Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out

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Grape Explorations

The Curious Grape     Spoons_FOUR

Wine? Check. Dine? Check. Shop? Check. The Curious Grape in Shirlington, VA, is like a playground for foodies and winos, which is why it came highly recommended by our dear friend, Princess of Pinot. Mr. Green Bean and I treat trips to Virginia like expeditions, even though it can take half as long to get from our Cleveland Park apartment to Arlington as it does Bethesda. We are beginning to appreciate this foreign land west of the Potomac and Princess of Pinot is the perfect guide.

The Curious Grape, which opened as a friendly, unpretentious wine shop in 2001, recently expanded to include a cafe with house-made pastries and quality cheeses, a bar with a well curated wine list, and a fine-dining restaurant serving dinner and Sunday brunch. In the restaurant, Executive Chef Eric McKamey creates a seasonal fleet of intriguing dishes. The dinner menu is cleverly designed with a wine key to guide diners toward appropriate pairings. The menu also marks dishes that do not contain gluten-ingredients and adds a disclaimer that reads, “Please note that we are not an allergen-free facility.  All dishes are prepared in a kitchen that uses wheat, dairy, shellfish, nuts, and peanuts.” The statement is refreshingly honest, as this is the reality in most restaurants, but few rarely admit it forwardly.

We met Princess of Pinot at The Curious Grape on a recent Friday night and were promptly seated at a comfortable table in the dining room. The back dining space is separated just enough from the shop and cafe to transition into fine-dining while still keeping it casual. Like many restaurants that pride themselves on being gourmet and laid back, our waitress teetered on the line of over-sharing menu details and took her time finding our bottle of Côtes du Rhône. But the wine was chilled to near perfect drinking temperature and decanted through an aerator so that even the tasting sip was lip-smacking.

My challenge of the night was choosing from a handful of unusual options that all sounded wonderful. Lucky for me Princess of Pinot has a sophisticated palette. We shared a couple of starters while Mr. Green Bean picked at the parts he could tolerate. The brussels sprout salad with crispy pork belly, apple cider gastrique and candied walnuts had a pleasant salty/sweet balance. The rich pork belly paired well with the light and fresh brussels sprouts and crisp apple pieces. The evening’s special starter was a lobster salad with fresh lobster meat, beets, blood oranges, avocado, fennel and curry vinaigrette. The plate of ingredients cut into bite-sized chunks resembled an Italian antipasto with independent components offering a variety of flavors.

Brussel Sprout and Lobster Salads.

Left: Brussel Sprout and Pork Belly Salad; Right: Special Lobster Salad.

For my main entree, I could not resist the special Pacific cod fricasse that the waitress exclaimed was one of the best things she’s ever tasted. Rarely served in east coast restaurants, the white fish from the West was superbly flaky and mild in flavor. The French fricassee cooking process involves first sautéing without browning and then adding liquid in which the fish can simmer. The filet was served with roasted fennel, drizzled with earthy fennel oil and topped with black caviar, all over a generous portion of creamy pureed yukon potatoes. I will admit that the dish was also one of the best I have ever had. The fish was perfectly cooked and subtly spiced, allowing the natural flavors to come forward. The fennel offered a hint of licorice without overpowering the cod. The oil drizzle and potatoes added richness, rounding off a near perfect plate. Under normal circumstances, Mr. Green Bean’s gluten-free grenache-braised beef short rib with glazed root vegetables, rosemary and pearl onions would have wowed me. But my dish was so satiating, I didn’t even pick at his leftover unwanted veggies!

Pacific Cod Fricasse Special.

Pacific Cod Fricasse Special.

To top off a quality meal, I ordered a hazelnut fudge brownie from the pastry display case, and three forks. To gluten-consuming Mr. Green Bean and Princess of Pinot, the brownie was decent. To Glutie Foodie, now two-plus years off the sauce, the brownie was pretty darn delicious. The thick square was fudgey in the middle, with a flaky layer on top. Let’s just say my fork worked overtime.

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie.

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie.

