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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Melting-Bowl

ShopHouse     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Just when I was critical of Washington DC being steps behind New York in terms of  gluten-free innovations (see Time to BisTANGO), I found myself at ShopHouse Southeastern Asian Kitchen. The Dupont Circle location that opened in 2011 is the Chipotle chain’s first venture into eastern cuisine. They have plans to grow this year with new locations in Georgetown and Santa Monica, CA, but not yet New York. Culinary Manager, Nate Appleman, and Director of Concept Development, Tim Wildin, felt that opening first in NYC “would have been too easy”. To succeed in a market such as DC is a truer measure of success. I typically shy away from fast food vendors due to the fact that “fast” rarely co-exists with patience and care. But a rumor that turned out to be true brought me into ShopHouse: The entire menu is gluten-free! As the news settled in, aromas of crushed spices, coconut milk and jasmine rice filled my senses and I surveyed an open field of options.

ShopHouse is inspired by the multi-use buildings that line the streets of Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, with street-level restaurants and upstairs living quarters. Meals based in fresh vegetables, noodles, rice and spices are whipped up in minutes and served piping hot to hungry mouths. ShopHouse is far too American to resemble authentic Southeast Asian kitchens. Yet, the melding of various Asian flavors under one roof echos the multicultural cuisine in Singapore that has resulted from a melting pot of Southeast Asian settlers.

Diners start by picking the base for their bowl, either brown rice, jasmine rice, chilled rice noodles, or napa cabbage. Next one selects a protein: grilled chicken satay, pork and chicken meatballs, grilled steak laab, or Tofu. One vegetable is included with the bowl: broccoli, charred corn, eggplant or green beans. The dish is topped with a choice of green papaya slaw, pickles or fresh herbs, then one of three sauces categorized by heat levels, and finished with a sprinkle of toasted rice, crushed peanuts, or crispy garlic.

Assembly line at ShopHouse

Assembly line at ShopHouse

Each component is packed with flavor, making it easy to build combinations that confuse with too many leading ladies. Diners should resist the urge to pile on everything and try to keep it simple. As a first timer, with pressures from my server and the line forming behind me, I made some snap decisions that I might rethink next time, like adding both papaya slaw and pickles atop my eggplant and chicken lettuce bowl.

Salad bowl with chicken, eggplant, green papaya slaw, pickles, crushed peanuts, and green curry.

Salad bowl with chicken, eggplant, green papaya slaw, pickles, crushed peanuts, and green curry.

Mild palettes should beware. While the restaurant tweaked its ingredients to make the food less spicy, heat still abounds (in other words, Mr. Green Bean will never see the inside of ShopHouse). I do recommend getting your sauce on the side, as most dishes wont even need the extra flavor or the calories. This might be a practice makes perfect situation, but I would appreciate a bit more direction from the servers to strike it right every time.

Unusual for a restaurant of this genre, everything is made in-house, from intricate spice blends to complex curries. While management admits the food is hardly traditional Southeast Asian cuisine, recipes flirt with authenticity by using rice, as opposed to wheat, as the main grain for items like the meatballs and noodles. I admit that I feel a certain affinity for cultures whose cooking is based in grains like rice or corn, as if my DNA is more closely linked to those ethnicities. When I traveled throughout Southeast Asia years ago, I had no idea the cuisine suited me so well. Perhaps another voyage to across the globe post celiac diagnosis is in order.

ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, 1516 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC


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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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Unsure at Shirley’s

Miss Shirley’s     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Last Saturday night Mr. Green Bean, Sister Seitan and I packed the car and headed to Baltimore for some holiday celebrations with my in-laws, Ma and Pa Green Bean. The night was festive with the Green Bean family friends’ annual party and epic gift swap, followed by a trip to Hampden’s 34th Street Christmas lights. So as not to break with tradition, the weekend continued with Sunday morning brunch at a Baltimore favorite, Miss Shirley’s.

The restaurant is named in loving memory for Miss Shirley McDowell, a Baltimore chef and culinary educator for more than 30 years. The restaurant’s original Roland Park location has a modern, upscale-diner atmosphere, embellished during the holidays with beautiful wreaths, pine garlands, and metallic ornaments. The menu indulges preferences of all sorts, from the nutritious yogurt filled Banana Split, to the greasy Chicken ‘N Waffles. Upon arrival, we were shocked to find a wait of merely 10 minutes, highly unusual for this southern comfort food brunch and lunch staple that designates a large room lined with chairs just for waiting. I guess we had holiday travelers and last minute shoppers to thank.

