Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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A Reheat You Can’t Beat

The Green Spoon     Spoons_FOUR

I can cook. I can paint and draw too. However, I am a much better spokesperson for others’ artistic creations. So, nearly two years ago when Glutie Foodie was born, I chose to write about my adventures in restaurants rather than in my own kitchen. That was before The Green Spoon came to town, an Arlington based upstart delivering chef-cooked, gluten-free, healthy meals to local living rooms within hours of their preparation; now that’s a TV-dinner worth writing about.

The Green Spoon’s founder and owner, Hanson Cheng, grew up on gourmet food with his family in the restaurant industry. It was not until he benefited first-hand from a strict Paleo diet that he realized the positive affects of healthy, clean eating and his mission became clear. Cheng explains, “People in DC work hard, sit for hours in traffic, have families, have schedules so packed that they barely have time for themselves or their families. If I could help people eat great food and make it convenient for them, I felt that would be very valuable….They would have access to healthy food that tastes great!

Cheng designed a weekly meal program to include 100% gluten-free dishes that borrow from his Paleo practices. He interviewed a couple dozen chefs before finding Donn Souliyadeth, who was working as a private chef at the time and has cooked with celebrity chef Morou Ouattara at both his Farrah Olivia and Kora restaurants in Northern Virginia. “I’ve never met someone that works as hard as he [Souliyadeth] does” Cheng admires. “He puts his heart and soul into his food. For our tortillas, he probably made six to seven versions of them before we found one we were happy offering to our clients.”

From the first taste of a Green Spoon meal, Souliyadeth’s talents are clear. He is a pro at preparing well-balanced, packaged meals that taste as delicious re-heated the next day as they would right off the pan. Souliyadeth shops for his locally sourced produce and proteins once the week’s orders are in, to ensure the freshest ingredients with nearly no waste. The seared haddock with a “soy sauce” glaze, cauliflower rice, baby bok choy and sweet peppers spent 15 minutes in my 350 degree oven, right in the eco-friendly container in which it was delivered. Another 15 minutes later, that container was licked clean, tossed into the recycling bin and I had the rest of my night to…well, work on this post.

Seared haddock with a soy glaze, riced cauliflower, baby bok choy and peppers

Seared haddock with a soy glaze, cauliflower rice, baby bok choy and sweet peppers

The salmon filet I received was served with a mound of sweet and tangy mango salsa atop a bed of brown rice that crisped on the edges after its 15 minutes in the oven.

Salmon filet with mango salsa and brown rice

Salmon filet with mango salsa and brown rice

The lunch menu’s napa cabbage salad with grape tomatoes, red grapes, pistachios and avocado was accompanied by a hearty portion of mahi mahi and a balsamic vinaigrette that Mr. Green Bean and I nearly drank! We spent the entire meal trying to figure out how to replicate our new favorite dressing.

Napa salad with mahi mahi and balsamic vinaigrette

Napa salad with mahi mahi and balsamic vinaigrette

The Green Spoon caterers to little people too, with a separate kids menu that tempts the Mr. Green Bean in all of us. I was particularly intrigued by the almond crusted fish sticks served with broccoli, carrots, and a cauliflower mash that kids will never know isn’t the starchy staple they’re used to. The accompanying tartar sauce tasted so fresh I actually felt good about eating it. Beware that this finger food is meant to be eaten with a fork, due to the fish’s delicate texture. In fact, all the fish portions were cooked to a perfect, flaky consistency after their second rounds in an oven, a virtue I wish I could replicate with my own leftovers.

Almond crusted fish sticks with cauliflower mash, broccoli and carrots

Almond crusted fish sticks with cauliflower mash, broccoli, carrots and tartar sauce

It was a week filled with fish, as you can tell. Mr. Green Bean was a good sport to put up with the fresh ocean smell that engulfed our apartment. Our Kashrut observance prohibited us from bringing in dishes like the Green Spoon’s Jerk chicken with sweet plantains and spanish brown rice, or Kofte (Meditteranean meatballs) with tzatziki, chickpeas and spiced spinach, which my husband surely would have loved, and I have no doubt make for delicious dinners.

Though The Green Spoon sought me out to taste test their cooking, I am a new fan of the company on my own volition. I am convinced after tasting multiple dishes that what I initially thought were steep prices for “take-out” meals ($13 per lunch and $17 per dinner), are more than fair considering the product’s quality and quantity. The Green Spoon makes major efforts to support organic, local, and sustainable farming as much as possible and has no minimum order requirements or membership fees. Orders are taken the week before they are cooked and delivered, and meals are meant to be eaten within a couple of days of their arrival.