We finished our visit with a trip through the wine shop, perusing the unusual stock at a range of reasonable prices. Princess of Pinot introduced us to a couple of new red grapes that we look forward to trying. They are chilling to the suggested 57 degrees as we speak.

The Curious Grape, 2900 S Quincy St, Arlington, VA


Time to BisTANGO

Bistango     Spoons_FOUR

In familial terms, Washington DC is like New York City’s younger sibling. Aspiring to be just as cool its trendier role model, DC can’t help but exhibit certain copy-cat tendencies, like opening shops such as Shake Shack and Pinkberry (both gluten-free friendly, FYI). At the same time, the District aims to find its own voice and is growing into a mature epicurean center of its own. Despite major exciting advancements in the culinary department, DC has a lot to learn from NYC when it comes to gluten-free dining. On a recent visit to New York, I was reminded of how many more options the Big City offers for every type of diet. I took advantage and ate a lot! I began this blog to build a catalogue of reviews on DC area restaurants, and I am still working toward that end. However, DC can benefit from reports on how America’s foodie capital is handling the gluten-free demand. Perhaps it will fuel some growth spurts in this town.

Which brings me to dinner at Bistango with Mr. Green Bean, my college bestie, Salsa, and her boyfriend, Chips. Chips and Salsa brought us to the modest Murray Hill establishment that opened in 1988 as a cozy Italian neighborhood spot like so many throughout the city. What set Bistango apart in 2006 was their introduction of a full gluten-free menu and certification by the budding advocacy group, Celiebo. You know you’re in good hands when the waitress opens with “do we have any food allergies tonight?” My eyes widened as she explained that the entire menu is available gluten-free. As the bread basket arrived, so too did my very own gluten-free roll with olive oil and garlic for dipping. It was a toasted French variety, thick and crusty. While tasty and satisfying, the novelty made it all the more delicious.

Toasted gluten-free bread with olive oil and garlic

Toasted gluten-free bread with olive oil and garlic

Bistango does a sneaky and brilliant thing, creating a menu that seems typically Italian, but manages to offer healthier meal choices by eliminating fried finishes and flour thickeners. The calamari antipasta is sauteed, the braised short-rib starter is served over polenta and the bone-in pork chop entree tops an arugula salad. I knew I had to indulge in the rarest g-free item on the menu, fresh stuffed pasta with a choice of homemade sauces. I ordered the gluten and dairy-free eggplant ravioli with marinara sauce. The dish was light and fresh with half a dozen large pasta pillows smothered in the simplest of sauces. The only giveaway that this pasta wasn’t wheat was the slightly soft texture, just passed al dente. While the sauce itself was delicious, my choice of marinara sadly overwhelmed the subtle eggplant filling, and the dish was in desperate need of salt. The generous portion of broccoli rabe complemented the acidity of the pasta dish, nicely heated with pepper flakes and full of roasted garlic.

Left to right: Gluten-free Eggplant Ravioli with Marinara; Broccoli Rabe

Left: Gluten-free Eggplant Ravioli with Marinara; Right: Broccoli Rabe

Bistango sources its gluten-free bread, crust and stuffed pastas from several different companies throughout the States and imports the penne all the way from Italy. Were it not for post-holiday diets, we certainly would have succumbed to the many tempting g-free dessert options such as the Homemade Cheesecake or the Warm Caramelized Apple Tart. Amazingly, with 11 different sweet options on the menu, only 2 are off limits! I will surely be back for a more sinful experience. Overall, Bistango was a delight for my restricted diet without compromising on quality for Mr. Green Bean, Chips and Salsa. Now someone please copy-cat that, DC!

Bistango, 415 Third Avenue, New York, NY


First Impressions

8407 Kitchen Bar    Spoons_FOUR

This past weekend, Mr. Green Bean and I spent another night out with the Oreos in Silver Spring, MD. This time we were joined by our good friends Mr. and soon-to-be Mrs. Pickles (very excited for their future nuptials). Our mission was to impress our out-of-town guests, Irish Coffee and Breakfast Blend, who will be moving to Silver Spring from Boston in just a couple of weeks. With lots to celebrate and our reputations at stake, The Oreos picked the perfect location, 8407 Kitchen Bar.

