Roundup: Gluten-Free Dining Across America

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance have been in the news lately (May is Celiac Awareness Month, after all). I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find mainstream media coverage of the subject. ABC-7 in Chicago featured a story, “More Gluten-Free Restaurants in the Chicago Area,” that is still up on the channel’s website. The long list of restaurants, bakeries, and shops includes Adobo Grill, Vinci Restaurant, Swirlz Cupcakes, and Venus. It also includes a link to the Celiac Chicago blog.

The Boston Globe ran a series of articles about gluten intolerance, including “Gluten Free Dining Out.” This list includes Elephant Walk, Rendezvous, and Rocca, and is still available online (you may need to sign up to use the Boston Globe’s website, but registration is free).

Vanessa Maltin, the Director of Programming and Communications at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the author of Beyond Rice Cakes, e-mailed me after our interview to let me know about another restaurant she found in Florida. Vanessa wrote:

I went to dinner tonight in Jupiter, Florida, at Masa’s Sagami. It was incredible. It is a hibachi-style Japanese restaurant and the chef who cooked at our table was a dream come true. I brought my own bottle of Tamari sauce and he was so careful to make my food in a clean area of the cook top and even made me a special batch of fried rice that was gluten-free. He didn’t even flinch when I asked. He simply called for the kitchen to bring him fresh ingredients to cook mine with. it was awesome and made for a fabulous night out!
(Masa’s Sagami [address] 1200 Town Center Drive, Jupiter, FL 33458 [tel] 561-799-6266 [web]

Vanessa also mentioned that the new Nationals Park in Washington D.C. has a Noah’s Pretzels with gluten-free pretzels and Redbridge, the celiac-safe beer brewed by Anheuser-Busch. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you may want to take in a game if you find yourself in D.C. this summer.

One of my favorite bloggers, Allergic Girl, was featured in New York magazine (“Ask an Allergic”) with her tips for successful allergy-free dining. Also, my friend and Frommer’s colleague Bob Fisher, who has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and green peas, wrote an article called “Travel Health & Safety: 7 Food Allergy Tips” for It ran a few months ago, but it’s still up on the site and it’s a piece everyone should read.

Summer in St. Moritz

The town of St. Moritz, located in Switzerland’s Engadine Valley, is famous as a winter resort. It’s not just on account of the reference in the James Bond movie Goldfinger; the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics were held here. But when I visited St. Moritz, it was early September and the weather was still warm and summery. The town gets 300 days of sunshine a year (and it was sunny throughout my five days there), the valley was lushly green, and the lake was filled with sailboats. I know that winter is its most celebrated season, but I’d recommend visiting in summer, when the range of activities (golf, tennis, mountain biking) is wider. St. Mortiz is also a great starting point for day trips. From it, I took a train to Thusis, where I hiked through the Alps and saw Viamala, the place where Caesar made his historic crossing through the mountains. Closer to St. Moritz is the Valley of Fex, another great hiking spot (if you visit on a rare rainy day, you could visit the Nietzsche-Haus, where the German philosopher spent his summers, in Fex’s tiny town of Sils).

Because I was attending a conference in St. Moritz, I spent far too much time indoors. The conference meetings and events were spread among three hotels — the Kulm, the Kempinski, and Badrutt’s Palace — and all of them came through with celiac-safe meals for me. However, these are all top-notch luxury hotels with long practice in catering to their guests’ requests, and I had had advance discussions with them via phone and e-mail to ensure that they would be able to provide gluten-free meals.

One spot in St. Moritz that particularly impressed me was a place that didn’t have advance warning about my dining restrictions. The Hotel Misani is a three-star hotel that is a youthful, less-expensive alternative to the long-established local hotels. Its rooms are decorated in a mix of Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern styles, and each one is unique. The Misani’s main dining room is decked out in rustic local style with wooden panels on the ceiling and the walls, typical of the Engadine houses that date back a century. I had an excellent gluten-free dinner here, served by the Misani’s friendly staff. It was a nice reminder that luxury exists at all price points in St. Moritz.

Badrutt’s Palace [tel] +41 (0) 81 837 11 00 [email] [web]

Hotel Misani [tel] +41 (0) 81 839 89 89 [email] [web]

Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains [tel] +41 (0) [web]

Kulm Hotel [tel] +41 (0) 81 836 80 00 [email] [web]

San Francisco’s Natural Wonders

San Francisco is a city of natural wonders. Even the much-maligned tourist trap Pier 39, which locals would have you believe is roughly equivalent to the third circle of Dante’s Inferno, has as its biggest attraction a colony of sea lions. They started arriving shortly after the 1989 quake, apparently taking over the docks in January 1990. At this point, their population swells to 900 in the winter, and a small group chooses to remain at Pier 39 throughout the year. They may smell a little… fishy… but they’re hard to resist.