The Green Spoon eco-friendly containers

The Green Spoon eco-friendly containers

Hanson Cheng has big hopes for The Green Spoon, and there certainly is room for growth. The company is working on marketing the gluten-free, clean eating philosophy more prominently on the website and has plans to add organic juices, designed by a top DC mixologist, to their repertoire soon. Not surprisingly, there are still some limitations for the young company: While customers can list allergies on their user profile, specific food needs other than gluten-free are subject to the week’s offerings and may not be able to be accommodated. Delivery is currently only available in NW DC, Arlington, and Old Town Alexandria. Cheng hopes to expand the delivery radius once the kitchen can support the expansion without compromising quality. But anyone is welcome to our apartment where The Green Spoon will be making regular delivers from now on.

The Green Spoon, Arlington VA, (703) 477-2237, eatgreenspoon.com


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Around Town for On Tap

Glutie Foodie is on the job! Read this month’s issue of On Tap Magazine for the Gluten-free Griddle Report, where Glutie Foodie reveals the area’s best gluten-free pancakes. Quinoa, buckwheat and rice flour batters offer something special for brunch, lunch and even dinner. Get the full report HERE.

Let us know what you think and if there are other g-free flapjack shacks gluties should know about.

Happy flipping!

Glutie Foodie

Quinoa Coconut Pancakes from the Silver Diner.

Quinoa Coconut Pancakes from the Silver Diner


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Pretty-Good Is the New Great!

HomeMade Pizza Co.   Spoons_THREE_76x25

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

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

Gluten-free HomeMade Pizza ready to be baked

Gluten-free HomeMade pizza ready to be baked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Spreading Love

Cava Mezze Grill     Spoons_FOUR

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

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

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

Salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

Power greens salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

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

Harissa

Spicy Harissa…on the side

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

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

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


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Getting to Know Goldilocks Goodies

Goldilocks Goodies      Spoons_FIVE

It is the holiday season and the air is abuzz with shoppers, travelers, and partiers. No wonder our carb and sugar consumption peaks in November and December. How else would we keep our blood flowing and feet moving. These merry months are an especially busy time for Emily Robins, who can be seen dashing around DC, capitalizing on our sugar dependencies.

Actually, the truth is, since the inception of her gluten-free baking business, the Goldilocks Goodies founder has not stopped moving. She splits her time between Lancaster, PA, where she sources her fresh, locally farmed ingredients and bakes in her family’s kitchen, and Washington DC, to make deliveries to boutique coffee shops and set up camp at weekly farmers markets.

Two years ago, Robins’ fruitless quest for a nourishing, satisfying, gluten-free cookie ended at her stand mixer. Out of desperation she created Goldilocks Goodies’ signature, grain-free, nut-butter cookies, made with a short list of ingredients you can actually pronounce. They are chewy, sweet, fresh, and taste like real food, rather than artificial flavors and preservatives.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip with Himalayan Sea Salt

Signature peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with Himalayan sea salt

From cookies Robins’ repertoire quickly grew to brownies, muffins, whoopie pies, crusted pies, coffee cakes, quiches, loaves and more. She has mastered the ever-challenging gluten-free sandwich bread with a recipe that holds together when eaten fresh and toasts beautifully out of the freezer. The cinnamon-raisin bread with a hint of cardamom is more versatile than it sounds. Stuff two slices with turkey for a sweet and savory lunch or spread them with peanut butter to get the day started.

Cinnamon-raisin sandwich bread with a hint of cardamom

Cinnamon-raisin sandwich bread with a hint of cardamom

Not surprisingly, Goldilocks’ hand-made goodies do fetch a higher than average cost. With local, preservative-free ingredients, quality and freshness demand the higher price. The one-woman machine is baking for hundreds and delivering while the goods are practically still hot. Who wouldn’t pay an extra few bucks for that!

Back in November, Sister Seitan and I snagged seats in Emily Robins’ holiday cookie making class at the Living Social headquarters. We baked dozens of delectable gingerbread and sugar cookies that my family inhaled after Thanksgiving dinner.

