Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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City of Gluten-Free Love

Mrs. Refined Sugar and I have been friends for a long time, back when we were both unrefined. We shared some strange food adventures in our younger years, the details of which I will spare you, except to divulge that we chewed paper and analyzed various pulp qualities. Besides a few odd adolescent experiments, we ate very well between our two houses and experimented with our own cooking once we could be trusted. Now grown and living a few cities apart, we support each other’s independent culinary explorations, her’s being the highly successful ice cream blog, 365 Scoops. It was a true feat to steal away Mrs. Refined Sugar from her eight month old baby, Sugar in the Raw, to meet for a day in one of East Coast’s most advanced gluten-free foodie cities, Philadelphia.  For weeks we looked forward to indulging our now more sophisticated palettes with some quality grub. Between Refined Sugar’s vegetarian habits and my gluten-free demands, we narrowed down our options to a few recommended locations. I knew we were on the same page when we arrived wearing the same black, elastic waistband leggings: make room for food!

HipCityVeg      Spoons_FOUR
We started our eating tour with a light lunch at HipCityVeg, a locally sourced, environmentally friendly, vegan sandwich and salad joint. This fast-food spot has just one location off of Rittenhouse Square. I imagine the concept would make for a highly successful chain. The menu airs on the healthy side with a few treats mixed in, such as sweet potato fries and a few desserts. There are a number of gluten-free options and the staff is extremely versed in parsing ingredient lists to help navigate allergen-free choices, refreshing for a fast-food establishment. Mrs. Refined Sugar and I both ordered the Bistro Bella sandwich, mine deconstructed on a pile of arugula instead of the bun. The salad contained herb glazed portobello mushrooms, olive tapenade, tomato, artichokes and red onion, a unique alternative to my tired salad repertoire. With fuel to burn we were off to shop, what else?

HipCityVeg (image courtesy of hipcityveg.com)

HipCityVeg (image courtesy of hipcityveg.com)

Sweet Freedom Bakery      Spoons_FOUR
By late afternoon we were ready to recharge at Sweet Freedom, Philadelphia’s only bakery free of (long inhale) gluten, dairy, egg, corn, soy, peanut, casein and refined sugar (no offense to my companion of the same name). As we entered this sweet treat mecca, I checked my gluten-guard at the door and surveyed the cupcakes, donuts, cookies, brownies, oat crumbles, cake balls, etc. Mrs. Refined Sugar left the ordering to me, a weighty task. The friendly associate recommended the strawberry shortcake cupcake, yes please, and I couldn’t resist the chocolate salted caramel cupcake. Our fruity pick was a creative combination of classic shortcake and trendy cupcake. The dense, vanilla flavored, scone-like cake was layered with dairy-free cream, fresh strawberries and just a touch of strawberry syrup. This not-too-sweet delectable paired nicely with the rich and chocolaty cupcake, oozing gooey caramel from its center. A fudgy chocolate frosting was sprinkled with flakes of sea salt, rounding out a most stimulating feast for the taste buds.

Strawberry shortcake cupcake

Strawberry shortcake cupcake

Chocolate salted caramel cupcake

Chocolate salted caramel cupcake

Before leaving we felt it our duty to sample the newly released bread loaf that Sweet Freedom has worked diligently to perfect. Toasted with a smear of apricot jam, it was quite satiating. However standing alone, the slice was slightly too dense and bitter in flavor for my taste. Not bad for a first run, but perhaps in need of some more fine tuning.

Sweet Freedom's new loaf of bread with apricot jam

Sweet Freedom’s new loaf of bread with apricot jam

Zahav      Spoons_FOUR
After a quick visit to The Barnes Foundation’s world-famous art collection in its new Philadelphia home, we rushed to make our dinner reservation. The final stop of the day was Zahav, a gem tucked away on quiet St. James Place. Chef and owner Michael Solomonov was born in Israel and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. At the age of 19 he returned to Israel, fell into the culinary world, and later returned to work in the restaurant industry in Philadelphia. The death of his brother in the Israeli army clarified for Solomonov his mission to share the flavors of his native land, and Zahav was born.

Stepping into the airy, limestone laden dining space and peering into the open kitchen, Mrs. Refined Sugar and I both had the same first impression: We’ve just entered Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Yet Zahav offers its own interpretation of the the little country’s big flavors. We were greeted by an enthusiastic server who was unperturbed by our many dietary restrictions. She grabbed a pen and swiftly lined through items to avoid on each of our paper menus. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Refined Sugar’s vegetarian sheet was more marked up than mine. The server then explained the restaurant’s sharing style and pointed out the tempting $39 Tayim tasting menu, which offers a generous sampling from each section of the menu. We weighed our should’s and could’s over a Lemonnana cocktail and Israeli Salad Martini and decided the day called for an indulgent finale.

