Roundup: Gluten-Free Bakeries

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I tried all of the gluten-free baked goods I could find… and I wasn’t very happy with what was out there. I remember rice breads that crumbled into bits with the first bite and pastries that seemed to have a substantial styrofoam content. Now, five years later, I’m amazed by how much the quality has increased and how much choice there is. (I’m speaking primarily of what I see in New York and Toronto, and online; I know that there are plenty of places where it’s hard to come by gluten-free baked goods.)

Several bakeries that offer gluten-free treats have contacted me — and some readers have forwarded suggestions — so I wanted to pass along the information. I haven’t had the opportunity to visit any of the spots below, so I would love to hear from any readers who have tried them. For the record, I am a fan of Babycakes in New York City ([tel] 212-677-5047 [web] I’d love to hear about your favorites.

Bewitching Elegance: San Francisco-area artist Diane Rinella specializes in wedding cakes, which are available in gluten-free, vegan, and diabetic-friendly versions; [address] 1170 Broadway, Burlingame, California [tel] 510-469-6976 [web]

Cinderella Sweets: I’ve never used this company’s free mail-order service, but I have purchased their gluten-free Passover treats, sold under the name Shabtai Gourmet, at supermarkets in New York. The selection includes traditional almond macaroons, sponge cakes with raspberry filling, and delicate “lace” cookies topped with chocolate. The products are also free of dairy, casein, and soy, and they are certified kosher; [tel] 516-652-5671 [web]

Coffee Plant: There are two Coffee Plant cafés in Portland, but one is entirely gluten-free. The husband-and-wife team who run the business bake the fresh muffins, scones, cookies, cakes, quiches, and breads on a daily basis; [address] 5911 SW Corbett, Portland, Oregon [tel] 503-293-3280 [web]

GF Patisserie: This dedicated gluten-free bakery set up shop last August in Cochrane, Alberta, a short drive from Calgary. Owner Victoria Edlinger told me that they started by offering three types of quiche, but their product range now includes cream puffs, sacher torte, Italian flatbread, and butter tarts; [address] 122 3rd Ave West, Cochrane, Alberta [tel] 403 990-9565 [web]

Rose’s Wheatfree Bakery: This Chicago-area bakery and cafe is entirely gluten-free, and it also offers dairy- and egg-free options. Rose’s bakes up everything from snickerdoodles to chocolate-cherry-hazelnut biscotti, and from breads to pizzas; [address] 2901 Central Street, Evanston, Illinois [tel] 847-859-2723 [web]

Swirlz Cupcakes: Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Swirlz offers gluten-free cupcakes in flavors like chocolate grasshopper mint (I’m not sure what that means, but I’m curious); [address] 705 West Belden, Chicago, Illinois [tel] 773-404-2253 [web]

Triple Oak Bakery: This dedicated gluten-free bakery opened in Virginia’s Rappahannock County in the fall, after owner Brooke Parkhurst found that demand for the treats she was baking in her home kitchen just kept growing. Offerings include carrot cupcakes, mocha dream cake, and cream puffs, and they are also available at The Natural Marketplace in Warrenton and Better Thymes in Front Royal; [address] 11692 Lee Highway, Sperryville, Virginia [tel] 540-675-3601 [e-mail]

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]

Roundup: North American Gluten-Free News

I love it when people tell me about their great gluten-free dining experiences. One reader, whose husband has celiac disease, contacted me about their dinner at Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago. They were deeply impressed by the thoughtfulness of the staff. It was clear from the start of their meal, when the restaurant’s manager came to their table to talk, that the restaurant took gluten-free dining seriously. Because the chef was concerned about cross-contamination (apparently the chilies in some sauces were flash-fried in a deep fryer, and could have been exposed to gluten particles), the two gluten-free dishes that made their way to the table were variations of menu items. Topolobampo’s sommelier also did a fine job pairing wines with the special dishes. The reader wrote:

We travel and eat out extensively and have never come across this level of dedication and exemplary service. The manager kept apologizing that our meal was going to take a little longer than normal. It was unreal and did not break the bank either…

Another reader wrote to tell me about Leaf Cuisine, a Los Angeles restaurant that is virtually the only place where she will dine out (in addition to being gluten intolerant, she has allergies to casein and corn). Leaf Cuisine is a raw-food restaurant, meaning that none of the food is heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. All of the menu items are vegan and reasonably priced. The restaurant also sells some of its creations in local stores (including several Whole Foods outlets in Los Angeles) and offers courses in raw-food preparation.

One reader told me about a website created by her daughter. It’s a wonderful resource called Gluten-Free Ontario, and if you’re traveling anywhere in the province, take a look at it. The long list of cities represented includes Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Barrie, London, and Sault Sainte Marie. A lot of work has gone into the site, and the results will help many people make decisions about dining out.