The restaurant is entered through a spacious bar and lounge with plenty of seating options for a more casual experience. We were escorted upstairs to a large dining room, rustic with its exposed brick surfaces and wooden beams, and elegantly cozy thanks to soft, warm lighting. Large windows line the front side of the restaurant, providing ample light in the daytime, and romantic reflections of glistening holiday decor at night. The atmosphere is classy yet unpresumptuous, inviting for both my sparkling ensemble (having just come from a holiday party), and Mr. Pickle’s oversized hoody (having just awoken from a nap, I assume). Our motley crew was seated and we all turned straight to the cocktail menu. The liquid list offers several tempting concoctions, such as the Oreos’ favorites, the Ginger Lime Martini, and the Root of All Evil (bourbon, root liqueur, Licor 43, lime and ginger beer). I opted for a festive glass of cava.

8407 Kitchen Bar is a rare foodie find in Silver Spring, with an artisanal American menu based on seasonal, locally sourced, and sustainable foods. Diners can choose from a variety of plates, from oysters, mussels and other seafood appetizers, to cheese and charcuterie plates, to salads and sandwiches, and finally a nice assortment of starters and larger entrees that change seasonally. I cut right to the chase with our waitress and was not surprised to find her well prepared for my inquiries regarding gluten-free selections. Many items on the menu are naturally gluten-free, such as the Lavender-Lemon Roasted Air-Chilled Chicken and the Organic Scottish Salmon. Others, such as the Pan Roasted Bronzino, can be easily adjusted. I am a sucker for a big bowl filled with every creature under the sea; thus, the g-free Red Curry Seafood Stew was tempting. With the waitress’ guidance I opted instead for the lighter Seared Scallops, prepared atop warm beluga lentils (a shiny little black variety that resembles caviar), beet and frisee salad, and truffle vinaigrette. I was thrilled with my selection. Three large scallops went a long way in this plentiful and hearty dish. Flavors were perfectly balanced between the sweetness of the beets, saltiness of the scallops and lentils and contrasting sharpness of the mustard seed vinaigrette.

Seared Scallops with beluga lentils, beet and frisee salad, and truffle vinaigrette

Seared Scallops with beluga lentils, beet and frisee salad, and truffle vinaigrette

My dining mates were also happy with their selections, which included a couple of Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes, a Bronzino filet, and a Roasted Chicken. It will come as no surprise to my loyal readers that despite the many unique menu options, Mr. Green Bean chose the basic beef burger with house-made fries. Mr. Green Bean described the patty as “pretty good”, which translates to: delicious but not the best he’s had. He’s a tough critique when it comes to beef filled buns and their fried accompaniments.

Lavender-Lemon Roasted Air-Chilled Chicken with yukon gold potato puree, sauteed greens, and lavender gastrique

Lavender-Lemon Roasted Air-Chilled Chicken with yukon gold potato puree, sauteed greens, and lavender gastrique

The large portions left us no room for dessert, which head chef Rita Garruba is known for. However, a quick peek at the menu revealed a few nice gluten-free finales, such as house-made ice creams and sorbets and an artisan cheese plate. Had we stayed, I personally would have opted for another glass of cava. It seems Irish Coffee and Breakfast Blend received a positive introduction to their future surroundings. Let’s hope Silver Spring has enough gourmet spots brewing to keep these beans around our parts for a while.

8407 Kitchen Bar, 8407 Ramsey Ave., Silver Spring, MD


Ripple Effect


Everyone needs a Cheers pub in their life—a homey eating/drinking/socializing spot where the mood is alway right, the conversation easy, and the grub dependably nourishing. Ripple has been Cleveland Park foodies’ Cheers since opening it’s doors in May 2010. For Mr. Green Bean and I, Ripple is the casual night out for two, the restaurant to show-off to guests, and the nightcap detour (i.e. a glass of sparkling rose for moi and a plate of freshly baked cookies and milk for Mr. GB).

