Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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A Rare Occasion

Medium Rare     Spoons_THREE_76x25

A couple of weeks ago, as the turning leaves reached their most colorful hues, a northerly wind swept my family in for a visit. This epic weekend brought Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie and long overdue guests, Brother Bourbon and Sister-in-law Scotch, named for their fondness of the brown spirits. My older sibling and his wife trekked from NYC with my adorable 8 month old nephew, Mr. Bean.  Saturday night we would be joined by my aunt, uncle, cousin and his girlfriend for a big family night out. The pressure was on to come up with a restaurant that could accommodate our large crowd, be suitable for the vegetarian and gluten-free among us and impress with quality food and service, all while not burning a hole in Pa Glutie Foodie’s wallet. The Cleveland Park steak frites restaurant, Medium Rare, is one of Mr. Green Bean’s favorites and has been enjoyed by many of the Glutie Foodie characters, including Miss Zin, Irish Coffee and Weg-Man and Wife.  I deemed it the perfect choice for our party.

Medium Rare’s success over the past two and a half years can be attributed to an all-star cast, including owners Tom Gregg and Mark Bucher (founder of BGR The Burger Joint), manager Brian Zipin (last seen at Ray’s The Steaks), and consulting chef Cedric Maupillier (formerly of Central Michel Richard), who came together to design the well packaged experience. For $19.50 (plus tax), diners enjoy a first course of bib lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette, followed by sliced top sirloin cap steak cooked to your liking, drizzled with “secret sauce” and accompanied by crispy hand-cut frites. Servers circle the table as soon as plates are cleaned to deliver a second helping from a sizzling hot grill pan. While some indulge in the encore, many box it up to go. Gluten-free diners are in for a treat, as the meal is entirely gluten-free, minus the homemade bread served right when you settle in, and which I gather from Mr. Green Bean is quite delicious.

Bibb lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette

Mixed green salad with mustard vinaigrette

The atmosphere is far more charming than the space’s former tenant, Yanni’s Greek Taverna. Medium Rare chose simple decor, with dim lighting, white paper table liners and vinyl flooring that tends to be slippery (I have come frighteningly close to falling right on my butt several times). The music selection (think classic rock) seems a little out of place, but the bathroom soundtrack, lessons in French pick-up lines, reminds visitors of the restaurant’s French influence.

Medium Rare does not take reservations on weekends. But call 30 min ahead and they will add your name to the wait list. On this rare occasion, a fluke in their system (i.e. a new employee who made a mistake) won us a reservation for 11 at 7:30pm on a Saturday. Awesome. We arrived, were promptly seated and debriefed by our waiter on how our meal would work. No time is wasted on a menu, no long-winded inquisition of gluten ingredients necessary, just state how you like your meat cooked and Voilà.

Brother Bourbon, a fairly savvy carnivore, summed up his meal just as I would: The steak is good, but the salad, fries and gravy really make the meal. Medium Rare doesn’t serve up the finest, most flavorful cut, and they don’t always get the temperature perfect—just ask Mr. Green Bean about his very pink portion—but they do enough right that it truly doesn’t matter. You get just what you pay for, and at a fair price, I’m fine with that.

Culotte steak and hand-cut fries with "secret sauce"

Culotte steak with “secret sauce” and hand-cut fries

Where the restaurant fails is in their accommodations for vegetarians. The non-meat option is a grilled portobello steak with a red pepper sauce, priced the same as the regular meal. The mushroom does a nice job of acting like a meat steak, but doesn’t quite satisfy in the protein department. Sister Seitan took one for the team and didn’t complain…too much. I often use the vegetarian option to my advantage by ordering it and stealing a few slices of Mr. Green Bean’s steak for a perfectly well rounded meal.

Grilled portobello steak with red pepper sauce and hand-cut fries

Grilled portobello steak with red pepper sauce and hand-cut fries

The process is so efficient that tables turn quickly. It’s a great place to grab dinner before catching a movie at The Uptown, but often feels rushed for a leisurely meal. However, our large party slowed the service down, giving us plenty of time to enjoy several bottles of wine. The carefully curated wine list offers half a dozen reds and whites well suited for this particular cut of steak. We further extended our meal by ordering a few notoriously enormous desserts. The House Specialty hot fudge sundae is gluten-free if ordered without the chocolate crunch balls, and is well worth the extra trip to the gym the next morning.

House Specialty: hot fudge sundae

House Specialty: hot fudge sundae

The bill arrived with a glass full of bubblegum, a sweet something to soften the blow of a final tally unsurprisingly inflated from the $19.50/person base rate. Large parties beware of the ambiguous “Dine In” fee, a 20% tip added to the bill that can easily be missed. The family departed chomping on our gum with full stomachs and smiling faces. By the time they visit again, the restaurant will have opened its impending second location on Barracks Row. Well-done, Medium Rare.

Double Bubble gum

Double Bubble gum

Medium Rare, 3500 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington DC 


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Pulpo-tential

Pulpo     Spoons_TWO_76x25

Bravo to Pulpo. Last summer, Cleveland Park’s modern American/Spanish tapas restaurant successfully transformed the former Tackle Box space with minimal interior reconstruction. My memory has faded of the picnic tables and steamed clams, replaced by elegant, dark wood, ruffed-up brick, and sweet sangria. Mr. Green Bean and I patronize the under-publicized neighborhood establishment on occasion. We always arrive happy to see the restaurant pleasantly packed. Yet Pulpo is still trying to find just the right formula for success, switching up the menu frequently, offering an all you can eat and drink brunch, advertising extended happy hours and drink specials, and most recently making a staffing change with newly hired general manager David Hansen and executive chef Billy Klein, formerly of Café Saint-Ex. The $25 bottomless brunch smells the most desperate, a ghost of past management that Hansen and Klein are hoping to restructure soon. On a recent Sunday afternoon, Mr. Green Bean and I gave it a go, meeting our newly wedded friends, Weg-Man and Wife, for a midday feast that had its ups and downs.

