A Tale of Two (Gluten-Free) Tablas


It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Danny Meyer and his New York City restaurants. As one of the most prominent supporters of the Greenmarket in Union Square, the restaurateur has helped New York-area farmers, the locavore movement, and Manhattanites who want to enjoy fresh, sustainable produce. Meyer’s restaurants — including Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, Blue Smoke, and Eleven Madison Park — are delicious spots with well-trained staff who are happy to cater to diners with celiac disease or food allergies. Still, I have to confess that I was trepidatious about trying his Tabla Bread Bar. Let’s just say that sounded like an automatic no-go zone for anyone with celiac disease.

That’s not to say that I don’t like Tabla Restaurant, the Bread Bar’s glamorous sibling. I’ve had a few meals at Meyer’s Indian-inspired formal dining room, all intensely good and gluten-free. The dining room and the less formal Bread Bar are located in the corner of an historic bank building that overlooks Madison Square Park. The dining room is on the second story, while the Bread Bar operates on the first, and includes some al fresco seating.

If it hadn’t been for visiting friends from Vancouver, I never would have discovered that Tabla’s Bread Bar is as celiac-friendly as the formal restaurant. The two spaces are served by the same kitchen, where the staff is trained to avoid cross-contamination. The fact that the Bread Bar serves smaller plates — and is easier on the wallet — makes it an inviting find. At dinner, I had the incredibly tender Kerala Black Pepper Chicken (seared chicken stewed with curry leaves, onions, and black pepper), the Mung Bean Ussal (flavored with tamarind and coconut), and tandoori-cooked lamb. I was even able to have bread, in the form of a large, crisp wafer made of chickpea flour.

The Bread Bar isn’t the only place to get a deal: Tabla’s dining room is offering a prix fixe lunch menu year-round, not just during Restaurant Week. For $25, you can enjoy an opulent, elegant meal — and the staff will make any modifications necessary to make it gluten-free. It’s a splurge, but it’s worth it.

Tabla and Tabla Bread Bar [address] 11 Madison Avenue (at East 25th Street), New York, NY 10010 [tel] 212-889-0667 [web] www.tablany.com

The Andes Meet the Alps in Arequipa


Of all of the cities I’ve traveled to, Arequipa has got to be the most underrated. Peru’s second-largest city is known as La Ciudad Blanca — the white city — because so many of its monumental buildings and churches are carved out of sillar, a ghostly white volcanic rock. (Arequipa lies at the foot of El Misti, a volcano that was described to me as “currently inactive.”) The city is famous for two attractions: Juanita, the Inca maiden who has become the world’s most famous human sacrifice, and the Monasterio Santa Catalina, a historic city within the city. Otherwise, Arequipa is generally regarded as the starting point for excursions to the Colca Canyon or the Cotahuasi Canyon.

That’s too bad, because Arequipa is a wonder that deserves to be explored. Its obvious treasures are plentiful, but the city also has a wealth of hidden gems, like the courtyard behind the Jesuit church, which is easy to miss (given that the church itself is filled with art treasures and valuable artifacts). It’s also a city that deserves to be known for its fine food. On my last night there, I dined at Zig Zag. Finding an Alpine restaurant in Peru seemed a little incongruous, but its mission — blending the culinary techniques of the Alps and the Andes with ingredients from all over Peru — works very well.

Zig Zag gets a mention in several guidebooks for its antique iron staircase, which was designed by Gustave Alexandre Eiffel (yes, as in that famous Parisian tower), but it also deserves notice for its cooking. At heart, it is startlingly simple: meats such as ostrich, alpaca, and beef, are served atop a sizzling hot stone, which cooks the meat to medium-rareness but leaves it tender and juicy. The quinoa-and-vegetable soup I had was also terrific, even if I did have to argue with the serving staff to get it (they took my celiac disease card so seriously that they decided I couldn’t have any grains at all, until I explained otherwise in my rusty Spanish). It made for a memorable meal in an elegant city full of surprises.

Zig Zag Restaurant [address] Zela 210, Arequipa (Cercado), Peru [tel] 0051 54 206 020 [web] www.zigzagrestaurant.com

Roundup: Celiac Disease in the News


Have you noticed an uptick in the number of news items about celiac disease this week? May is Celiac Awareness Month, so organizations such as the Gluten Intolerance Group and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness are promoting their message in the media. But I’m also chalking up the sudden flurry of stories to the celebrity effect: Elisabeth Hasselbeck, one of the hosts of ABC’s “The View,” has just published a book about celiac disease, which she was diagnosed with in 2002. The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide is filled with advice about living with the disorder. There’s not much that’s new here for celiacs already familiar with the gluten-free diet and with potential non-food pitfalls (such as lipsticks that contain gluten), but this is a good resource for the newly diagnosed celiac/gluten-intolerant person who is still coming to terms with the diagnosis.

Also, the book’s introduction is by Dr. Peter Green (author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic), and it’s terrific. In it, he addresses the issue of gluten-sensitive people who don’t test positive for celiac disease, but whose bodies are sickened by gluten nonetheless. I’ve met Dr. Green in person, and he speaks convincingly about the fact that many people are negatively affected by gluten, not just the 1 in 133 who have celiac disease. Food for thought — and an issue everyone should read about.

The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America is celebrating Celiac Awareness Month in a special way: its Chef to Plate International Awareness Campaign has restaurants in 30 states offering gluten-free menu options. Some of the participating eateries are chains, including Cheeseburger in Paradise, Garlic Jim’s Famous Gourmet Pizza, Outback Steakhouse, and P.F. Chang’s. In some states, such as Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas, the only restaurants listed are chains (GIG’s list isn’t meant to be a comprehensive listing of celiac-friendly restaurants, just ones that are participating in this particular program). In New York, most of the participants — including Bistango, Nizza, Lilli & Loo, GustOrganics, Friedmans Lunch, Sambuca, and Opus — are independent operations. One of the most impressive lists of Chef to Plate participants is for Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. I haven’t visited lately, but remember The Noodle Box and the Canoe Brewpub from a while back.

One more thing: a new resource called Gluten-Free Maps caught my eye on Twitter. It’s a smart site that blends Google Maps technology with user-generated suggestions. You can go there to check out what’s in your neighborhood, or you can map the location of a restaurant you’ve dined at successfully. If you’re searching for a gluten-free meal at home or while traveling, it’s another place to look.