Raw Food Bliss in San Diego

There are several ways that restaurant reviewers, for better or worse, judge a restaurant before they taste even a morsel of food. The most obvious step is to evaluate the location and the décor. A more subtle way is looking around at who is dining there (and if there’s no one else in sight, that’s considered a bad sign). Naturally service is considered, too: does a staff member greet you and seat you upon arrival, or are you left to languish by the door?

However, this set of criteria can be trumped by a truly excellent meal, as it was at Cilantro Live in Carlsbad, California. The restaurant was recommended by Gluten Free in SD, a must-read website for any celiac living in or visiting the San Diego area. However, I didn’t fall in love with Cilantro Live on sight: located in an unremarkable mall, the restaurant proved tricky to find inside the complex. Its décor was utilitarian, to put it kindly, and the restaurant was empty when I arrived and stayed that way until a few minutes before I left, when a couple wandered in. And while the service during the meal was good, there wasn’t a staff member in sight to greet me when I first arrived. In spite of these faults, the quality of the food was outstanding, so much so that I ended up eating two meals from the restaurant (one at the restaurant, one takeout).

The cosmetic problems may go a long way to explaining why the small Cilantro Live chain, with its three San Diego-area locations, closed earlier this year. The good news is that the Carlsbad location is open again, under a new name: Blissfull Living Food & Juice. The new eatery’s menu is much shorter than its predecessor’s, but it’s continuing to serve up raw food cuisine and it’s still celiac-friendly. While some of the dishes are similar to offerings at Cilantro Live, they’re not identical (let me just note that Cilantro Live did an amazing “burger,” and I’m glad to see there’s one on Blissfull’s menu; ditto for the Caesar salad). I hope that the reinvented Blissfull is able to fix the small but noticeable problems that plagued the other, because the delicious vegan dishes should be appreciated for their fine quality.

Blissfull Living Food & Juice [address] 300 Carlsbad Village Drive, Suite 106 (lower level), Carlsbad, CA 92008 [tel] 760-730-9782 [fax] 760-730-9868 [web] www.blissfullfood.com

Celiac Travel 101

September 15th marked the six-month anniversary of the Gluten-Free Guidebook. I want to thank everyone who has made it such a success so quickly. Many of you have taken the time to write to me. Some of you have passed along the names of local restaurants or tips about places you’ve visited; others have shared stories about their celiac diagnosis. I love hearing from readers, and I really appreciate any suggestions about travel, restaurants, hotels, and shops that can be shared with other readers.

Some people have written with specific questions about destinations they plan to visit. While I don’t have the time or resources to give recommendations, I wanted to share the process that I go through to research a destination. This happens to be a great time to do it, because I’m currently trying to settle on a place to visit this fall. Here are the steps I take:

  1. Round up the usual suspects. There are several sites that I always refer to before a trip. One is Celiac Handbook, which has listings for restaurants that serve gluten-free meals in countries from Cambodia to Iceland. If I’m traveling in North America, I’ll consult the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program, which has a lengthy list of celiac-friendly restaurants. I also visit Clan Thompson’s Celiac Site, which has information about different cruise lines, links to travel sites, and other travel resources.
  2. Locate the local celiac association. If you’re planning a European trip, check out the Association of European Coeliac Societies. In addition to providing useful information about gluten-free products, there are links to celiac organizations across the continent. (Note that in some countries, such as Belgium and Spain, there is more than one association.)  If you’re traveling to South America, Israel, Turkey, South Africa, or Australia, you’ll find information about celiac associations on Clan Thompson’s Celiac Site. When I need an English translation of a site, I use Google or Babel Fish.
  3. Ask for more information. Once I locate a celiac association at my destination, I e-mail to ask for a list of recommended restaurants and shops (some organizations provide this information on their website). Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language; I’ve found that people are helpful, though it may take more than a week to get an answer.
  4. Line up your language cards. I’ve previously posted about how celiacs can communicate their needs in a foreign tongue. Some of the resources mentioned in that post have gotten even better: for example, Celiac Travel now has 42 translation cards (the latest additions include Flemish, Indonesian, and Korean). I print out several copies to carry with me when I travel.
  5. Work that search engine. It takes time to research the gluten-free possibilities at a particular destination. I type the name of a country plus gluten-free or celiac (also try coeliac); I repeat the process using the name of the region or the name of a city. Do this for Paris and, for example, you’ll find David Lebovitz’s Living the Sweet Life in Paris blog; try Italy, and you’ll find posts from the blog A Gluten-Free Guide.