The waitstaff at Ripple shares their own love for food with menu suggestions and descriptive explanations of complex concoctions. Executive Chef, Logan Cox, is committed to creating seasonally changing menus featuring local ingredients. The plates (organized by small, medium and large), snacks and sides, and cheese and charcuterie all offer plenty of noshing combinations, like a “choose your own adventure” in dining. The wine by the glass and bottle list is smart, offering numerous reasonably priced options carefully chosen by Bar Manager, Josh Berner. Ripple accommodates the gluten-free diner like a good friend who wants to make you feel comfortable at her dinner party. The many naturally gluten-free items on the menu prove that gluten is often superflous to fresh and flavorful dishes.

Mr. Green Bean and I recently had the full Ripple dining experience with our good friend, Dr. Lobster. We constructed a delicious meal with lots to nibble, filling our small table with too many plates to fit! We started with a bottle of tasty wine, a selection of three cheeses, and hand cut fries with homemade apple ketchup (which I guiltlessly enjoyed after the waiter checked that nothing glutenous had shared the frier that evening). I cleaned the “composed seasonal vegetables” plate, garnished with dollops of goat yogurt and black cardamom puree. I can imagine now how Peter Rabbit felt tempted by all the delicious seasonal treats in Mr. McGregor’s farm! Poor disobedient bunny.

Left to Right: Cheese Plate, Hand Cut Fries, Composed Seasonal Vegetables

For our next course Dr. Lobster and I both tried the “delicata squash soup” poured at the table over “Lynnhaven oysters, sorghum, shaved chestnuts, and sorrel”. Total sensational pleasure. Each spoonful was sweet and slightly creamy, accented by the mild sorrel flavor. Were it not for the plump oysters, like anchors in the rich broth, this could have been dessert. Mr. Green Bean ordered the “pan-roasted strip loin” accompanied by “crushed sunchokes, radish, nasturtium, and marrow emulsion”. Though slightly scared by the foreign objects, I am proud to say Mr. GB bravely conquered the dish. The strip loin was cooked perfectly and well balanced with the plate’s unusual accessories. Admittedly my fork gravitated after the waiter offered that the dish was gluten-free.

Left to Right: Delicata Squash Soup, Pan-Roasted Strip Loin

Although already stuffed, our waiter talked us into a gluten-free sinful indulgance on Pastry Chef Alison Reed’s dessert menu, “baked butterscoth pudding, with spiced cream, and toffee pieces”. If I thought the soup could have been dessert, this was dessert they feed you in heaven. The smooth pudding and crunchy candy bits distracted me enough to not even consider Mr. Green Bean’s favorite “baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies and milk”, without which no Ripple dining experience would be complete.

Baked Butterscotch Pudding

Ripple, 3417 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC


American Wat

Jackie’s Restaurant     

 It seems I have been hearing an awful lot lately about Ethiopian food. Or perhaps it’s a case of selective hearing. I have been tempted by the cuisine for a long time, but shied away from it when led to believe that the injera (a spongy flat bread essential to an Ethiopian meal) is often made with a blend of teff (a gluten-free grass indigenous to Ethiopia) and wheat flours. So, I filed Ethiopian food in my drawer of deprived pleasures.

Which brings me to the other night at the contemporary American restaurant, Jackie’s, in Silver Spring, MD. Our good friends, “The Oreos”, introduced us to this beacon of deliciousness in a sea of mediocre Silver Spring establishments. Located in a converted auto parts garage, the restaurant breaths a 60s industrial-chic ambience. The cocktail and food menu reverberates the same “cool” vibe and fuses an assortment of flavors from around the world with seasonal, organic, local ingredients. For starters, “Guacamole with fresh radish, cucumber and jicama slices” is listed right above “zucchini cups with halloumi cheese and spicy sesame sauce” (both gluten-free). Several items sounded tempting. But then my eye scanned down to the entrees and stopped at the very first one. Jackie’s offers an “Ethiopian inspired vegetable platter served on local teff injera.” This injera is authentically made on sight with teff flour only, and the day’s vegetarian wat (thick stews) were gluten-free as well. “Glutie Foodie”, I said to myself (maybe out loud a little), “now is your chance” (the Oreos looked confused).