Another wonder is the city’s commitment to locally sourced produce. On almost any day of the week there is a farmers’ market somewhere in San Francisco. The most famous is the Ferry Plaza Market, which takes place every Saturday at the Embarcadero. (“Tasting the Bounty of San Francisco Markets” by Sharon Otterman ran in The New York Times a few days after I left San Francisco; it covers the Ferry Plaza Market, the Alemany Market, the Heart of the City Market, and the Crocker Galleria Market.)

Organic local produce was on many menus I sampled in San Francisco, but the offerings at Fish & Farm really stood out. This elegant yet low-key restaurant, adjacent to the Mark Twain Hotel, sources almost all of its ingredients from within 100 miles of the city. All of its produce is organic, and the seafood and meat are sustainably farmed. The staff was well-versed about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, and they were able to quickly point out the few dishes on the menu that couldn’t be prepared in a gluten-free version. I started with a simple green salad, made memorable by the addition of Asian pears and caramelized almonds and drizzled with a cabernet vinaigrette. My main course was leg of duck with lentils and endive in a sweet-and-sour sauce. Even the house cocktails were made from organic ingredients (I enjoyed the sweetly tart Huckleberry Friend, which mixes house-infused huckleberry vodka with citrus sugar). If you’re not already familiar with the Locavore movement, Fish & Farm will definitely convince you of its worth.

Fish & Farm [address] 339 Taylor Street (adjacent to the Mark Twain Hotel), San Francisco, CA 94102 [tel] 415-474-3474 [web]

Just How Strict Is That Gluten-Free Diet?

While I was consistently impressed with the willingness and ability of San Francisco restaurants to accommodate my gluten-free diet, there was one strange issue that came up during my stay. At several spots, including Millennium, a vegan restaurant located in the Hotel California, the staff asked me how much tolerance I had for gluten. “I have celiac disease — that means I can’t have any gluten at all,” I explained (I didn’t get into a discussion of the European Union’s standard for gluten-free products, or the proposed standard that is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration). The staff said that they just wanted to be sure, since some diners have told them that they’re on a gluten-free diet, but when they’re informed that there’s a little soy sauce in the dish they want to order, they claim that isn’t a problem for them.

My husband and I debated what this meant. Doesn’t everyone diagnosed with celiac disease know that they can’t have any gluten at all? But a post I recently read on another blog helped give me some perspective. On Gluten-Free NYC, David Marc Fischer wrote about an article, “The Top 10 Functional Food Trends,” published by Food Technology, a publication of the Institute of Food Technologists. The article discusses how the market for products catering to food allergies and intolerances continues to grow, disproportionate to their true medical base. It’s a depressing story to read, because while the demand for gluten-free products is growing, it isn’t driven by a sudden upward spike in the rate of celiac diagnosis. As the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness points out, 97 percent of people with celiac disease in the US have no idea they have it. A lot of people consuming gluten-free foods are doing so for reasons unrelated to celiac disease. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s terrible to give restaurants the impression that the gluten-free diet is just another lifestyle choice, rather than a medical necessity for 1 in every 133 people.

At Millennium, I ended up having a long conversation about safe and unsafe ingredients with the staff. (Couscous? Definitely not. Spelt? Fine for those with a wheat allergy but dangerous for celiacs). I started with the red quinoa timbale, which is constructed of toasted pine nuts, pickled clamshell mushrooms, peas, and avocado. I followed up with the Injera Crepe, made of chickpea flour and filled with Savoy cabbage, English peas, and pea shoots, and served with a carrot chutney. Millennium also offers some very fine cocktails, including the sweet Tamarind-Grapefruit Margarita and the unusually spicy Fire & Ice. In addition to an excellent meal, I got a reminder of why it’s important to be well-informed about the fine print of the gluten-free diet.

Millennium [address] 580 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 [tel] 415-345-3900 [web]

Dramatic San Francisco Dining

San Francisco has a setting that is unlike any other American city I know. Its hills are vertigo-inspiring (is it any wonder that Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was set here?), and its shoreline is breathtaking. The many neoclassical and Beaux Arts-style buildings, some of which bear keystones that date them to the years following the 1906 quake, add a layer of manmade beauty to a natural wonder. The massive Grace Cathedral (pictured above) atop Nob Hill, with its stained glass windows depicting Albert Einstein and Thurgood Marshall, is a prime example.

It seems fitting, then, that one of my best discoveries on my recent trip to the city was a restaurant with a superb setting. Le Colonial, an elegant Vietnamese restaurant, is decorated to bring to mind the days when the nation was still part of French Indochina. Located on the second story of a building on an easy-to-miss alleyway called Cosmo Place (it runs off Taylor Street between Post and Sutter), the restaurant’s entryway holds an interior patio filled with bamboo furniture, wrought-iron pillars, and flower-laced trellises. Inside, the dining rooms are decked out with Oriental rugs and slow-moving ceiling fans.