Our tasting menu began with half a dozen fresh salatim (salads), hummus, freshly baked pita for Mrs. Refined Sugar, and cucumber slices for me. Small bowls filled with beets in house-made tahini, pureed eggplant, sliced fennel, spicy green beans, chopped cucumber, and creamy hummus were all gluten-free. I avoided the tabouli salad, a cracked wheat based dish. The first course alone would have left us buzzing about Zahav. But there was much more to come.

Salatim

Salatim

Aware of our limited time, our server kept the food rolling with a second set of dishes: the watermelon salad with marinated cobia, israeli olives and smoked honey; the roasted zucchini with bulgarian feta, hazelnuts and zucchini babaganoush; and the heirloom tomato salad with matbucha (roasted tomatoes) and house-made ricotta. We ferociously tasted each plate’s complex combination of flavors and textures. A symphony of “mmmm’s” hummed from our table.

Watermelon salad, roasted zucchini and heirloom tomato salad

Watermelon salad, roasted zucchini and heirloom tomato salad

The Al Ha’esh (grilled over coals) course followed with spiced eggplant, prepared with harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina, and the highly recommended hanger steak with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug. (I channeled Mr. Green Bean for my one meaty choice.) Our server graciously treated us to the trumpet mushrooms, which we had been eyeing, served with shakshuka, fried egg and legumes. A dozen or so dishes now crowded our little table, and we attempted to take it all in (figuratively of course, we couldn’t possibly clean our plates).

Spiced eggplant, accompanied by harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina

Spiced eggplant with harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina

Hanger steak with with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug

Hanger steak with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug

With our elastic waistbands fully extended we made room for just a few bites of dessert. I ordered the tahini semifreddo, a rich and creamy mousse with hints of nutty sesame flavor, accented by sweet cherry compote topping. I melted over a couple of spoonfuls and still regret not taking the rest home.

Tahini semifreddo with a cherry compote

Tahini semifreddo with a cherry compote

Overall, elaborate preparations and beautiful presentations of fresh produce, hearty grains and quality proteins resulted in an impressive representation of the melting pot of Israeli cuisine. I am critical of the kitchen’s heavy hand with salt and weak pour for expensive cocktails, small crimes for an otherwise first-rate meal.

Although the establishments we visited offered some pretty delicious items, credit must be given as well to Mrs. Refined Sugar. Some dining partners just make food taste a little sweeter and a little richer. Before we parted ways, we made plans for a reprise rendezvous in The City of Brotherly (and gluten-free) Love.

HipCityVeg, 127 S 18th Street, Philadelphia, PA
Sweet Freedom Bakery, 1424 South Street, Philadelphia, PA
Zahav, 237 St. James Place, Philadelphia, PA


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Shaw’s de Pue Debut

Table   Spoons_THREE_76x25

There is a hot new addition to the Shaw neighborhood catching the attention of local DC residents and press. Table, which opened in late January, was named 2013’s Best New Restaurant by the Washington City Paper, and was recently added to Eater DC’s Heatmap. As soon as the restaurant started taking reservations, I set a date and invited the girlfriends, Mrs. Muffin, Miss. Zin, and Mademoiselle Za’atar (formerly known as Zin’s childhood friend) for a night of nourishment and gabbing.

The approach to Table is impressive with its uniquely painted gray facade and white detailing. A dozen planters mark a roomy patio territory. The interior design is minimal with an unfinished cement floor, simple light wood tables and booths, a long galley kitchen with merely a countertop separating it from the dining room, and a light pink accent wall (I’m told painted in celebration of the cherry blossom season). Surprisingly the restaurant does not offer a bar area, as Miss Zin and I found out when we arrived early to catch up over a glass of wine.

Image courtesy of tabledc.com

Image courtesy of tabledc.com

The restaurant is Chef Frederik de Pue’s labor of love, coming public after making a name for himself in the exclusive world of embassies and diplomats. His confident passion is revealed from the relatively spacious, exposed kitchen to the hand written menus that change frequently, not just seasonally. Diners are able to witness the creation process with all its humbling mistakes in an unpretentious atmosphere where the focus is on quality food.

