona’s much anticipated Washington debut. It will be interesting to see if the reasonably priced Boston menu (a very attractive feature) will transfer to the slightly pricier DC scale. Regardless, I plan to be first in line, with Mr. Green Bean and his Bean Town cap in tow. Even my picky husband is sure to find plenty of satisfying options at this charming American recreation of La Rambla, Barcelona.

Barcelona, 1700 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA (plus additional locations in GA, CT, and soon DC)