Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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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