At any new food establishment, I am prepared to blaze the trail with an inquisition regarding gluten-free practices. To my pleasant surprise, it turned out our server was a glutie himself and was excited to guide me through the menu. He reviewed every item, most of which were naturally g-free or adaptable. He proudly admitted to influencing the chef’s fish soup recipe, which previously contained unnecessary gluten. The menu selections, with first course, main course, and cheese & charcuterie sections, are modest in number. But each dish is unique and thoughtful—no filler items here. We started with the talked about seared sea scallops with parsley cream and leeks. Our kind waiter made sure our order contained 4 scallops, one for each lady, as these morsels were too heavenly to share. The parsely cream was subtly herbaceous and the leeks added pleasant contrasting texture.

Seared Sea Scallops with Parsley Cream and Leeks

Seared Sea Scallops with Parsley Cream and Leeks

I paired two starters for my main course, the tuna tartare and the sauteed mushrooms with poached egg. The tartar was prepared with uni sauce, pickled daikon and kimchee puree, topped with one plump oyster. The tuna was plainly seasoned and actually rather fishy, as was the entire plate between the fish, pungent oyster and uni (sea urchin) sauce. The kimchi puree offered bold flavor but could have used a compliment to keep it from overwhelming the dish.

Tuna Tartar with Uni Sauce, Oyster, Pickeled Daikon and Kimchi Puree

Tuna Tartar with Uni Sauce, Oyster, Pickled Daikon and Kimchi Puree

The mushrooms were a winner, even without the intended toast. The slightly sweet ‘shrooms were accompanied by a large oozing egg atop garliky mushroom puree that made this plate rather substantial and a real savory treat.

Sauteed Mushrooms with Poached Egg

Sauteed Mushrooms with Poached Egg

Mademoiselle Za’atar’s pan roasted black bass with a ragout of potato and thyme butter sauce was cooked perfectly, preserving the fish’s delicate meat. Mrs. Muffin’s bowl of mussels in thai cream was well balanced in flavor, allowing the muscles’ subtleness to shine through the sauce’s not-too-rich, complex flavor. Miss Zin’s dorade en papillote (meaning, cooked in parchment) won for aesthetics. Covered in julienne vegetables (not g-free) the dish was full of flavor and color.

Pan Roasted Black Bass with Ragout of Potato and Thyme Butter Sauce

Pan Roasted Black Bass with Ragout of Potato and Thyme Butter Sauce

Mussels in Thai Cream Sauce

Mussels in Thai Cream Sauce

Dorade en Papilotte with Julienne Vegetables

Dorade en Papilotte with Julienne Vegetables

Unfortunately Table’s dessert options are lacking for us gluties, with sorbet as the only option (how sick of sorbet are you!). However, with a little help from our gluten-free waiter advocating from the inside, perhaps change is in the air for this trendy little eatery.

My biggest caveat with Table is the price tag. With a menu of star players priced relatively high, and no small sides or cheap fillers besides cheese and sliced meats, it’s tough to walk away without burning substantial dough. While the atmosphere conveys neighborhood dive, it’s a bit too pricey to become my casual, everyday haunt. Unfortunately escalated prices seems to be commonplace with the District’s growing population of foodie establishments.

Table, 903 N Street NW, Washington DC


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A Fishy Birthday

BlackSalt Restaurant     Spoons_FOUR

Growing up in New England, the fish market was a regular stop on our way home from school. Pungent aromas from cod or haddock often wafted through our kitchen, and italian seasoned bread crumbs were a staple in the cabinet. It was not until I moved to New York for college that I realized how spoiled my childhood had been. I now know that it costs a pretty penny to prepare the freshest seafood, and unfortunately my well trained, discriminating taste gravitates toward the freshest.

BlackSalt Restaurant in the Palisades neighborhood of DC conjures fond memories of my younger years. I knew it was the perfect location to celebrate Ma Glutie Foodie’s birthday during Ma and Pa’s recent visit to DC. Owners Jeff and Barbara Black are dedicated to providing sustainable fish and seafood from around the world in all of the Black Restaurant Group locations. BlackSalt patrons enter through the fish market, passing by ice beds of shimmering fins and protruding heads. Sister Seitan averted her eyes and held her breath, and Mr. Green Bean scrunched his nose and gave me the “look”. But this night was about Ma and she was going to love it.

It was love at first sight as we were seated in the causal yet elegant dining room and opened our menus to reveal “Happy Birthday” typed across the night’s specials. We popped the prosecco and cozied into our kitchen-view table. Perfect for the mermaid in me, the menu is entirely seafood based, with the exception of one ribeye steak and a vegetarian option upon request. Market features change daily, and additional “just in” catches are announced as if the boat’s just out back. I knew we were in luck when our server mentioned crab cakes and Mr. Green Bean softened his “look”.