The waiter was familiar with gluten-free dining, and double-checked everything I was interested in ordering with the chef. I started with the Banh Cuon, an appetizer of steamed rice noodles stuffed with ground chicken and shredded mushrooms, topped off with bean sprouts and chilies. My main dish was Ca Chien Sup Tom Hum, a pan-fried filet of striped bass served atop a rich ragout of lobster, mushrooms, and peas in a hot and sour lobster broth. I was also able to sample the main dish Ca Ri Tom So Diep, shrimp and scallops in a coconut curry sauce with potato, mango, eggplant and basil. That was the entrée my husband ordered, and as luck would have it, it was gluten free as well. I miss the days when I was able to taste food from his plate, so my visit to Le Colonial was particularly delicious. (I wonder if my husband shares that opinion…)

Le Colonial [address] 20 Cosmo Place, San Francisco, CA 94109 [tel] 415-931-3600 [web]

Mexican Brunch in the Mission District

My favorite way to get to know a town is through the eyes of a local. On my recent trip to San Francisco, my cousin Wendy Rein introduced me to her neighborhood, the Mission District. The area is renowned for its Latin character and cuisine, colorful murals, and the palm trees that mark graceful Dolores Street. Most of all, the Mission is famous for its namesake house of worship, Mission Dolores, the oldest building in San Francisco (pictured here). It was built in 1776 and has survived the city’s notorious earthquakes largely intact.

The Mission is also where Wendy and her dance partner, Ryan T. Smith, founded RAWdance, their innovative and experimental dance company, in 2004. RAWdance frequently performs at the nearby James Howell Studio, and this July the company will be performing in the Jewels in the Square Series in San Francisco’s Union Square and at CounterPULSE for their Home Season (in December, RAWdance will be touring the East Coast of the US).

For brunch on Saturday, Wendy introduced me to Regalito Rosticeria, a Mexican restaurant that recently opened in the Mission. A tiny spot — there are just a handful of tables, plus seats at a counter where you have a great view of the kitchen — the restaurant is inspired by a Mexican market stall, where chefs cook right in front of their customers. The ingredients are fresh and the staff is friendly and accommodating. Much of the menu is naturally gluten free. I started with the mildly spicy guacamole, served with crisp corn tortillas. For my main dish, I tried the delicious chile relleno, in which mushrooms and cheese are stuffed into a roasted poblano chile. The menu is reasonably priced, and if you visit on a weekday between 11am and 3pm, you can take advantage of the Comida Corrida (the Worker’s Lunch), which offers an entrée, dessert, plus agua fresca to drink, for $9.95.

Regalito Rosticeria [address] 3481 18th St. (at Valencia), San Francisco, CA 94110 [tel] 415-503-0650 [web]

Celiac-Friendly San Francisco

I just got back from a short trip to San Francisco, my first visit there since I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I’ll be reviewing some of its restaurants over the next several weeks, but I’m thrilled to report that over the course of a four-day stay, I found that local eateries were very accommodating of the gluten-free diet. The San Francisco dining scene is diverse, but one common trait is a commitment to organic produce that is, for the most part, locally sourced. It makes it much easier to discuss what’s in an entrée when each ingredient is a point of pride.

My arrival in San Francisco didn’t have an auspicious start: my flight from New York was 90 minutes late, which meant that my husband and I were looking for dinner after 9pm on a Friday night. We ended up in Belden Place, a pedestrian alley in the downtown financial district. From the street it looked like the quintessential tourist trap, with restaurants sitting cheek by jowl and canopy-covered al fresco tables. Belden Place’s website claims that the alley is frequently compared to New Orleans’ French Quarter and that the atmosphere is like “the most intimate restaurants in Europe.” I can promise you that it’s like neither, but it has a low-key charm of its own.

We chose Café Tiramisu after talking to a couple of its serving staff, one of whom was particularly well-informed about celiac disease. I had a simple green salad with a honey-infused vinaigrette, goat cheese, and walnuts to start, and peppery seared tuna atop vegetable risotto as my main dish. The meal was good, but even better was our conversation with the couple at the next table. They were San Francisco residents, one of whom has celiac disease, and they were kind enough to share the names of some of their favorite celiac-friendly local haunts, including Boulevard, The Fly Trap, and The Butler and the Chef. I didn’t end up at any of those restaurants (Boulevard is a particularly tough reservation to get on short notice), but it was a wonderful start to my stay to be able to pick up some celiac-friendly San Francisco spots from a local.