Gingerbread cookies ready for the oven at the Living Social holiday cookie making class

Gingerbread cookies ready for the oven at the Living Social holiday cookie making class

I caught up with Robins a few weeks later at Pleasant Pops for tea and a Goldilocks Goodies brownie. She was exhausted from her final Living Social class but enthusiastic as ever to gab with me about starting a business from scratch, her Lancaster roots and future plans. Here is Glutie Foodie’s first published interview, Getting to Know Goldilocks Goodies:

Glutie Foodie (GF): What was your transition to a gluten-free lifestyle like?

Goldilocks Goodies (GG): I had just moved back to the States after living in China for 4 years. I was accustomed to not eating sandwiches, cereals and desserts, so I imagine it wasn’t as hard of a transition as it is for most people. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss a great, chewy, thick pizza crust, though!

GF: Tell us about the moment you decided to share your “Just Right” cookies with the world by starting a g-free baking business.

GG: I was having dinner with a friend and business mentor of mine when I came up with the name Goldilocks Goodies. After a year of thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and another year of coming up with a business plan and deciding how to transition, I knew I was ready when I had the name picked out. It perfectly fits my story of trying a lot of ready-made gluten-free foods and finding them too dry, too sugary, too grainy, or too processed with preservatives and flavors. My products are not any of those—they’re just right! And the alliteration of Goldilocks Goodies is an added bonus for the bookworm/nerd in me. I decided to keep “gluten-free” out of the name. My goal is to provide treats everyone can enjoy that just happen to be gluten-free for those of us that check labels!

GF: You bake in the kitchen in which you were raised, on land owned by your family for generations. How have your mother and grandmother influenced your current career path?

GG: My mother and grandmother have both been a huge influence for me. Every meal was homemade from local ingredients, and my mom was baking all the time—just little things—but we always had homemade cookies, pies and treats. It was a great gift to eat locally and seasonally and I aim to do that with my line of baked goods as well.

Of course, everything my grandmother makes is wonderful, and she doesn’t use any recipes. She learned by watching her mother-in-law in the kitchen so that she could help prepare for large gatherings: holidays, corn roasts or pig roasts, barn raisings, Sunday dinners, and harvest days when neighboring farms would pool their labor. Most farmers would eat very simply through the week, but there would always be plenty of variety when folks got together. These women are extremely hard-working and have very talented hands in the kitchen, both of which I aspire towards.

GF: What is the best thing to come out of your grandmother’s kitchen? Have you adapted the recipe to be gluten-free?

GG: I’d have to say her Chocolate Caramel Cake is the most requested and most famous of all. The caramel icing—made in an iron skillet—requires a lot of love and patience and was my great-grandmother’s recipe (who probably got it from her mother). Every grandchild wants it made for their birthday and it would be the most coveted dish at a picnic or potluck. I HAD to convert this to gluten-free and I make it by special order for other special occasions.

GF: That’s true! You and Mr. Green Bean conspired earlier this year to surprise me with gluten-free birthday cake. You baked your famous Chocolate Caramel Cake and Carrot Cake (a personal favorite) for the occasion. Both were utterly delicious. My guests would never have guessed the cakes were gluten-free were it not for Glutie Foodie stuffing her face with seconds…and thirds.

Nowadays there are many options for gluten-free birthday cake. How do your products stand apart in the growing gluten-free food market?

GG: The common opinion is that gluten-free foods are sub-par in taste, texture and quality. I refuse to buy those products currently on the market and strive to make ones that are gluten-free AND delicious. I’m proud to say that some customers of mine don’t need a gluten-free diet; they just appreciate something fresh, natural and locally sourced. My treats aren’t made with cheap fillers, lots of added sugar or artificial ingredients like a lot of other products are that are allergen-free.

GF: What has been most challenging about starting Goldilocks Goodies?

GG: The most challenging part, by far, is the amount of energy it takes to start a baking business. I have had chronic Lyme disease for over 10 years now, and while most of my symptoms are much better managed now than at the beginning of my illness, I still fight aches, pains, and fatigue that make 12 to 14-hour days of baking, driving, delivering, marketing and paperwork a struggle.

GF: What has been most rewarding about starting Goldilocks Goodies?

GG: The feedback that I get is truly what makes this all worth it. I’ve received the sweetest comments and emails from people saying they are fans for life, or that their daughter had a very memorable birthday cake that year because of me, or from a food writer letting me know I “single-handedly elevated [his] opinion of the potential of gf baking for non-gf diners.” Yeah, that was a good day!

GF: What do you envision for Goldilocks Goodies 5 years from now?