If there were ever a question of how excessive American culture is, Pulpo’s brunch makes it quite clear. Our waiter, a quiet and mysterious type, handed out menus and allowed us a quick glance before he offered to do the picking on our behalf. He would choose an assortment of tapas from all the menu categories:  breakfast items, lunch items, salads and vegetables, taking into account my gluten allergy. Mr. Green Bean was the only one with premonitions about relinquishing our ordering control. The rest of us happily leaned back and awaited our mimosas.

What unfolded from that point was a never ending ensemble of plates, arriving one at a time, in no particular order, and too slowly to explain why requests—such as coffee, milk for our coffee, spoons for stirring the coffee, hot coffee to replace the now cold and milk-less coffee—were granted in a much delayed fashion, or not at all. It turns out that a number of the brunch items contain gluten. Most surprisingly the frittatas, typically a gluten free alternative to quiche, are made in flour-laced pans. The slow service was partly due to chef Klein’s gracious attempt to modify dishes for my diet while keeping up with a restaurant full of expanding stomachs.

We were given a number of naturally gluten-free items to start, including the white bean salad with cucumber, roasted red pepper, olives and feta,  the spinach with citrus, and the mushrooms with garlic. While most of the lighter dishes were predictable and forgettable, the golden quinoa made an impression, with perfect pearls of toasted quinoa slightly sweetened by apricots and honey.

Golden quinoa with apricots and honey

Golden quinoa with apricots and honey

We were served a fleet of modified gluten-free dishes such as the shrimp salad without the roll (a preparation preferred by our waiter anyway), meatball sliders slipped off the bun, crostini-less smoked salmon with lemon goat cheese, eggs benedict with smoked salmon served over rice pilaf without the orzo, and pan-fried (rather than deep fried) patatas bravas with garlic aioli.

Meatballs with manchego cheese

Meatballs with manchego cheese

Most of the plates faired rather ordinary. However, a highlight of the group was a gluten-free version of the roasted pork belly and black bean tostada, a hearty bowl of pulled pork with corn tortilla triangles for scooping. Unfortunately the dish arrived too late to fully enjoy, our stomachs cramping from overindulgence.

Roasted pork belly and black bean tostada

Roasted pork belly and black bean tostada

The onslaught of food left us confused and disappointed. We would have been better served with a few standout dishes and not all subpar fill-ins that resulted in both overeating and wasted leftovers. Unfortunately, the meal’s only sparsities were refills of our mimosas. Oh, and hot coffee.

Mr. Green Bean and I parted ways with Weg-Man and Wife and walked home reflecting on our more positive dinner experiences at Pulpo. I can’t say I have ever had flawless service at Pulpo, and with a menu that has been restructured a few times it’s difficult to keep up. But I have been pleased on every dinner occasion by more refined menu items that are executed quite well. One ingredient Pulpo makes sure they get right is the sea creature for which the restaurant is named. Pulpo’s newest menu features four octopus dishes. Though I have yet to try them out, my guess is they will fare well based on the success of past octopus preparations .

Octopus with citrus quinoa

Past menu item: Octopus with citrus quinoa

Pulpo continues to wave around its tentacles hoping something will catch. What has been consistent since the restaurant’s opening is its romantic and cozy interior that sets the mood for a pleasant experience regardless of flaws in food and service. Now that chef Klein has been on board for a few months, perhaps this rocky boat is bound for some smooth sailing.

Pulpo, 3407 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC


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Crowd-FUN-ded

Gluten-free Biergarden by SourceHorse

You say, “come enjoy gluten-free donuts and beer to support the Celiac Disease Foundation,” and I say “hell, yes!”. This past Saturday night’s sold out Gluten Free Biergarden was organized by SourceHorse, crowdfunded through EventStir, and held at the multipurpose event space, Tabula Rasa. Guests donated $30 to enjoy gluten-free savories by Ridgewells Catering, sweets by Dough: A District Bakery, kegs of cider from Magners and Woodchuck and endless bottles of gluten-free beer from Bard’s, Dogfish Head and New Planet. I attended the event not only to enjoy all of these delectables, but also to grow awareness of my humble blog. Funny thing is, you get together a bunch of gluties in their 20s and 30s, offer them gluten-free treats, a pumping DJ and an outdoor courtyard on a beautiful October night, and the last thing they want to do is talk about being gluten-free. So I worked my mouth on the food and drink instead of the crowd.

Ridgwells Catering      Spoons_TWO_76x25
Bethesda based Ridgwells Catering must not have expected such a terrific turn out. The buffet of small bites ran out in the first half hour, well before Mr. Green Bean showed up. I arrived early enough to taste everything, in order to report back to you diligently, of course. The display included a Mediterranean skewer bar with grilled chorizo and spiced Shrimp that satisfied, and overcooked lemon oregano chicken that turned to sawdust in my mouth (harsh, I know, but true).

Mediteranean skewer bar with (left to right) chorizo, shrimp and chicken.

Mediteranean skewer bar with (left to right) chorizo, shrimp and chicken.

Vegetarian options included artichokes with sun-dried tomato tapenade, grilled vegetable rollers with guacamole and black bean spread, and tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers. Though the food didn’t offer much to get excited about, I was impressed by the soft, chewy wrapper used for the veggie rollers, maintaining a pleasing texture and holding together nicely.

(Left to Right) Vegetable rollups; artichokes with sun-dried tomato; tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers.

(Left to Right) Grilled vegetable rollers; artichokes with sun-dried tomato tapenade; tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers

Dough: A District Bakery    Spoons_FOUR
Dough’s baked goods were also tough to come by, mainly because guests couldn’t get enough of the bite-sized red velvet cupcakes, pumpkin spice donut holes, and miniature eclairs! The new DC bakery has yet to establish a store front, making accessibility a bit of a challenge. Founder and baker, Hilary Nelson, has utilized Tabula Rasa for a couple of Saturday pop-up events and is happy to take orders online. Nelson is all about fostering DC culture by sourcing local ingredients to supply the community, both gluten-free and not, with soulful sweet treats. I certainly tasted the love. Each piece I sampled was light, airy, fluffy…all adjectives typically used to describe what gluten-free is not! The oblong pastry of the eclair closely resembled that of a conventional eclair, filled with a touch of vanilla custard and decorated with a sweet chocolate frosting. My favorite was the donut hole, bursting with pumpkin flavor and enhanced by a glistening coating of cinnamon and sugar. Catch Dough if you can as she grows her budding business through upcoming local engagements.