Café Tiramisu [address] 28 Belden Place, San Francisco, CA 94104 [tel] 415-421-7044 [web]

Boulevard [address] 1 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105 [tel] 415-543-6084 [web]

The Fly Trap Restaurant, Bar & Piano Lounge [address] 606 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 [tel] 415-243-0580 [email] [web]

The Butler & the Chef Bistro [address] 155A South Park Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 [tel] 415-896-2075 [web]

A Taste of History in Atlantic Canada

One reason I love to travel is because it helps me learn about history. A couple of summers ago I went to New Brunswick for the first time. Before that trip, I had little idea how much this corner of Atlantic Canada had been transformed by America’s War of Independence. The territory — part of Nova Scotia until 1784 — was sparsely populated until 15,000 Loyalists fled here in the aftermath of the war. Their sudden arrival led to the creation of the province.

A sense of history is pervasive in New Brunswick, and some of my most memorable lessons came from Kings Landing. Located in the St. John River valley, the “settlement” contains a beautifully restored collection of 70 historic buildings from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Many of the structures originated in other stretches of the river valley; they were brought to Kings Landing to prevent damage from flooding. Costumed actors depict the daily life in a small 19th-century town, but with a twist: All of the stories they tell are true. The families who lived in the original buildings have been thoroughly researched and their tales are retold in great detail. One of the most moving is recounted in a single-room cabin that housed a family that fled Ireland’s Great Famine.

Kings Landing also has a theater festival that runs from early July through Labor Day, presenting musical comedies and dramas appropriate for the whole family. Kids fall particularly hard for the site, since they can dress up in period costumes, help out the local blacksmith, and feed the farm animals. (For adults, there are workshops in rug hooking and braiding and in 19th-century medicine.)

For me, the biggest surprise was at the King’s Head Inn, an old-fashioned public house that serves as the main restaurant on the site. Several dishes on its short and historically accurate menu were celiac-safe. The staff explained that buckwheat has long been a favored crop in the region (in spite of its suspicious-sounding name, buckwheat is safe for the gluten intolerant). Not everything on the menu is safe, since barley, malt, and oats are also used (and because the menu changes frequently, call or e-mail in advance to ensure that there will be gluten-free options during your visit). The buckwheat is actually milled at Kings Landing, in a building that dates back to 1885 — and visitors can buy a pound at the gift shop to take home.

Kings Landing [address] 20 Kings Landing Road, Kings Landing (near Fredericton), New Brunswick, E6K 3W3 Canada [tel] 506-363-4999 [e-mail] [web]

Reader Report: Gluten-Free Las Vegas

I haven’t visited Las Vegas since being diagnosed with celiac disease, but fortunately one of the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s readers has. Elena is a member of the Bi-State Celiac Support Group, which serves St. Louis, Missouri, and Belleville, Illinois. She spent some time in Las Vegas earlier this year, and this is what she had to say about what she found there. Thanks so much for sharing this, Elena!


I had dinner at Le Provencal in Paris. I talked to the manager before entering (I didn’t have a reservation) — apparently they get the gluten-free request a lot. The server had several options for me and I chose seafood, which was very good. I felt confident there. If you catch them at the right time there are singing waiters performing.

I had brunch at Pinot Brasserie in the Venetian. The server was unfamiliar with gluten-free, but I gave him my Triumph Dining card and he went back and spoke to the chef. It appeared the chef was aware because the server came back quickly with some options for me. I had the steak and eggs and it was wonderful.

My favorite restaurant of the weekend was Tao in the Venetian. My friends really wanted to go there but I was apprehensive, because the only gluten-free Las Vegas review I could find on the internet was a very negative one about this place. So, not to let my friends down, I called the restaurant and talked to a chef. He assured me that they had many choices for me. He also told me to use the word “allergy” when I talked to my server. That seems to be the trigger word. I made a reservation (which is necessary) and they noted on the reservation that I was gluten-free. When I got there, the waiter brought out a list of gluten-free options (the list also mentioned alterations to make menu items gluten-free). On a side note, he also had a list of common allergens (wheat, soy, egg, fish, etc) and the available menu choices. The waiter took the time to answer my questions and made sure I was taken care of. It seems they have a really good system there. Who knows, maybe it went into effect after the previously mentioned bad review. The food was outstanding!

I didn’t go to Mon Ami Gabi in Paris, but I went there before I was diagnosed and that was another top-notch restaurant. It is listed in the Triumph Dining Restaurant Guide as a place that is accommodating. (The guide states you must use the word “allergy” to get what you need there.)

The day we spent walking the Strip and checking out the new hotels was the most difficult in terms of finding something to eat. We went to the Miracle Mile shopping center for lunch, but I couldn’t eat at Cheeseburger Vegas or Blondies. They both told me straight up that they wouldn’t be able to figure anything out… everything uses the same grill, burger meat has wheat in it, etc. That day we ended up having lunch at P.F. Chang’s.