The platter arrived and commandeered a good portion of the table. My eyes widened and I inventoried my winnings—scoops of green beans in a tomato base, sweet lentil puree, garlicky eggplant with chickpeas, salty collard greens, and spicy tofu, all on a giant g-free pancake. With a napkin in my left hand I dug in with my right. Each stew complimented the other with a diverse range of flavors, spices and textures. Ethnic authenticity is beside the point for this American, farm-to-table rendition of an Ethiopian meal. It did not disappoint.

Ethiopian inspired vegetable platter served on local teff injera

My chosen liquid pairing furthered the meal’s cultural confusion. The blackberry lime margarita, made with Hornitos Reposado, triple sec, blackberries, lime juice, and a salted rim, is surprisingly more tart than sweet. This refreshing cocktail provided a nice buzz and a smile, rather than a cavity. Topping off our world tour was the I-can’t-believe-it’s-gluten-free “Bittersweet Pavé”—flourless chocolate cake with sesame caramel and orange whipped cream. The sesame surprises the senses as a welcome compliment to the fluffy chocolate cake, which was just rich enough to split four ways.

Bittersweet Pavé–flourless chocolate cake with sesame caramel and orange whipped cream

Chef Diana Davila-Boldin creates confident dishes that flatter rather than imitate traditional cuisines. Her culinary riffs celebrate ethnic inspirations in American food. Ingredients and menu items change seasonally, which means come the winter months, a whole new list of inventive concoctions are in store. Despite menu change-ups, the staff knows their stuff and is happy to provide accurate gluten-free information. The kitchen is agreeable to modifications, as we found out when Mr. Green Bean ordered his Amish Chicken sans “bleu cheese potato mash, beets, fennel and watermelon”. He just wanted a side of green beans. Oye.

Jackie’s turned out to be a great baby step in my challenge to eat ethnic safely. I am now inspired to investigate further into gluten-free Ethiopian dining and hope to report back soon…

Jackie’s Restaurant, 8081 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910


Must-Have Mezze


Zaytinya was high on my list of great DC restaurants well before going gluten-free. But shared plate style restaurants are now anxiety provoking given the inevitability of migrating forks and juggled dishes. It used to be my favorite way to dine, and boy does DC love the trend. But with time I have learned that by being slightly more cautious and aware, small plate format can still be an enjoyable night out. I have been pleased to find Zaytinya is an accommodating choice for innovative Mediterranean mezze.

Ask for the gluten-free menu and you’ll find a number of dishes listed that are naturally gluten-free. Although the list seems limited, a notation at the top mentions that many of the items on their regular menu can also be modified to be gluten-free. We were told the kitchen takes precautions to avoid contamination, and the waiter served all the g-free plates himself to ensure none were confused with unsafe dishes. A FAQ page on the restaurant’s website even indicates their willingness to accommodate all kinds of allergies and food limitations.

Gluten-free diners should be forewarned that the bottomless servings of freshly baked pita puffs are impossible to ignore. I have been told that they smell better than they taste…really? But fear not! Cucumbers are happily provided for a healthy option to accompany tasty spreads such as Hommus, Tzatziki, and Htipiti. The Seasonal Mushrooms with dates and toasted almonds are a standout in the vegetable mezze category; and the grilled octopus with yellow split-pea puree is light yet satiating and so beautifully presented that Mr. Green Bean was almost convinced to take a bite! (Mr. Green Bean is ordinarily repulsed by the little chewy specimen—that is unless they are fried.) The real treat of the night was the Garides Saganaki, sautéed shrimp with tomatoes, green onions, kefalograviera cheese, and ouzo.

Garides Saganaki, sautéed shrimp with tomatoes, green onions, kefalograviera cheese, ouzo

Like a Mediterranean version of veal parmesan, these large shrimp sit on a bed of plump tomatoes, are covered with a generous blanket of salty cheese and then are baked to golden perfection. Gluten-free eaters rarely get to indulge in such richness.

Zaytinya is one of several José Andrés establishments sprinkled throughout the DC region. Each of his restaurants make accommodations for the gluten-free diner, as well as other restricted eaters, to ensure every patron a comfortable and carefree experience.

Zaytinya, 701 9th Street NW, Washington DC 20001