As we reviewed the menu’s many extraordinary items with our server, he assured me that any dish that is not already gluten-free can be adapted. He also encouraged me to allow chef Thomas Leonard to prepare something special with my gluten allergy in mind. We started simple with a few table pleasers such as the BlackSalt Ceasar and the chef’s vegetarian appetizer for my gluten-eating family. (Note to all gluten-eating readers: the bread alone is apparently worth the visit. Even my sympathetic family couldn’t silence their exclamations). I lusted over the Atlantic Day Boat Scallops, the Panamonian Cobia Sashimi and the Wild Atlantic Black Sea Bass starters. However, I settled on good ol’ shrimp cocktail, one of the only seafood dishes Mr. Green Bean and I can share. Though expectedly uninspired, the shrimps were cooked just right and the housemade cocktail sauce—with sweet and spicy chunks of fresh tomato—was good enough to eat with a spoon.

Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp Cocktail

For my main entree I gambled on a chef’s choice preparation of sea scallops. As the dish was placed before me and described by the restaurant manager, I grinned at my winnings. Four golden-top, pan seared scallops sat on a bed of julienned carrots and cabbage, sliced confit potato, white bean puree and a sprinkling of pesto. The carrot and cabbage saute was packed with garlic—a favorable ingredient that overstayed it’s welcome the next morning…and the morning after that. I would have appreciated more than the mere smear of white bean puree, and less of the potato that overwhelmed the dish. But the scallops themselves were sublime.

Pan Seared Scallops with sauteed carrots and cabbage, confit potato, white bean puree and pesto garnish.

Pan Seared Scallops with sauteed carrots and cabbage, confit potato, white bean puree and pesto garnish.

I reached my fork across the table to taste Pa Glutie Foodie’s gluten-free Virginia Rockfish with wild mushrooms, spinach, pearl onion jus and the same confit potato used in my dish. The skin-on filet was meaty and mild. The caramelized mushrooms and pearl onion jus made the dish with slightly sweet hints of maple flavor.

Rockfish with confit potato, wild mushroom, spinach and pearl onion jus

Virginia Rockfish with confit potato, wild mushroom, spinach and pearl onion jus.

Mr. Green Bean described his two large pan fried crab cakes as “very good, not the best” (after years in Baltimore, this boy is a tough crab when it comes to his cakes). He seemed more excited about the accompanying sauteed green beans. We had a close call when the server initially assured me the crab cakes were 100% gluten-free. Knowing how unusual that would be, Mr. GB and I encouraged the waiter to double check with the chef. Lo and behold, “they just changed the recipe and they are actually not gluten-free”. Nice save. I treaded carefully after that and didn’t dare try Sister Seitan’s mystery veggie bowl. The abundance of greens and absence of any starch got to her mid-way through. She ordered a side of gnocchi and smiled as they arrived fried and crispy.

Any misgivings about dinner were quickly forgotten with the first taste of dessert. The gluten-free Chocolate Chambord Truffle Cake was delivered with a candle and a chocolate drizzle reading “Happy Birthday”. Two triangles of heavenly, fudgey chocolate were balanced with tart raspberry compote and whipped cream. As if that wasn’t enough of a treat, the Trio of Creme Brulee included milk chocolate-hazelnut, white chocolate-raspberry, and butterscotch. The chocolate-hazelnut’s mild sweetness and nutty profile stood out, but all three dishes were licked clean.

Chocolate Chambord Truffle Cake with raspberry compote and whipped cream.

Chocolate Chambord Truffle Cake with raspberry compote and whipped cream.

Trio of Creme Brulee: butterscotch, white chocolate-raspberry, and milk chocolate-hazelnut.

Trio of Creme Brulee: butterscotch, white chocolate-raspberry, and milk chocolate-hazelnut.

Overall BlackSalt Restaurant is a superior establishment in regards to it’s A+ service and availability of the widest variety of fresh catches in the District. I am reminded by our experience to always double check for gluten, even when the server’s confidence encourages my trust. I am also left to wonder how the menu’s pricey figures are determined. While I understand paying top dollar for seafood flown in from halfway around the world, $38 for crab cakes and green beans, and $30 for Sister Seitan’s heap of veggies seems excessive.

BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant, 4883 MacArthur Blvd., Washington DC


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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