Pre-g-free I would have treated myself to the famous sweet potato fries. While our waiter was unsure of a potential flour coating, the golden crispy sticks are off-limit for being fried in shared oil. The restaurant’s southern flare also means buttery biscuits adorn every plate. I requested mine on a separate plate, as I know the Green Bean men would hate for it to go to waste. Miss Shirley’s is certainly one place where my healthy conscience thanks my celiac for protecting me against tough menu temptations like Coconut Cream-Stuffed French Toast and The Mac Crabby. Miss Shirley’s offers a few gluten-free options such as the Veggie Egg Tower, with tomato, bermuda onion, avocado, basil, poached eggs, and fresh mozzarella (careful of the hollandaise), and the Garden Omelet, with egg whites, broccoli, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, peppadews & fresh mozzarella. I opted to create my own three egg omelet and was quite satisfied with my selection of smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms to stuff it up. A side of fresh fruit was substituted for the choice of hash browns or grits. While there are plenty of glutenous carbs to avoid on the menu, Miss Shirley’s does make a gluten-free pancake that I have yet to try. If their regular version is any indication, I’m sure it’s delicious.

Create Your Own Omelet with smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms.

Three Egg Omelet with smoked salmon, sauteed onions and wild mushrooms; side of fruit.

With three locations throughout Baltimore and a solid reputation, Miss Shirley’s could easily step up it’s already budding accommodations for dietary restrictions. The menu marks chef favorites and heart healthy options with small symbols next to the item descriptions. How about vegetarian, nut-free, and gluten-free markings as well. What if they even tried substituting a gluten-free biscuit upon request. I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult considering every kind of bread I’ve tried to make ends up tasting like some version of a dense, dry biscuit. The ingredients are all there, but a few steps and greater awareness among staff would bring this establishment to the forefront of conscientious dining. Dare I say 2013 New Year’s resolution?

Miss Shirley’s, Roland Park, 513 West Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore, MD


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Sushiko a Go-Go

Sushiko     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie recently came to town for a visit. At the end of a hectic weekend filled with lots of indulgent eating and exhausting activities, Ma and Pa, Sister Seitan and I were all in the mood for something low key, light and healthy. Sushi sounded perfect and I knew just the place. Washington DC has Sushiko to thank for leading the bandwagon of authentic Japanese cuisine in the District.  The restaurant opened its Georgetown doors in 1975 and expanded in 2008 to a second location in Chevy Chase, MD.  In a city of mediocre Americanized sushi and Asian Fusion confusion, Sushiko’s traditional simplicity and reliable quality is refreshing. Their mission is to honor Japanese culinary techniques, using care and precision in the preparation of exemplary food.

Despite Japanese cuisine’s minimalist characteristics, it is often a challenge for gluten-free diners to enjoy sushi worry-free. Between wheat-based components like soy sauce and tempura, and language barriers, gluten-free awareness can vary greatly between restaurants. Thus, I was thrilled to learn that Sushiko is once again ahead of the game with a gluten-free menu that includes dozens of tempting options. To start, Sushiko offers a couple of salad options dressed with oil and rice vinegar, a simple accommodation that should be offered at all Japanese establishments (I have no idea why it’s not). Items in the hot dishes category are stripped down to their bare bones, sans sauce. Chicken Teriyaki, Beef Tenderloin Kushi Yaki and Grilled Salmon Miso Yu-an are simply cooked with salt and pepper, healthy yet uninspiring. While I appreciate every effort made, I urge Sushiko to go one step further. Gluten-free tamari sauce is readily available to accompany the sushi; why not try cooking up a sauce with the tamari to dress up the hot dishes.

If you’re in the mood for more zest, the maki section of the menu offers a nice variety of options. For safety purposes in other Japanese restaurants, I typically stick to basic rolls comprised of some combination of salmon, tuna, yellowtail avocado and cucumber. While delicious, it gets boring! Luckily Sushiko provides some color. I was thrilled to see a Spicy Tuna roll listed, something I always avoid due to ambiguous spicy sauce recipes. Other exciting options include Rock Shrimp Cilantro maki with jalapeno and mayo, and the Soft Shell Crab maki, with gluten-free flour for the tempura.

Left: Asparagus–Red Pepper and Spicy Tuna Maki; Right: Yellowtail and Green Onion and Smoked Salmon, Asparagus and Avocado

Left: Asparagus/Red Pepper Maki and Spicy Tuna Maki; Right: Yellowtail/Green Onion Maki, Smoked Salmon/Asparagus/Avocado Maki, and Akami Nigiri

Overall, Sushiko provides a stress-free environment to enjoy top grade raw fish and all the fixings. While the menu leaves room for improvement regarding gluten-free preparations, it aims to please more than just the g-free among us. Sister Seitan’s vegetarian palette was quite content, and Pa Glutie Foodie’s aversion to sushi proved inconsequential. But what pleased Pa the most were the reasonable prices, a relief after a long weekend of treating his girls.