GG: My goal is to have nation-wide distribution within 2 years. There’s no comparable cookie on the market that’s free of the top 7 allergens and is as satisfying and delicious as mine. I want to reach fans around the country and then, who knows? Maybe I’ll end up selling my cookies in China!

I also have goals of making a cookbook based on seasonal produce for each region of the US. Fixing the broken food chain in the States is integral to my hometown, the preservation of farmland and the way of life of my neighbors, and, I believe, the health and environment for each and every one of us.

Emily Robins of Goldilocks Goodies

Emily Robins of Goldilocks Goodies

Goldilocks Goodies’ savory and sweet treats are available at select locations throughout the DMV, online, or by special order. 


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Almost Paradise

Pizzeria Paradiso     Spoons_TWO_76x25

I am officially a food writer. Every meal I eat is analyzed down to the last detail. My hyper-focused taste buds are constantly at work critiquing each bite. My family likes to think of themselves as sous-food writers. They love offering their unsolicited opinions when dining with me, in exchange for a potential mention on the blog. I appreciate and welcome the assistance. If nothing else it makes for interesting dinner conversation. Following Medium Rare and a few other major meals the weekend of my family’s visit, we decided to take it easy Sunday night and order in Pizzeria Paradiso, one of the most reputable artisanal pizza restaurants around, with three locations between DC and NoVA.

Pizzeria Paradiso

Pizzeria Paradiso

Known for their big crust, thin pie, and gourmet toppings, Pizzeria Paradiso debuted a gluten-free crust in the winter of 2012. I was one of the first to try the gluten-free pie and was underwhelmed with the product at the time. However, unwilling to believe that such a successful pizzeria could fail at their gluten-free option, I was willing to give it another try.

The 8-inch gluten-free crust costs an additional $2 more than a regular individual pie. Fellow glutie, Sister-in-law Scotch, and I ordered two to share and made sure to pack on the toppings just in case the crust was lacking. The Siciliana was an easy selection, loaded with zucchini, eggplant, capers, minced garlic, oregano, sweet peppers, red onion, mozzarella, pecorino, and Paradiso’s signature chunky tomato. (Note to those like Mr. Green Bean, who prefer their sauce as a backdrop: make sure to replace the default Paradiso Tomato with Birreria Tomato Sauce, a smoother choice.) The Siciliana succeeded in piling the long list of ingredients onto each slice without completely flopping under the weight. For our second pizza, we created a sauceless pie with pesto, marinated artichokes, spinach, sundried tomato, mozzarella and feta. Bravo to us for a superb combination of bold flavors, serving as a nice contrast to the light and fresh Siciliana. The absence of saucey tomatoes kept both crusts from getting soggy, a typical concern for wheat-free pizzas.

Siciliana with Paradiso Tomato, Zucchini, Eggplant, Capers, Minced Garlic, Oregano, Mozzarella, Pecorino, Sweet Peppers and Red Onion

Siciliana with Paradiso tomato, zucchini, eggplant, capers, minced garlic, oregano, mozzarella, pecorino, sweet peppers and red onion

Paradiso makes their gluten-free crust on-site, and rather than par-baking the crust as they first tried, they now freeze the rolled out dough until ready to pop in the wood-burning stone oven. The result is a thin body with a thick, chewy crust that doesn’t stick to your teeth (you know what I’m talking about fellow gluties). What a novelty to have a hefty edge to hold onto, something to sink one’s teeth into. How rare to have extra bread leftover after all the cheese, sauce and veggies are gone.

Our own creation with

Our own creation with pesto, marinated artichokes, spinach, sundried tomato, mozzarella and feta

The crust recipe calls for a combination of buckwheat, tapioca, white and brown rice, fava and garbanzo flours. The dominant buckwheat nuttiness reminded me of the days when I could enjoy a hearty wholewheat crust, with a certain wholesome flavor that makes one feel less guilty for her meal choice. This dough proved a refreshing change from flavorless, cracker-like, gluten-free flatbreads that call themselves pizzas.

Now the reason for Paradiso’s two-spoon rating. After further research into the pizzeria’s gluten-free precautions and preparation methods, I am sorely disappointed and am having second thoughts about returning to the establishment. Paradiso seems to have sacrificed safety for a winning product. While commendable that they make their gluten-free dough in-house, it is prepared in the same kitchens as the wheat dough with flour flying freely about. The pizzas are assembled using the same topping containers and cooked in a shared stone oven, sliding in and out on the same surface as wheat pizzas. Cross-contamination is inevitable. The restaurant covers themselves by warning of their cooking practices on their website and instructing their waitstaff to do the same at the table. Pizzeria Paradiso took a piece of the gluten-free pie, but isn’t truly serving those who need contamination-free wheat-less crust. What a tease.