The best thing that you can do is keep a positive attitude; wherever you choose to go, you will find a way to make it work. Before I went to Peru, I couldn’t find a single online resource in English or Spanish about traveling gluten-free in that country. When I went, I was armed with Spanish translation cards and was delighted to discover how easy it was for a celiac to dine out there. If anyone has a celiac-friendly travel resource that’s helped them plan a trip, I’d love to hear about it.

Reader Report: Buenos Aires Restaurants

Silvia Basualdo Róvere, the reader who provided such a wonderful list of Buenos Aires restaurants a few months ago, is at it again. Silvia has compiled a list of celiac-friendly eateries in and around Buenos Aires and put the information into a spreadsheet. Anyone who wants to view it can click through here.

Silvia is a member of Ley Celíaca (Celiac Law), an organization that promotes the welfare of Argentina’s 400,000 celiacs. Gluten-Free Guidebook readers are invited to visit the group’s website at www.ley-celíaca.com.ar; Ley Celiaca also has an online forum. The site and forum are in Spanish and can also be read via Google.

Thanks so much to Silvia for providing a wealth of information about Buenos Aires restaurants! A few of her latest recommendations are listed below. There are many more on the spreadsheet; just follow the link above to access it.

Cúrcuma [address] Ramírez de Velasco 1427, Buenos Aires [tel] 4856 0811 [web] www.curcumacatering.com.ar

La Calandria [address] Fernández de Enciso 4370, Buenos Aires [tel] 4501-0266

Mama Europa [address] B Matienzo 1599, Buenos Aires [tel] 4772-0926 or 4777-3835 [web] www.mamaeuropa.com.ar

Te Adoro García [address] Teodoro García 2902 y Conesa, Buenos Aires [tel] 3535-0288

Great Egg-spectations at New York Diners

After I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004, I started eating a lot of omelettes. I wasn’t on an Atkins diet, but eggs seemed like a safe bet. It turned out that this wasn’t always true. Some restaurants use a pre-mixed egg replacement product instead of real eggs, and that can contain starch. Some add pancake batter to eggs, but don’t mention this fact on the menu. Not all omelette ingredients are safe: for example, the ham in a basic ham-and-cheese omelette might be more wheat than meat. And of course, there’s always a risk of cross-contamination.

I was grateful when a friend introduced me to Peters’ Gourmet Diner/Restaurant. She doesn’t have celiac disease, but she lives near the diner and had already discovered it as a great brunch spot on New York’s Upper East Side. Peters’ (yes, the apostrophe is in the right place — the restaurant walls are covered with photographs of famous Peters, from Peter Parker to Peter Sellers) is a member of the Gluten Free Restaurant Awareness Program, working in cooperation with the Westchester Celiac Sprue Support Group. The menu is laden with low-fat and low-calorie options, which I pretty much ignore (I mention them because I know others aren’t as careless as I am about this). I’m only interested in the many gluten-free options, which include great omelettes (served with a side of rice bread), Eggs Benedict, pancakes, hamburgers, sandwiches, salads, and pasta dishes. There are also “Blue Plate Specials,” which include chicken marsala and London broil with mushroom gravy. I’ve visited a dozen times for lunch or brunch and have always been impressed.

Another Manhattan member of the Gluten Free Restaurant Awareness Program is Bloom’s Delicatessen Café. Located two blocks south of Grand Central Station, it’s got a great location and a short list of gluten-free options. The menu is a mix of deli and diner — think smoked fish, omelettes, and steaks, plus burgers with gluten-free buns and French fries cooked in a dedicated gluten-free fryer. While I’m more partial to the food at Peters’, I appreciate Bloom’s central location and its commitment to celiac awareness.

Peters’ Gourmet Diner/Restaurant [address] 1606 First Avenue (between 83rd & 84th sts.), New York, NY [tel] 212-734-9600 [web] www.petersrestaurant.com

Bloom’s Delicatessen Café [address] 350 Lexington Avenue (at the corner of 40th Street), New York, NY [tel] 212-922-3663 [web] www.bloomsnewyorkdeli.com