Sushiko, 2309 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 
Sushiko, 5455 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD


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Masa Misses?

Masa 14     

I understand that fusion food is trendy. But mole and soy are two sauces I’d rather not mix. In my opinion sake and Tequila belong at very different meals. Chef and restauranteur Richard Sandoval disagrees and tries to prove me wrong at his Latin-Asian creation, Masa 14. Sandoval blends his Mexican roots with international flavor in 26 restaurants throughout the US, Dubai and Qatar. Melding such diverse and broad cultures as Latin and Asian into one cohesive dining concept is not an easy task, and I’m not an easy judge. So on a recent first-time visit to Masa 14 with our friends Bagel and Lox, this Logan Circle staple had a challenge on their hands.

Masa 14 plays the atmosphere just right, mixing minimalist feng shui and bamboo surfaces with tequileria red lighting and exposed brick. We arrived without a reservation knowing full well that would mean a long wait. Squeezing out a space along the bar, we settled in and studied the drink list. Whiskey, rum, tequila and sake are all players on this list of inventive concoctions. I opted for a glass of red sangria with bourbon, citrus, brown sugar and cinnamon, a safe and rather delicious way to loosen up my judgmental spirits.

Forty-five minutes later Mr. Green Bean, Bagel, Lox, and I were escorted to a cozy booth, and I was promptly handed the gluten-free menu. This was one of those rare times I found myself relieved by the pared down list of small plates after glancing at the jumble of words on the full menu. Lucky for me, the gluten-free options include some table pleasers, putting me in the game for sharing. We started with the spicy edamame for munching and a carafe of sake for sipping.

Spicy Edamame

After placing our order, the plates arrived at a leisurely pace, starting with Lox’s top choice, Salmon Tartar (of course), with roasted red pepper and green mango chimichurri. The dish was beautifully presented, with a molded heap of pink salmon and a swipe of green chimichurri on the side. Both elements had a mild flavor, appropriate for the raw fish, but unexpected and disappointing for the chimichurri.

Salmon Tartar with roasted pepper and green mango chimichurri

Next came the Crunchy Shrimp, sprinkled with sesame, scallions, masago, and a drizzle of chipotle aioli (teriyaki sauce omitted to make it g-free version). The restaurant claims to use a separate fryer to make this plate safe as can be. The dish won Mr. Green Bean over (he still talks about it today). Admittedly, anything with tempura has an unfair advantage. But the rich chipotle aioli adds flare to the perfectly battered shrimps. I did miss the sweet touch that teriyaki sauce would offer, but Crunchy Shrimp is still an unusual treat for those of us who have been deprived of tempura for years.

Crunchy Shrimp with chipotle aioli, sesame, scallions, and masago

Not worth the buck is the Roasted Beet Salad, with arugula, curried goat cheese, taro straws and oil and vinegar substituted for the soy-citrus vinaigrette. I’m going to guess it’s the dressing that makes this salad, because without it, it was uninspired. What did charm me were the Wok Stir-Fried Mussels with aji amarillo cream sauce, chorizo, cotija cheese and scallions. I had to keep from spooning the spicy broth for fear of nose-dripping, mouth-burning torture. While the flavor of the mussels was completely overwhelmed by the sauce, only a few shells remained closed, an indication of a fresh batch.

Wok Stir-Fried Mussels with aji amarillo cream sauce, chorizo, cotija and scallion

The manly Boneless Beef Shortrib that appeared next was selected by Mr. Green Bean and Bagel. Surprisingly g-free, I gave it a try. The meat was decent, yet covered with a heavy hand of something far too brown and flavorless to be peanut cocunut-milk sauce. While arriving too late to act as the accompaniment it is, the Fried Rice with kimchi, chile, poached egg, corn, and cilantro was a fresh take on the traditional grain, with Korean spices dominating.

Boneless Beef Shortrib with peanut coconut-milk sauce, and baby bok choy

We certainly could have stopped there but were collectively tempted by the Salted Caramel Chocolate Flan on the dessert menu. Thrilled to learn it is gluten-free without the crispy wafer (which tastes like paper anyway, so we were told by our server), we had to try it. The flan was perfectly creamy with mild chocolate and caramel flavor, but proved more American pudding than Spanish custard. The marshmallow blob on top and the pool of blood orange reduction on the bottom were unavoidable, rendering the dish too sweet to finish, even four ways.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Flan with housemade s’mores (minus the wafer) and blood orange reduction

Overall, Sandoval impresses with his colorful and unique menu, while some execution may be lacking, leaving my taste-buds slightly confused. The designated gluten-free menu enables a stress-free dining experience, which makes up for some disappointing dishes. I may be persuaded to return, but likely will stick to edamame and drinks on the establishments best feature, it’s rooftop.