I end by sharing my family’s two cents on their regular pizzas. Pa Glutie Foodie likes his pizza saucy and found Paradiso’s too dry. Brother Bourbon thought that for the hefty price there was too much crust. While Sister Seitan loved the unusual Genovese pie topped with pesto, potato and parmesan, Brother Bourbon preferred the very cheesy Quattro Formaggi with gorgonzola, pecorino, fontina, mozzarella, minced garlic and parsley. Surprise, surprise, Mr. Green Bean stuck to the simple cheese pizza with smooth Birreria Tomato Sauce. And easy to please Ma Glutie Foodie was so elated to have us all together around one dinner table, the pizza could have been cardboard…but she loved it!

Pizzeria Paradiso, 3282 M Street NW, Washington DC (see other Locations HERE)


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Pita that Pleases

Roti Mediterranean Grill     Spoons_TWO_76x25

Roti is an unleavened flatbread integral to South Asian cuisines such as Indian and Pakistani. It is also the name of a health conscious fast-food chain in Washington DC and Illinois, and quickly expanding to Virginia, Maryland and New York. I knew I needed to try it when I found out they offer gluten-free bread! I pictured walking into a shop filled with the aromas of curry and basmati rice. You can imagine my confusion when I approached the Roti location in Union Station and read the restaurant’s full name above the entrance: Roti Mediterranean Grill.

Roti executives, Larry Lessans and Mats Lederhausen, market themselves as champions of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. The Roti website references bonafide resources to describe the ancient diet and its many health benefits. The eating style, based  on olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry, is maintainable and heart-healthy (I especially appreciate the endorsement of a daily glass of wine). However Roti’s good intentions are victims of the insatiable American appetite, capable of turning any healthy meal into a gluttonous eating escapade. Roti’s portions are large and disproportionately heavy on proteins rather than vegetables. The topping bar offers ample opportunities to pack on extra empty calories or unnecessary fat. Diners can choose a sauce, a dressing, and various salads already prepared with their own oils. What results can easily fall far from what nutritionists have in mind when they preach the Mediterranean diet.

Roti's Topping Bar

Roti’s Topping Bar

Having said all of that, Roti’s food actually tastes decent. Meals can be assembled as a salad, over rice, or in a sandwich with pita or laffa breads. My choice is the bed of greens with a side of gluten-free pita that is warmed up securely in uncontaminated tinfoil on a sandwich press. The bread is satisfying with a soft, stretchy consistency that endures even hours after cooling (a rarity, as we gluties know). The mild pita flavor acts as a pleasant compliment to the salty spices in Roti’s dishes. With 155 calories, little fat, low sodium, no sugar and minimal protein, this carbohydrate treat is neither beneficial nor all that harmful (there’s the American in me talking).

Roti's Gluten-Free Pita Bread

Roti’s Gluten-Free Pita Bread

I will be honest, I am only a repeat customer to Roti for the g-free pita. However, its worth mentioning that most of the other items in their repertoire are also gluten-free. The personnel seem to be informed and prepared for gluten-free patrons and help guide the ordering process. While I can’t vouch for the rotisserie spit from which servers scrape shreds of g-free white meat, the Chicken Roti is very flavorful and fairly fresh, being constantly rotated on the grill. The Roasted Vegetables, a blend of carrots, broccoli, onions and peppers, are a bit over-oiled but are vibrant and crunchy. The Spanish Eggplant topping gets lost in an ambiguous sauce that renders this side a bit slimy. But the tomato and cucumber Israeli-style salad is light and simple.

Salad Plate with Roasted Vegetables, Spanish Eggplant, Tomato and Cucumber Salad and Olives.

Salad Plate with Roasted Vegetables, Spanish Eggplant, Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Olives and Hummus.

Overall the establishment is making an effort to provide health conscious food. The restaurant’s interior design and ambiance is closer to a McDonalds than the more upscale local fast-food vendor, Cava Grill (stay tuned for my future review). And though the chicken and steak are cooked on sight, the small staff and compact kitchen space indicates that not much else is. With the fast-food industry making such strides in quality these days, Roti may need to make some changes inorder to keep up.