(Left to right) Mini eclairs, red velvet cupcakes, and pumpkin spice donut holes

(Left to right) Mini eclairs; mini red velvet cupcakes; pumpkin spice donut holes

Once the food ran out, beer and cider flowed. I sipped on Dogfish Head’s Tweason’ale, a twist on traditional gluten-free brews, made with fresh strawberries, sorghum and honey. It was a refreshing choice for the night’s lingering summer air. I’m not a personal fan of Magners or Woodchuck cider, but red solo cups kept filling up. Good marks were also given to New Planet’s Blond Ale, a sorghum and corn extract based beer.

Dogfish Head Tweason'ale

Dogfish Head Tweason’ale

Stay tuned for future gluten-free crowd-funded events by SourceHorse. The young company aims to make  planning, funding, and promoting events of all kinds a cinch. The millennial generation to which SourceHorse caters is known for creative mindedness. SourceHorse brings their ideas to fruition. In the gluten conscious world we live in, it’s no surprise this g-free event drew such a crowd. Though SourceHorse admits that high overhead left little profit to be donated to the Celiac Disease Foundation, building awareness is worth a great deal.


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Mexican Dating Game

El Centro D.F.     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Growing up, taco night was my favorite night. Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie would have to cut me off after a messy 5 or 6 Old El Paso shells filled with ground beef or beans and cheese. Mexican cuisine is still one of my most beloved. Give me spicy salsa, fresh avocado, and crispy tortillas and I’m a happy glutie. There are plenty of mediocre Mexican offerings in the DC area; but following a trip to Richard Sandoval’s El Centro D.F., I thought I had met my Mexican soulmate.

El Centro and I met a few years back, when my good friend Lox (of Bagel and Lox) and I stopped in for nourishment after an evening of art reception hopping. We sat on two stools in the casual taqueria’s open seating area and were helped by a jovial server who informed me that the menu is nearly completely gluten-free. We gulped down house margaritas made with fresh lime and agave nectar (as apposed to sugar filled, artificially flavored and potentially gluten-containing mix), and I enjoyed every bite of my Chipotle Shrimp, served with black bean puree, market vegetables and white rice. El Centro offers delicious corn based, authentic Mexican comfort food in a hip, upscale environment, at more reasonable prices than many of its 14th street neighbors. I enthusiastically introduced El Centro to Mr. Green Bean. And Mr. GB and I returned with Sister Seitan, The Muffins, Souper Girl, Irish Coffee, Breakfast Blend… We met friends for frozen drinks on the lively rooftop bar and for more formal dining in the dark and sexy basement tequileria. It was a blissful time.

Guacamole prepared tableside

Guacamole prepared tableside

Then came the visit that left me wary. Miss Zin and I were excited to gorge on guacamole mashed table-side and perfectly salted tortilla chips fried in gluten-free oil. I began to explain my gluten “allergy” to the server as I always do, and instead of the usual rap, “just avoid the empanadas and dessert”, he started to scrunch his nose, wrinkle his forehead and pierce his lips. “Hmmmm, you can not eat anything”, was more or less his unapologetic response. He had to be kidding. You mean, the Mushroom Huarache (flatbread) I ordered last time has flour in the dough they swore was gluten-free? And the soft taco tortillas I’ve now eaten on multiple occasions are not 100% corn? He double checked with the kitchen and returned with more bad news. I could eat the ceviche. That was it. Feeling nauseous just thinking about all the gluten I had consumed over the past months, raw fish in an acid bath was the last thing I wanted. Miss Zin felt terrible and I was embarrassed. Was it possible my Mexican crush was breaking up with me?

But alas, on this very evening, the manager was making the rounds and stopped by our table to ask how everything (my ceviche) was. “Actually…”, and I told her my tale. Shocked, she apologized and rescinded the server’s misinformation. El Centro’s menu has always been nearly 80% gluten-free. So why the server’s certainty of quite the opposite? Was it a language barrier? This is not the first time I have had major confusion in a Mexican restaurant. But I never expected it from mi amore. The manager treated me to the Grilled Skirt Steak Huaraches I would have ordered had this alarming experience not occurred, and I ate it tentatively. We exchanged few words with our server after that.

I have since returned to El Centro and learned how to trust again. Just last week Miss Lox and I shared another indulgent dinner after burning all our energy at a schmoozy networking reception. After we were seated, I glanced at the menu, slightly modified since my last visit, and quizzed a clearly new employee, waiting for another alarming incident to begin. But to my relief, he understood my food restriction and was confident that the crispy shrimp tacos were safe for me to eat. Lightly fried baby shrimps are stuffed into three soft, 100% corn shells and served with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeño, roasted corn and mexican rice. My usual favorite, the baja fish tacos, now have major competition.

Crispy Shrimp tacos with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeno, roasted corn, and mexican rice

Crispy Shrimp tacos with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeño, roasted corn, and mexican rice

Baja tacos with grilled market fish, Mexican slaw, tomato, corn, avocado and chipotle aioli

Baja tacos with grilled market fish, Mexican slaw, tomato, corn, avocado and chipotle aioli

Despite it’s imperfections, El Centro has a magnetic pull. And with his new location in Georgetown, it will be even more difficult to stay away. Though I try to play hard to get, he remains a strong favorite in my restaurant rotation. Oh, El Centro, cómo te quiero.