Masa 14, 1825 14th Street NW, Washington DC


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Jersey-D-licious

Graffiato      

A pleasant dining experience usually begins with the server’s warm welcome. An entertaining dining experience begins with an opening line like, “I don’t usually dress like this.” It was October 31, and the staff at Graffiato was clothed in leopard print minis and bejeweled t-shirts to play the cast of MTV’s hit series, Jersey Shore. While my good friend, Miss Zin, and I were looking to catch up over delicious food and wine, Snooki made sure we did not forget Halloween.

Graffiato is Mike Isabella’s Italian-inspired restaurant in the Chinatown neighborhood, serving small plates and artisanal pizzas. With roots in New Jersey, Isabella first made his mark in DC as executive chef at José Andrés’ Zaytinya. He became nationally known after kicking major culinary butt on the Bravo TV series, Top Chef. Isabella opened Graffiato in June 2011, followed by the modern Mexican Bandolero this past spring, and in the new year will launch two new Greek and Italian concepts in the 14th Street Corridor. I had stayed away from Graffiato after hearing all about their amazing glutenous pizza. But following a closer inspection of the menu and the encouragement of Miss Zin, I decided it was worth a try.

Miss Zin and I entered into a grungy, chic, atmosphere with exposed brick walls and chrome surfaces. A long bar lines the length of the downstairs, with a few unfinished wooden booths in the back. We were escorted upstairs to a larger dining room, too cold and oddly too bright. But the staff took a hint when we left our jackets on, and we soon warmed up. Snooki oriented us to the restaurant’s small-plate style, unique cocktails, and extensive domestic wine list. After disclosing my gluten allergy, she promptly summarized the gluten-free dishes, which she swears are also some of the best dishes on the menu. My heart sank after learning that my favorite trendy small plate, the brussel sprouts, are fried in the same oil as breaded items. But the large number of tempting options lifted my spirits. The pastas can easily be made with gluten-free noodles and the risotto is fair game as it comes. Graffiato does not attempt a gluten-free pizza option, disappointing yet somewhat admirable. With so many tasty dishes to choose from, why muddy the waters with a sub-par substitute. However, I do believe Isabella is capable of a g-free crust that would knock the pepperoni off the DC pizza industry. It’s an opportunity for the taking.

After sampling and settling on a couple of glasses of red, the food starting rolling in. Oversized stems of broccoli rabe were decorated with golden raisins, parmesan shavings and pinenuts, offering a fresh and crunchy start. The soft and creamy Burrata is a must-try, garnished with sweet asian pear slices, crunchy walnuts, and salty pickled cauliflower. The Seared Scallops with fig, chard and radish, were perfectly golden on top and silky through the middle. More meaty is the Crispy Lamb, generously portioned and complimented with a cool greek yogurt. The colorful octopus dish is a chef favorite, almost too beautiful to eat. Large, lightly charred octopus arms are sprinkled with green olives and sit on an unusual potato and black garlic puree.

Left to right: Seared Scallops, Crispy Lamb and Charred Octopus.

Each dish, whether delivered by JWoww, The Situation, or Pauly D, arrived with verbal assurance of being gluten-free, a much appreciated gesture for those of us who have been victims of short-term memory loss among restaurant staff. After a whirlwind of plates and two more glasses of vino, Miss Zin and I found ourselves stuffed, just as Isabella’s Italian-American grandmother intended. Perhaps a table filled with pasta and pizza would have been more Jerseylicious, but our meal was definitely fist-pump worthy.

Graffiato, 707 6th Street NW, Washington DC


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Safety First!

Perrys     

Perrys in Adam’s Morgan describes their restaurant succinctly as “Eclectic/Sushi”. That just about sums it up. Explaining Perrys in more detail goes a little like this: “Well, the menu ranges from fresh sushi, to burgers and fries, to couscous with harissa, and mussels in coconut curry. The dining room is cozy, the rooftop’s a party, oh, and then there’s the Sunday Drag Brunch.” While sounding rather like a prepubescent boy lacking direction, somehow Perrys pulls it off. They have been a unique DC staple with a loyal fan-base since the restaurants inception in 1984.