Roti Mediterranean Grill, Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington DC (plus various locations throughout DC, MD and VA)


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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


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Petit Fources

The Happy Tart      

As a health conscious eater, I have mixed feelings about the improvement of gluten-free ingredients and recipes for sweets and savories. I think back to pre-g-free meals, more like battles between me and the bread basket, reserve forces called in to fight dessert. Dining has actually become far more peaceful in the past couple of years! But now my new enemies are growing strong in number and  temptations are lurking.

I am especially conflicted when it comes to The Happy Tart Gluten-Free Pâtisserie in the Del Ray neighborhood of Virginia. This entirely gluten-free bakery that opened in January of 2012 makes products that are so tasty, I wonder if the world even needs gluten anymore! Chef and owner, Emma Cech, discovered her gluten-intolerance while enrolled in the Professional Pastry Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine. Her mission soon became perfecting gluten-free French pastries, and she has returned to Virginia armed and ready.

I was intrigued when I learned about the bakery and their supply of fresh breads, pizza crusts, cakes, cookies, and fancy schmancy European delicacies. Now that I have an obligation to my blog followers to seek the best of the best, a visit was imminent, and I knew just the companion to bring along. She’s got a sweet tooth the size of Texas, an insatiable appetite, high standards for quality treats, and, though blood related, is a huge fan of gluten. Ladies and gentleman, I introduce to you Sister Seitan (pronounced “sey-tan”, as in the wheat-gluten meat substitute common in vegetarian dishes. It is, however, deliberately mispronounced “satan” by vegetarian celiacs.)

As we entered the bakery and deliberated over our selections, our eyes widened and mouths watered. A must-have for me was the Sunday special: sweet, gooey, sticky buns. The doughy layers doused in cinnamon syrup and covered with sugared walnuts satisfied every craving I’ve been having for the past couple of years. Sister Seitan, and later Mr. Green Bean who accompanied me on a return visit, concurred that the sticky buns are a hit and undetectably gluten-free. Sister and I also shared an apple turnover, as I never say “no” to an apple dessert. The Happy Tart crust used for the turnover, as well as all of their pies, holds together beautifully, with a light, buttery crumb and just a hint of sweetness, leaving the sugar to the filling. We also munched on crispy baguette chips in cinnamon/raisin/pecan and parmesan/garlic varieties. Though the Happy Tart is not technically a dine-in establishment, they offer coffee and tea, and Adirondack chairs just outside for those customers who can’t wait to dig in. That is where you could find me and Sister Seitan on that sunny afternoon, licking our lips, and the plates, in disbelief at how delicious everything was.

Apple Turnover, Baguette Chips, and Sticky Bun

I recently had another opportunity to taste a variety of The Happy Tart’s delectables. Emma Cech graciously provided some of her petit fours and tartlets for the Glutie Foodie launch party last week. The launch, held at my second home, Hemphill Fine Arts, celebrated not only the beginning of my blog, but also a new business venture by Josh Goldman, DJ G Events. DJ G provided the tunes while guests sipped wine, admired the work of Artist Linling Lu, and praised The Happy Tart products. For the sake of research, of course, I took bites from others’ plates and stashed a couple of treats away to make sure to try them all. The rich Chocolate Raspberry and five layer Chocolate Decadence petit fours are moist on the inside, with chocolate shell armors that crack easily with the invitation of a fork. My favorite was the Tea Time petit four, made with joconde almond cake, layered with apricot jam and earl grey tea mousse, and dipped in white chocolate. The subtle almond and earl gray undertones offer a unique flavor, sweetened by the apricot and white chocolate. For sweet and sour fans, the lemon meringue and lime curd tartlets are bursts of flavor, not to be underestimated for their small size.

I reserve judgment on The Happy Tart’s selection of breads. Ready-made pizza crusts are waiting in my freezer, and one of these weekends I’ll rush over to snag a fresh bagel before they’re gone. But if the crowds that flock to this tiny storefront are any indication, I’m sure the breads will not disappoint.

So, I surrender to The Happy Tart, a force much more powerful than my will. I admit that I am grateful for Cech’s contributions to gluten-free baking and have even tried my hand at her crostata recipe, using the rice flour blend sold in the bakery. Her crust recipe alone is enough to crumble my defenses. And when my Thanksgiving table tries the apple pie I plan to bring, it might just turn them all into gluties.

Happy Tart Gluten-Free Pâtisserie, 2307A Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA