Dining With Conviction in Toronto


Last week I wrote about how I ended up at a (wonderful) Turkish tourist trap. This week, I’m fessing up about falling for a gimmick. Not just any gimmick, mind you. There’s a short list of chefs whom I admire and will follow to whatever new venture they dream up. Toronto’s Marc Thuet is on that list. I’ve dined — gluten-free — at his various restaurants over the past few years. That’s how I ended up at Conviction.

What’s the gimmick? The name provides a clue: all of the kitchen crew and serving staff at Conviction have served time in jail. The concept is so cute that there’s a reality show being filmed about the restaurant. A sign out front warns that entering the restaurant implies a willingness to appear on-camera. (In fairness, I should add that filming was going on while I was there, but the TV crew wasn’t intrusive at all.) Still, dining at a place that boasts about the illicit pasts of its staff raises a few eyebrows — and questions. My practical friend Stephanie, who suggested checking out the restaurant, texted me before we met there: “Bring cash. We are NOT paying with credit cards!”

There are a few things you can count on at any Marc Thuet restaurant. One is a charming setting; two is impressive service; and three is fine food. All three are in evidence at Conviction. The dining room is an airy white atelier enlivened by red chairs, crimson flowers, and scarlet chandeliers. Service is thoughtful and helpful; while my server didn’t seem to be familiar with celiac disease, it took only a few minutes to coordinate with the kitchen about what I could have for dinner. The food was fantastic: I started with a simple green salad made special with the addition of a well-aged sheep’s milk cheese, and then had Ontario-raised lamb with ratatouille. The menu is short, but everything on it is farm-fresh, or made from scratch on the premises.

I’ve suggested the restaurant to a few people since, and have heard only good reports. I’m gaining confidence in Conviction. The next time I dine there, I may even pay with a credit card.

Conviction [address] 609 King Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada [tel] 416-603-2999 [web] www.convictionrestaurant.com

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Some fiction news: My short story “Insatiable” was published by the online journal Beat to a Pulp. BTAP’s editor, David Cranmer, interviewed me, and asked me about the Gluten-Free Guidebook, among other things. Also, my story “Beast” just took first prize in a crime fiction contest called the Watery Grave Invitational.

A Celiac-Friendly Spot in Istanbul


I’ve written before about why I try to avoid tourist traps. When visiting a city for the first time, the last thing I want to do is to spend time in a restaurant that locals disdain. Are there tour buses lined up outside the restaurant? Then the place is not for me.

But, as it turns out, there are exceptions to the rule. One prime example: Buhara 93.

This restaurant is located around the corner from the wonderful Erguvan Hotel, where I stayed in Istanbul. Both are located in Sultanahmet, the oldest part of the ancient city, situated on the European side of the Bosphorus. This district is filled with wonders, many of which are within easy walking distance of the others: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome. There were tour groups parading in and out of the attractions, of course, but I also noticed that buses would wait outside of Buhara 93 every night. As if that weren’t bad enough, the restaurant was mentioned in every guidebook I picked up.

Then, on the last night of my stay, my schedule ran very late. Back at my hotel, I knew I needed to grab dinner somewhere, but wasn’t sure what to do. Suddenly, the proximity of Buhara 93 seemed, if not alluring, then at least appealing.

Inside the restaurant, I had my first surprise. I handed the host my Turkish celiac card, and he exclaimed, in English, “Celiac disease! Yes, we know this!” He was familiar with the disorder, simply because, with so many tourists from various countries coming through, he and the rest of the restaurant’s staff had encountered it many times before. He was able to point out to me what would be celiac-safe on the menu. There weren’t many choices, but the tomato salad and lamb kebabs I had were delicious. Buhara 93 doesn’t serve alcohol, but they do offer fresh-squeezed juices, including a pomegranate drink I wished I could take home with me.

I had a great meal, but also an important lesson: sometimes it pays to check out spots that specialize in the tourist trade. Lesson learned.

Buhara 93 [address] Nakilbent Sok. 15A (just outside the Hippodrome), Istanbul, Turkey [tel] 0212-518-1511

A Celebratory Gluten-Free Lunch In New York


I know that most people come to the Gluten-Free Guidebook for restaurant and travel information, but I have some other news to share. Late this summer, my agent sold my first novel to an editor at Forge, a division of St. Martin’s Press. My debut crime novel, The Damage Done, will be published in October 2010, and it’s the first offering in a two-book deal. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this news. I’ve been writing crime fiction for publications such as Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Crimespree, and The Rose & Thorn for the past few years, and a couple of my short stories have been picked up by anthologies, but publishing a novel is pretty much the dream I’ve had for most of my life. (If you’d like to read a bit more about The Damage Done, I discuss it in an interview with David Cranmer, the editor of Beat to a Pulp.)