Mr. Green Bean and I experienced Perrys for the first time recently with our friends Mr. And Mrs. Muffin. The schizophrenic menu proved perfect for a couple with opposing food preferences (which refers to me and Mr. Grean Bean, not the Muffins). While I honed in on nigiri and maki options, Mr. Green Bean was quickly lurred by the “10 oz short rib burger with benton bacon, cabot cheddar and Perrys fries,” He later eloquently described the dish as tasting like a “really juicy burger.”

Gluten-free sushi eaters are used to sticking with simple (some would say boring) rolls and providing our own packets of g-free soy sauce. However, Perrys is well versed in dealing with gluten allergies, was fully prepared to handle my inquisitions, and even had tamari sauce at the ready. I ordered the “Perrys Roll,” with tuna, salmon, surimi crab, and avocado, substituting fresh crab for the glutinous imitation stuff (better anyway). The waiter also suggested I have the roll made with their soy wrapper, as they do not guarantee that their seaweed is celiac safe.

Perrys Roll: Tuna, Salmon, Crab and Avocado

To accompany my sushi, I added a side of “Roasted Eggplant with Macadamia Nuts” from the American cuisine menu. The waiter piped in that he would omit the balsamic glaze, as the vinegar bottle mentions possible contamination in production. By the end of an arduous ordering process, I found myself in an interesting situation where the waiter was being more cautious about my allergy than me! The restaurant’s attentiveness proved suitable for even the most sensitive of gluties. And they certainly have made me think twice about the seaweed used at my favorite Japanese establishments.

Roasted Eggplant with Macadamia Nuts

The food was quite satisfying. While the soy wrapper on my Perrys Roll lacked seaweed’s fresh, earthy flavor profile, it acted as a decent binding agent with the right chewy texture to compliment the seafood’s soft, silky consistency. In the future, I would rethink the “Tako,” boiled octopus nigiri, that I ordered. Not only did it lack any flavor, but it was as tough as leather (imagining leather is pretty tough). But the eggplant side pulled its weight: rich and slightly sweet, roasted to a soft, buttery consistency, and balanced with a generous sprinkling of crunchy, salty macadamia nuts. I could sense what a balsamic drizzle would add to the dish, but as Mr. Green Bean always says, “safety first!”

Perrys, 1811 Columbia Road, Washington DC, 20009


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Pining for Pi

District of Pi   

When the DC branch of the St. Louis Pizzeria first rolled into town, Mr. Green Bean and I had high expectations. Hailing from the Mr.’s hometown and claiming to fire-up delicious g-free pie’s, we couldn’t wait to try it. Now we’ve been back on several occasions for the better than average food and the lively, laid-back vibe. Pi scooped up some serious real estate in the jam-packed Penn Quarter neighborhood, making this pizzeria a great place for large parties.

Mention your gluten allergy at Pi and the servers will confidently help you navigate the menu from GF beers and starters to pizza pies. There are actually only a few items on the Pi menu that one should avoid. The hummus plate can be served with gluten free pita wedges, the wings are surprisingly safe, and the selection of “Pi Snacks” offers plenty of munching options. The only pizza topping off limits is the meatballs, fine by me (Meatballs belong in a pasta bowl anyway). Coming from a family that always pairs pizza with salad, I recommend the Bada Bing, with field greens, toasted almonds, gorgonzola cheese, dried bing cherries, and a not-too-sweet raspberry vinaigrette.

Bada Bing Salad with toasted almonds, dried bing cherries and gorgonzola cheese.

District of Pi takes serious precautions to avoid pesky wheat flour drifting onto wheat-free crusts. They start with Rich’s 10 inch, GF certified dough, and train the staff to use separate utensils and clean work surfaces. GF pizzas are cooked in the same deck oven as other pizzas, but a designated pizza peel is always used for safe maneuvering. The result is a crispy, buttery, thin crust much like many others I’ve tried. Pi excels in their unique topping combinations such as my favorite so far, the Lincoln Park, with mozzarella, garlic olive oil, zucchini, fresh tomatoes, feta and fresh basil.

Gluten-free Pizza, with half Lincoln Park, half Central West End toppings.

For non-allergic patrons, Pi’s specialty is their deep dish crust (I drool). I would love to see Pi experiment with creating a g-free version—tricky no doubt, but not unfathomable. If that’s biting off more than Pi can chew, perhaps they could attempt a g-free house-made dough that more closely resembles their wheat-based thin crust, which Mr. Green Bean highly recommends.

One word on dessert and a pre-caution to those avoiding wheat: While ice cream provides a sweet finale, don’t get excited about the “Apple Pi” made in a deep dish cornmeal crust (which would personally be my dream dessert)…it is not gluten-free. Work on that too, Pi.

District of Pi, 910 F Street NW, Washington DC 20004