Chips, salsa and guacamole

Chips, salsa and guacamole

El Centro D.F., 1819 14th Street NW, Washington DC
El Centro D.F. Georgetown, 1218 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington DC


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A Duck Worth the Buck

Blue Duck Tavern     Spoons_FIVE

I must be a masochist. I gripe about spending too much money at restaurants that hardly live up to their price tags in quality or service, while I reserve restaurants that are worth the extra buck for the occasional celebratory meal. I suppose the torment makes those few special experiences that much tastier.

Mr. Green Bean and I have now commemorated two wedding anniversaries at Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt Washington. This West End establishment has been an award winning beacon since its opening in 2006. Executive Chef Sebastien Archambault and Chef de Cuisine John Melfi create refined American food using traditional cooking methods and fresh local ingredients. The restaurant’s sleek, clean design and bright, airy atmosphere is sophisticated, yet casual and comfortable. An open kitchen and bakery energize the space and titillate the palette. Add to all of that their friendly and informative staff and Blue Duck Tavern qualifies as a triple-threat, excelling in the arenas of food, atmosphere, and service.

The Blue Duck Tavern menu is divided into starters, entrées and sides and sub-categorized by vegetables, seafood, poultry and meat. Though the menu changes seasonally, our servers on both occasions were able to confidently highlight the many gluten-free offerings. Mr. GB and I both grinned when the server on our first visit confirmed that the Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries are fried in gluten-free duck fat. We placed an order before she even finished her sentence. These massive potato sticks served piping hot with homemade aioli and ketchup are a must.

Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries with homemade aioli and ketchup

Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries with homemade aioli and ketchup

On our more recent visit last month, I informed our server of my gluten “allergy”, and he appeared soon after with several slices of gluten-free bread. I could have toasted better Udi’s at home, but the gesture was thoughtful. We snacked on our much anticipated order of BDT Fries (just as amazing as I had remembered), while I struggled to make a decision on my main course. I had the seared scallops last year and, though the preparation had changed, was tempted to order them again. I opted instead for the market fish of the day, a monkfish with a red wine jus, bacon and foie gras bits, and a green bean salad (yes, I promised Mr. GB he could have some veggies).

Gluten-free toast

Gluten-free toast

A fleet of hands cleared our appetizer plates (they didn’t dare remove the last remaining fries from my watchful eye), and reset the silverware for our main courses. Monkfish, also known as the sea-devil, is one scary looking species with a body that’s mostly mouth. The meat of the fish comes from its tail and has a lobster-like toughness. Blue Duck Tavern prepared the ugly creature beautifully. Large pieces of meat were seared golden. The mild fish was complimented by the bold flavors of the jus, foie gras and bacon. Slices of crunchy bean pods added texture and respite from the other rich accompaniments.

Monkfish with red wine jus, foie gras, bacon and green bean salad

Market fish of the day: Monkfish with red wine jus, foie gras, bacon and green bean salad

Though portions are sizable, the many intriguing menu items make it impossible to resist add-ons.  We tried the side of sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs.  The brilliant red skin and white flesh of the radishes accented the bright green shells and cut the peas’ sweetness with a slightly bitter crunch.

Sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs

Sugar snap peas with radishes, farm butter and herbs

Blue Duck Tavern is known for their incredible desserts. The flaky pastry crusts are difficult to ignore en route to the bathroom through the dolce kitchen. But a main feature of the menu is the selection of gluten-free, homemade ice creams and sorbets with chocolate, caramel or raspberry toppings a la carte. Having experienced the ice cream and caramel sauce on our first visit, Mr. GB and I determined to skip dessert this time around. Then our server arrived with the dessert menus and two glasses of a sweet, sparkling red wine in honor of our anniversary (one year prior we were served two glasses of bubbly upon our arrival). How could we say no to dessert now! We succumbed to scoops of the honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt, and cherry blossom sorbet. Our server surprised us with a jar of the chocolate sauce, with his personal congratulations. How could I have skipped this chocolate, I thought as I began bypassing the frozen treats and spooning dark brown gooey heaven into my mouth.

Honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt and cherry blossom sorbet with a side of chocolate sauce

Honey vanilla ice cream, candied violet frozen yogurt and cherry blossom sorbet with a side of chocolate sauce

Very few restaurants can truly make an occasion feel special. I hand it to BDT for not merely relaying on outstanding food in a stunningly designed space. The attentive and gracious service sets Blue Duck Tavern apart, making any diner’s experience worth the price tag.

Blue Duck Tavern, 1201 24th Street NW, Washington DC


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Night Crawling

As an epicurean with celiac, I’m like the kid left out of the sandbox when it comes to culinary adventures. I dream to participate in chef tastings, secret supper clubs and the newest trend, underground restaurants with no menu, all challenging experiences when one has a severe “allergy”. But one foodie venture is capitalizing on the rise of celiac and gluten-sensitive diners by offering a gluten-free experience not to be missed. Dishcrawl was founded in 2010 in San Jose, CA, and now has chapters in numerous cities throughout the country. It hosts ticketed progressive dinners that take participants to four restaurants for four different dishes over a three hour period. The DC chapter, led by ambassador Qui-Juan Jones, organizes themed crawls in various neighborhoods around the District and surrounding areas, to acquaint a group of strangers both to each other and to the many sides of DC’s gourmet kitchens. Last week’s first ever gluten-free DC Dishcrawl in Barracks Row attracted 17 hungry individuals on all spectrums of the gluten-free diet (strict observers, occasional subscribers, and loyal supporters). I couldn’t wait to mingle with fellow gluties on a mystery food tour of Capital Hill.

The Chesapeake Room     Spoons_THREE_76x25
We began our journey at the The Chesapeake Room, a small, casual restaurant with an interior dominated by a long narrow bar, a couple of horseshoe leather booths, and a few high tops. A large outdoor patio offers more seating, but certainly not on this scorching hot DC summer evening. The bar brought in a selection of Omission Beers and Angry Orchard Cider just for the occasion and are considering keeping one gluten-free bottle option on the menu. We were served our first dish by the executive chef who explained that their American/French/Italian fusion menu offers several gluten-free options. Our plates, winning for best presentation of the night, included a trio of tastings starting with a seared scallop over a fava bean and mushroom risotto. While the scallop was over-salted it was nicely seared to produce a caramelized surface while retaining its soft interior. In the middle of the plate was a scoop of crab salad on a slice of raw tomato with an avocado dressing (adapted from the menu’s fried-green tomato version). A sprinkling of greens added texture to the mayo-heavy yet fresh tasting crab. The final element was a watermelon gazpacho, a refreshing choice for the heatwave we were in. The addition of orange juice to the recipe pushed the chilled soup too far on the sweet spectrum. But overall the variety of flavors between all three items and the well portioned plate made for a successful first stop.

The Chesapeake Room: Seared scallops over mushroom risotto, crab stack, and watermelon gazpacho

The Chesapeake Room: Seared scallops over fava bean and mushroom risotto, crab stack, and watermelon gazpacho


Pacifico Cantina
     Spoons_THREE_76x25
For our next dish, the group crossed 8th Street SE to Pacifico Cantina for some Tex-Mex flare. We were greeted by festive Mexican decor and music and servers ready to take our margarita and mojito orders. Fresh guacamole was served family style at our table, accompanied by salsa and corn tortilla chips fried separately from anything glutenous. The guac was heavy on the salt, but the salsa had just my speed of heat. We were then served a cup of shrimp ceviche with jicama, corn, tomato, cilantro and cucumber over a touch of spring greens served with a few chips (not a regular menu item). Around me my fellow diners started reaching for liquid relief from the spice. I seemed to get a mild batch that was well balanced and tasty. Our plates were cleared and we prepared to move on when surprisingly another fleet of dishes headed our way…then turned on its heels and disappeared. The manager embarrassingly explained that the kitchen accidentally prepared a chicken taco on a flour tortilla, this after his speech on how gluten-free friendly Pacifico Cantina is. The staff quickly rebounded and soon delivered a soft corn tortilla topped with chopped chicken, pico de gallo, salsa verde and cilantro. The double layered tortilla was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and folded nicely over the slightly overcooked yet flavorful chicken. We walked away stuffed after that plentiful sampling of average tasting Tex-Mex. Overall, Pacifico Cantina is a fun spot to sip on sweet drinks and nosh on addictive tortilla chips.

Pacifico Cantina: Chips and guacamole, shrimp ceviche, and chicken taco

Pacifico Cantina: Chips and guacamole, shrimp ceviche, and chicken taco


Cafe 8
     Spoons_THREE_76x25
We hobbled just a couple of doors down from Pacifico Cantina to our third location, Cafe 8, which offers unpretentious Turkish/Greek cuisine in an authentic, Mediterranean atmosphere. Unfortunately the air conditioner was having technical difficulties, but we filed into the bar area and were served cold water on the spot. Plates soon arrived with plentiful helpings of shaved doner meat over white long grain rice, covered with tomato sauce. The meat heavy dish made up for its unrefined appearance with its rich, salty flavor (notice a trend?) and tender consistency. The kebab is made in-house with 80% lean beef and 20% lamb that marinates for days in milk and spices before being pitched on the spit. The dish was a crowd pleaser, even given our full stomachs. I forced myself to stop after a few bites for fear of impending button popping. Cafe 8 offers a number of gluten-free options, as is often the case with Mediterranean menus. The quaint restaurant’s low key, eccentric vibe and quality, reasonably priced food tempts me to return for another try on a cooler night. Pleasing carnivorous Mr. Green Bean will be the true test.

Cafe 8: Doner kebab over rice

Cafe 8: Doner kebab over rice


Pitango Gelato
      Spoons_FIVE
We had one more stop to go and luckily it was dessert. After all that high sodium food, I relished the thought of something sweet. We walked toward Eastern Market to bombard the tiny storefront of Pitango Gelato. A young, spirited associate was prepared to manage our group and pitch us the spiel about Pitango’s direct line to fresh milk from Mennonite farmers, pistachios sourced from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Italy, and nuts roasted with infrared light for the most natural flavor possible. Pitango now has five locations in DC, Maryland and Virginia, all serving the highest quality, seasonally changing gelato and sorbet. We were thrilled to learn that everything in the store is gluten-free accept for the cones. But the tiny colorful spoons are so fun, who wants a cone anyway? Our server’s patience astounded me as she allowed each of us to try multiple flavors before ordering. I am a frequenter of this gelato joint and can vouch for every flavor I’ve tried, which is many. The classic Pistachio di Bronte is nutty bliss, the Green Tea is subtly herbalicious, and the Chocolate with Chips is born-again classic. The vegan sorbets taste nearly as creamy as their dairy counterparts. Nothing compares to the mango, which you’ll swear is packed with fat. When the rush to order was over, we passed around cups and swapped spoons. Gelato has a way of making even strangers fast friends.

Pitango Gelato: White grapefruit and rhubarb sorbets

Pitango Gelato: White grapefruit and rhubarb sorbets

On that sweet note, I solicited some reflections on the night and received overall positive responses. While the food was not the finest Barracks Row has to offer, it is a challenge to find committed and enthusiastic restaurants given the size of the group, our food limitations, and the logistics of the program. Thanks is due to Qui-Juan Jones, Dishcrawl DC, and the participating restaurants for providing us gluties the opportunity to let down our guard and dine out free of the usual hassle and stress. It should be mentioned that these pre-set, traveling dinners may still be a challenge for those who are less adventurous or more limited in their eating habits. While Dishcrawl makes every effort to take into account food restrictions, the substitutions seemed lacking (in other words, had Mr. Green Bean accompanied me, he may not have gotten his money’s worth). But for someone like Glutie Foodie who will eat anything (gluten-free), I enjoyed myself immensely knowing that our Dishcrawl ambassador had done all the work, asked all the tough questions, and cleared a safe and healthy path for a night of culinary indulgence.

The Chesapeake Room, 501 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Pacifico Cantina, 514 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Cafe 8, 424 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Pitango Gelato, 660 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC


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Too B or not Too B

B Too      Spoons_THREE_76x25

There is a distinct difference between the smokey scents of a July Fourth BBQ and an indoor kitchen’s charcoal oven. The later aroma conjures the vibe of an old, cozy tavern on a cold winter’s night. Yet, B Too was bustling on a recent sticky summer evening, and the state of the art Josper oven, the only of its kind used in DC, was firing away. Mr. Green Bean and I met our favorite Sicilian-Italian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sfingi, at this new edition to 14th Street for a much needed grown-up evening (albeit complete with smart phone documentation of their adorable 14 month old daughter).

B Too is the second location for Belga Café creator and chef Bart Vandaele. The award winning chef prides himself for bringing traditional, high quality, Belgian cuisine and brews to Washington DC. B Too certainly looks the part. Surfaces covered in dark wood, chestnut leather, exposed brick and animal hide create a rustic, huntsman vibe. The decor stimulates a craving for beer, and luckily there are three gluten-free options amidst the pages of IPA’s, pilsners and ales. Cocktails and an extensive wine list also fill the pages of the beverage binder, which we nearly finished perusing after a few visits from our server.

The food menu requires time to contemplate as well. Each of the cold starters, hot starters, soups, sides, mussels, entrees, and casseroles is described with a list of ingredients that intrigue and confuse, leaving the diner to wonder how the dish is actually prepared. I commend our server’s patience as my usual line of questioning was made more extensive due to general befuddlement and curiosity. What was very clear was that we would be starting with the evening’s special appetizer, prosciutto with goat cheese stuffed grilled figs, frisée salad, and balsamic reduction. The sweet, creamy figs melted in the mouth, the winning feature of this dish that could have used more prosciutto and less greenery (it’s not often I say that).

Prosciutto and grilled fig special

Prosciutto and grilled fig special

We also started with a pot of the mussels marinière, one of the few mussel preparations that does not use beer. The white wine based broth was bursting with flavor and contained large slices of shallots, garlic and parsley to slurp down with the mussel meat. The aromas wafting from the pot were tempting enough to get Mr. Green Bean to try his very first mussel. “Not bad,” he shrugged, a far better response than I feared. Baby steps, baby steps.

Mussels mariniere

Mussels Marinière

Already full, I braced for my main course, concocted, as is often my habit, from a starter and a side. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the server confused which of the two shrimp dishes I ordered and I ended up with both. I had meant to order the Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen, baby shrimp prepared two ways, after the server gave the thumbs up on the accompanying krupuk (prawn crackers). The dish arrived without the krupuk, apparently not really gluten-free, leaving three hefty heaps of tiny grey shrimps separated by grape tomatoes and frisee salad. One stack of shrimp was mixed with a creamy aioli, resembling shrimp salad you might find at that July Fourth BBQ. The other two heaps seemed like the same recipe, minus the dressing, leaving me to wonder if something was missing. The abundance of shrimp became monotonous after the first few bites, and the accompanying salad offered little versatility.

Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen,tiny grey shrimp with tomato confit and basil

Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen, tiny grey shrimp with tomato confit and basil

What I should have ordered from the beginning was the Gamba “M’as Tu Vue” dish that they let me feast on while my correct order was being made. Huge pieces of shrimp (two shrimps totaling 0.25 lbs) were perfectly cooked and served chilled with chopped and separated egg white and yolk, and a small lettuce and tomato salad drizzled with a creamy dressing. Dollops of what I can best describe as American French Dressing decorated the plate. The menu lists a Belgian whiskey sauce that I couldn’t decipher in the dish iteself (perhaps an imperceptible ingredient or omitted in the kitchen due to my allergy). But caution if you avoid grain-based alcohols.

Big Shrimp

Gamba “M’as Tu Vue”, Giant shrimp “Belle-Vue”, Belgian whiskey sauce, lettuce, tomato and farm egg

To accompany my plethora of shrimp, I ordered a side of the Josper cooked root vegetables with black garlic dressing. Brussels sprouts, carrots, and other more unusual root vegetables were heavily oiled and packed with delicious salty, smokey, garlicky flavor.

Josper cooked root vegetables

Josper cooked root vegetables

Mrs. Sfingi ordered the Josper roasted lobster, which unfortunately is baked with breadcrumbs. Mr. Sfingi and Mr. Green Bean of course ordered the Belgian steak, served with a side salad and cone of frites. After some mixed responses, I finally confirmed that the frites are fried in shared glutenous oil. I did, however, taste the thick, generous portion of gluten-free steak, cooked perfectly, slightly smokey and well seasoned. I could tell it won Mr. Green Bean’s favor.

Le Vrai Steak Belge Met Frietjes, Belgian steak and salad

Le Vrai Steak Belge Met Frietjes, Belgian steak and salad

We skipped on dessert, ice cream being the only option for gluten-free diners, and opted for a short walk to nearby gelato. Overall, B Too is still finding its gluten-free legs, but the staff is helpful in navigating past the many tempting and off-limit options. Well portioned dishes are heavy and rich, with a price tag to match. While the freshly baked bread served out of a paper bag was easy enough to ignore, B Too brunch featuring sweet, buttery Belgian waffles would be a real test of willpower for us Glutie Foodies. I will be back for dinner I’m sure. But it may not be until winter approaches and a heavy meal is needed to warm the bones.

B Too, 1324 14th Street NW, Washington DC


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Bienvenue à Washington

Le Diplomate     Spoons_FOUR

I walk past the northeast corner of 14th and Q streets five days a week. Of all the construction projects in Logan Circle, this corner has been particularly fascinating. Over many months, a long-abandoned laundromat building was slowly gutted and reborn into the dazzling French bistro that now stands pompously as the new emperor of 14th. Starr Restaurants’ Le Diplomate has been bursting with activity from the second it openend. Mr. Green Bean and I wanted to see for ourselves what the buzz was about and were happy to find an open reservation on a recent Friday night.

Entrance to Le Diplomate

Entrance to Le Diplomate

If you can elbow your way through the crowd at the entrance of Le Diplomate, you will find yourself transported to something between an elegant Parisian brasserie and a casual French cafe. A central bar is flanked by expansive, split level dining spaces packed with simple cafe chairs and tables lined with white paper. A handfull of burgundy leather booths accent the dark woodwork and salt-and-pepper tiled floor. Murky mirrors reflect the globe lighting fixtures hanging from high ceilings. A green tiled garden room off to the side transitions into a spacious outdoor patio filled with bright yellow folding chairs. Too hungry to wait for an outdoor seat, we opted for a cozy two-top by the window. Yet the interior space is so alluring, even the finest of days may not draw me outside. We settled in and perused the menu.

I began composing  questions for our server, planning to challenge the new restaurant’s gluten-free preparedness and bracing myself for an arduous process. To my amazement, our server didn’t blink an eye as I waited for his reaction to my “I’m a special diner” introduction. “Have you had many gluten-free customers yet?” I prodded further. “Of Course! No problem.” was his response (in a French accent) as he took me through the menu. I was stunned that flour is not a key thickening agent in items such as Friday’s special, Bouillabaisse, and that the Frites are fried separately from glutenous ingredients.

Tempting hors d’oeuvres, such as the Steak Tartare and Tuna Carpaccio, are free of gluten. All four starter salads are either gluten-free or easily adaptable. Entrees offer a number of options in steak, chicken, veal, lamb, skate, scallops, etc. I was repeatedly distracted by the towering platters of raw seafood whizzing by, as our server continued to list dishes I could eat. Mr. Green Bean’s meal decision was easy. When in Rome (or Paris, rather)…it would be the Steak Frites for him. I followed his lead and ordered another French staple, the Moules Frites. G-free frites are impossible to pass up.

To start, Mr. Green Bean and I shared the Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette. Large, crisp bibb lettuce leaves were sprinkled with Mr. Green Bean’s favorite veggie and thin slices of magenta radishes. The dish was light and fresh, a welcome beginning to the richness that lay ahead.

Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette

Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette

Mr. GB’s Steak Frites arrived as requested, without the wad of maître d’ butter on top. The thick, generous, cut of hanger steak is smothered in butter before pan roasting and needed not a bit more. He sliced me a piece to taste (the dish is g-free). The beef was cooked to a perfect medium (although Mr. GB thought slightly too pink), with a crisp exterior sealing in all the juices and flavor. I later went back for second and third bites.

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

The moules are prepared marinière style, which I learned at Le Diplomate means white wine, fresh herbs, and plenty of butter. The sauce was aromatic and well balanced with the subtle flavor of the mussels. While not a huge serving, the dozen or so mussels were each plump, flavorful, and situated loosely in open shells. There was not a bad egg in the bunch. I paired my meal with a glass of the house’s unusually yellow-toned rosé, light and refreshing.

Moules marinière style

Moules marinière style

The frites were everything I hoped they would be: double fried for an extra crispy shell, and just thick enough to maintain a soft potato interior. I alternated dips between the creamy mussel broth and the accompanying mayonnaise sauce (I can only stomach mayo when it is house-made French style and not squeezed from a plastic bottle). The serving was huge, surely I would not eat them all. Somehow, 30 minutes later, I reached back in the cup and found only crumbs.

Frites!

Frites!

Both of our meals left Mr. Green Bean and I little room for something sweet. However, it should be noted that astonishingly more than half of Le Diplomate’s desserts are gluten-free, or can be with slight modifications. That isn’t even counting cheeses and dessert wines. From what I hear the desserts are belt-loosening worth it and I will definitely be back to try the Milk Chocolate Pot de Crème and Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée.

Le Diplomate has done everything right. Executive chef Adam Schop’s solid food is almost besides the point when considering how seamlessly this zoo is managed. I was impressed with the service from the on-her-toes hostess, to our confident and knowledgeable server, to the sommelier hand delivering my  wine, to the general manager’s visit to check on our experience. The authentic French ambience allows diners an opportunity to escape, relax and enjoy good food and drink in Parisian fashion. Bienvenue à Washington, Le Diplomate.

Le Diplomate, 1601 14th Street NW, Washington DC


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Close for Comfort

Open City     Spoons_THREE_76x25

When Mr. Green Bean and I have out-of-town guests on a Sunday morning, are too tired to cook on a Wednesday night, or are up for a short walk to dinner on a warm summer evening, Open City is our reliable destination. This Woodley Park cornerstone is a bustling coffeehouse/American diner serving fresh comfort food with a health conscious twist. Open City is in the Tryst, The Diner, and The Coupe family of restaurants, which all offer slightly different versions of comfortable atmosphere and dependable food and drink. In my opinion, Open City wins for having the most reasonably priced and comprehensive menu, with large, homey dining spaces both inside and out.

Gluten-free customers beware of the tantalizing baked goods case at the entance to Open City. It has yet to include g-free sweets. Just make it to the table and one look at the menu’s g-free food options will quickly make you forget what you’re missing. Any place that concocts unique egg dishes and serves them all day long is my hero. But with other options such as big salads, bun-less burgers, g-free pizza, interesting appetizers and sides, mussel pots, and classic entrees, there is something to feed any craving. The coffee and tea list is just as abundant, offering Counter Culture Coffee and an assortment of teas in Black, White, and everything in between. Just remember to order your cup of choice sans the animal cracker garnish. I tend to forget this detail and end up with lion crumbs on my teaspoon.

Open City recently switched from a dedicated gluten-free menu to indicating on their regular menu items that are gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan. I appreciate not having to ask for a separate menu, which I often feel draws too much attention to my “special” needs. (Note that many items not indicated as gluten-free can easily be adjusted. The omelets, for instance, are only missing the gluten-free indicator because of the accompanying bread.) The restaurant’s simple yet tasty American cuisine is hardly more sophisticated than what I can whip up in my own kitchen. But food always tastes better when you are not the one laboring over it, doesn’t it? The salmon scramble with tomato, chives and cream cheese is a salty pleasure. The Blanco omelet with egg whites, tomato, spinach, and mixed greens is light and satisfying. The large Turkey Burger patty plated without the bun is flavorful and juicy.