My new editor really impressed me in our first e-mail exchange. He’d visited the Gluten-Free Guidebook, and came up with a celiac-friendly list of possible places for our celebratory lunch. We ended up at Tamarind, an elegant Indian restaurant that’s a short walk from the Flatiron Building, where the offices of St. Martin’s Press are located. Its main dining room is a stunner, with a skylight in the center of the ceiling. There are statuettes from India and bouquets of flowers in alcoves, and semi-private banquette booths bookending the space.

Beautiful as Tamarind’s setting is, the best feature is its food. Not everything on the menu is gluten-free, but the staff was very helpful in figuring out what would be safe for me. I started with seared scallops in a coconut-mint sauce and grilled lamb on skewers, then moved on to a traditional chicken tikka masala and goat in a cardamom sauce. (My very thoughtful editor was kind enough to go gluten-free for lunch, so we were able to share our dishes.) Chick-pea flour is the starch of choice for many of the items on the menu, though wheat flour is employed in some dishes (and, of course, in the long list of naans). I was too full by the end of lunch to contemplate dessert, but I noticed that there were quite a few gluten-free choices on that menu, too, like the caramelized basmati rice pudding that I’m definitely going back to try.

Tamarind [address] 41-43 East 22nd Street, New York, NY 10010 [tel] 212-674-7400 [web] www.tamarinde22.com

Reader Reports: Gluten-Free Paris and More


I often get questions from readers looking for recommendations about where to dine gluten-free in destinations that I haven’t visited (or, at least, haven’t visited since being diagnosed with celiac disease). I make the same suggestion to all of them, which is to check out the Gluten-Free Guidebook Group on Facebook. The great thing about this group is that it has a discussion board where people can ask questions and share recommendations. I’ve been impressed by how helpful people are, and I’m grateful to everyone who has contributed their time to the group.

One popular destination that people often ask about is Paris, a place I haven’t visited in the past five years. Fortunately, reader Ellen Maycock has, and she shared her very helpful suggestions with the Facebook group. She was enthusiastic about one Parisian restaurant in particular:

I’m just back from Paris. I highly recommend a totally GF restaurant, in Montmartre! It is Des Si et des Mets, located at 63, rue Lepic in the 18th. Metro stops Abesses or Blanche, phone I had two excellent meals there. What a treat to be able to order *anything* from the menu! Our waitress one evening said she was a celiac. I don’t know if they speak English, but they were extremely friendly. (You might want to bring a small dictionary to translate the menu.) The *entire* restaurant is gluten-free, so you don’t need to worry about cross-contamination. The prices are moderate for Paris — you can get a very nice 3-course meal for 26 euros.

Ellen also had some helpful general recommendations for celiacs who visit Paris:

If you have any cooking facilities, you’ll be in good shape. There’s a great organic market every Sunday morning on the Blvd. Raspail. I found GF items in the Monoprix (major grocery chain), and in some health food stores. I was told about good bread in Naturalia, but didn’t try any.

I was anxious about dealing with GF in Paris — my first trip there after my diagnosis in January — but I felt very well (better than in the States).

Other readers have written recently to share their gluten-free discoveries. One couple, Lynne and Ernie, passed along a terrific recommendation for the Niagara region:

Cafe Amore (211 Martindale Road in St. Catharines, Ontario) is our favorite restaurant. They have rice pasta and all the sauces are gluten-free. They have gluten-free desserts and amazing dinner rolls. They are all very aware of cross-contamination issues and are more than helpful when it comes to ordering a safe gluten-free meal. This is a place that is worth spending time at while visiting the Niagara area.

Another reader, Nadine, wrote to share a couple of discoveries she’d made:

I have a recommendation for a restaurant in La Jolla, California: George’s at the Cove. I had a fish taco that was out of this world delicious. It was one of the restaurant’s specialties and my server told me it was gluten-free. Also, there is a bakery in the small town of Bristol, New Hampshire: Cornucopia Catering and Bakery. It bakes gluten-free breads and pastries. It’s the only bakery for miles and their products are worth the trip. I’ve had their cinnamon buns and a pecan bread, which were fantastic.

One more recommendation came from my friend Danyael Halprin, a journalist who lives in Calgary. She told me about a dedicated gluten-free restaurant called A Tasty Menu. Its offerings include plenty for vegans and vegetarians, and the lactose intolerant. There’s also a special menu for kids.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has contributed suggestions and recommendations. Please keep them coming!