Bun-less Turkey Burger with Smoked Gouda and a  side of sauteed spinach

Bun-less turkey burger with smoked gouda and a side of sauteed spinach

For a treat, the side of gluten-free macaroni and cheese (yes, I did say gluten-free mac ‘n’ cheese) is deliciously chewy and cheesy. Mr. Green Bean, a Mac ‘n’ cheese aficionado, even gives the dish a thumbs-up. Pair it with one of Open City’s large, fresh salads to minimize the guilt. The kitchen uses Still Riding Pizza’s crust to offer rich pies that tend to be heavy on the cheese and grease, but gratifying when the pizza mood strikes. On a recent visit, I opted for a potpourri of sides to comprise one nourishing lunch. The quinoa with zucchini and corn, curried summer squash, and mixed greens offered a variety of textures and flavors, leaving me energized for the day.

Curried Squash, Quinoa with Zucchini and Corn, and Mixed Greens

Curried squash, quinoa with zucchini and corn, and mixed greens

Open City’s menu changes occasionally, preserving key items while sprinkling in new dishes here and there. It’s a tactic that keeps me coming back. This popular Northwest eatery delivers unpretentious food and prices while managing to maintain a local vibe in a neighborhood infiltrated with zoo-goers and tourists. You will wait to be seated for brunch on a nice weekend afternoon; but at least you’ll be among fellow DC’ers who all agree it’s worth the wait.

Open City, 2331 Calvert Street NW, Washington DC


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Charmed, I’m Sure

Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Anyone who knows Mr. Green Bean pictures him in his Boston Red Sox baseball hat. Actually, he has many hats. One for when he plays tennis, one for long car rides, and one for going out on the town. But each one is a navy cap with that iconic, red, embroidered “B”. What’s confusing is that Mr. GB is not from Boston. It is the city where we met (aw) and spent the first few years of our “adult” lives. It is the town near which Ma and Pa Green Bean grew up, obliviously crossing paths with Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie, funny enough. While Mr. GB grew up in the Midwest, and has now lived more years in Washington DC than he did in Boston, it is the scarlet “B” that he proudly wears morning to night. Mr. GB’s hat is evidence of Boston’s contagious and lasting charm.

Mr. Green Bean and his hat saw me off as I boarded a train the weekend of the Boston Marathon bombing. I was headed to Boston to spend time with my hometown loved ones and hopefully help them move past the week’s horrid events. Dr. Glutie Foodie’s prescription for the weekend was good food and company. I arrived at Boston Correspondent, a.k.a. Souper Girl‘s, apartment bearing g-free brownies and a bottle of prosecco. The next morning, Souper Girl was prepared with a reservation for a festive brunch at her new favorite haunt, Barcelona, in Brookline, MA.

The Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant group was founded in 1995 by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer who aimed to bring authentic Spanish and Portugese flavors to the States. With locations in Brookline, MA, Atlanta, GA, and throughout Connecticut, the group is quickly expanding and has a fall 2013 opening planned for the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington DC. The Brookline location is large, with dark wood covering every surface from floors and walls to tables and chairs. Light pours in through large windows that line the front of the space, looking out onto a patio and outdoor bar area to accommodate those few beautiful months of warm Boston air.

We found the service abundantly friendly as the manager showed us to our table and our server warmly greeted us. Souper Girl could hardly contain herself as she described the tapas she has enjoyed at numerous visits since the restaurant’s recent opening.  Her excitement grew as she salivated over the brunch items she had yet to try. Our server was patient and informative as we asked our share of g-free questions and deliberated our order back and forth. We agreed to start with the Potato Tortilla with chive sour cream. The dish was a delicious version of the Spanish classic, with large pieces of potato fused together by creamy egg filling and complimented by refreshingly cool and herbaceous sour cream.

Potato Tortilla with Chive Sourcream

Potato Tortilla with Chive Sour Cream

We were tempted by the Char-Grilled Lamb Burger, fare g-free game without the crispy shallots, french fries or bun. As a substitute, we ordered a side of the Kale Salad with anchovy vinaigrette (and no breadcrumbs). The salad arrived well before the burger due to a kitchen miss-understanding. In true tapas style we ate in whatever order the plates arrived, digging into the bright green leaves subtly flavored by small flakes of anchovies and onions. The otherwise light salad was heavily tossed in an unnecessary amount of olive oil.

Kale Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Kale Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Our burger arrived next, looking lonely on the plate without an accompaniment other than a generous heaping of tadziki. The meat was dripping with juice, its rich lamb flavor enhanced with garlic and salt to deliver an eye popping delight. The creamy cucumber sauce balanced the burger’s intensity.

Lamb Burger with Tadziki Sauce

Lamb Burger with Tadziki Sauce

Last to arrive was the Golden Beet Salad with blood orange and pistachios. Large sections of sweet yellow beets were paired with deep red orange slices, topped with a pesto dressing and a sprinkling of crunchy pistachios. While a nice earthy contrast, the oily dressing was, again, a bit too plentiful. (Someone on the sauce station must have a heavy hand).

Beet Salad with Blood Orange an Pistachios

Golden Beet Salad with Blood Orange and Pistachios

With no room left for dessert, we sipped our coffee and tea while chatting with management about Barcelona’s much anticipated Washington debut. It will be interesting to see if the reasonably priced Boston menu (a very attractive feature) will transfer to the slightly pricier DC scale. Regardless, I plan to be first in line, with Mr. Green Bean and his Bean Town cap in tow. Even my picky husband is sure to find plenty of satisfying options at this charming American recreation of La Rambla, Barcelona.

Barcelona, 1700 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA (plus additional locations in GA, CT, and soon DC)