Finally, I wanted to alert U.S. readers that a couple of medical centers are offering free screening for celiac disease. This past Saturday, the West Virginia Gluten Intolerance Group and the Department of Pediatrics at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University worked with the Cabell-Huntington Hospital to provide free blood screening (I wish I’d heard about it earlier, and I hope that they will repeat this event in future). The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center offers an annual day of free screening; the next one will be on October 18, 2008. That may sound like a long way off, but participants need to pre-register by calling [tel] 773-702-7593 after August 15, 2008. For a calendar of events of interest to the gluten-intolerant, including free blood screenings, check out the calendar at Gluten-Free Forum. For a list of the Gluten Intolerance Group’s branches and partner offices, click here.

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]

On the Road With Vanessa Maltin

Vanessa Maltin is an inspiring person to talk to. She’s the Director of Programming and Communications at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and also the author of Beyond Rice Cakes: A Young Person’s Guide to Cooking, Eating & Living Gluten-Free. She is currently at work on a second book, which explores how to cook Latin, Italian, and Asian cuisines for a gluten-free diet. Take a look at Vanessa’s blog, Beyond Rice Cakes, for more information (the book will be published by Wiley in the fall of 2009). Diagnosed with celiac disease in 2003, Vanessa has plenty of practice traveling gluten-free, and she shared her experiences and advice with me in an interview last week.

How often do you travel? I travel for work at least once a month, and usually a lot more. I just got back from Bentonville, in northwest Arkansas, which was great. They had all of the chains with gluten-free menus there, like Red Robin, P.F. Chang’s, and Mama Fu’s.

Where have you traveled since being diagnosed with celiac disease? I’ve been all over the country. So far this year I’ve been to New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia, Hagerstown, MD, Lynchburg, VA, and Florida. Internationally, since I was diagnosed, I’ve been to Ireland, Italy, and Prague — all places where I ate like a queen!

What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? I always bring bags of nuts with me. I also take Pure Fit bars and Zone bars — most of them are gluten-free. Sometimes I’ll bring gluten-free Thai Kitchen soup mixes, or small packets of peanut butter, which I’ll eat with an apple.

What other things do you bring with you? My iPod and my laptop! I also take Triumph Dining cards with me wherever I go.

How do you prepare for a trip? Since most of my travel is for work, I try to get a really detailed itinerary, because you have to plan ahead. It’s not like I can stop and grab a Big Mac. Sometimes I’ll look at the local celiac support groups and see what they recommend. Normally, when traveling for work, I’m eating with non-celiacs, so I tell people I’m meeting what I can and can’t eat. I have a lot of meetings where an office provides a catered meal, so it’s really important to let them know in advance that they need to have gluten-free options.

Any favorite restaurants? I absolutely love Bistango in New York City. In D.C., my favorites are Café Atlántico, where I helped the chef develop the Latin-fusion gluten-free menu, and Zaytinya, a Mediterranean restaurant. In San Francisco, I go to Max’s Opera Café, which doesn’t have a gluten-free menu but is very accommodating. I love Brick and Solstice, which are both in San Francisco, too. In Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, I like the Yard House, and I just went to a place called Pizza Fusion, which has gourmet gluten-free pizzas. My standby place, wherever I go across the country, is Chipotle.

Any favorite hotels? The Hyatt hotels are amazing.

What’s the most memorable city you’ve visited? Bruges in Belgium. Every other store there was a chocolate shop. I had a shrimp and goat cheese salad there that I’m still craving. It was such an incredible place, and the only thing I couldn’t eat there were the croissants.

What’s your dream destination? The Amalfi Coast in Italy. I’ve read about cooking trips there where you stay in a villa for seven days and just cook every day. I’d love that.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Keep an open mind about traveling, because it really can be done!

Photograph provided courtesy of Vanessa Maltin.

La Dolce Vita in San Diego

It’s no mean feat to find a restaurant that offers something for everyone, but Barolo Ristorante Italiano in San Diego manages. Our dinner party looked like a mission impossible: one gluten-free diner (me), one vegetarian (my husband), two small children (our nieces, three-year-old Eli and two-year-old Zoe), and one pregnant diner (my sister-in-law). The only person at the table who didn’t have a particular dietary issue was my brother-in-law, the genius who found the restaurant in the first place.

He discovered Barolo on Gluten Free in SD, a site that everyone on a gluten-free diet who lives in or travels to the San Diego area needs to know about. Gluten Free in SD is the brainchild of Roxie Johnson and Ken Loomis, and it’s not affiliated with any particular group. It is filled with information about restaurants, shops, and events, and there are links to news articles about celiac disease as well. The site mentions that one of Barolo’s owners has a son with celiac disease, and that the restaurant is well-versed in the condition and conscientious about following the rules.

Barolo lived up to its press. My brother-in-law called ahead to check on the gluten-free status (always a great idea, since menus – and owners – can change). The restaurant reassured us on the gluten-free front; though they were out of gluten-free pasta, they would be able to make risotto or meat/seafood dishes that would be celiac-safe. By the time we arrived that evening, the news was even better: Barolo had a new supply of rice pasta available, so my menu options doubled. I started with the Insalata di Mediterranea, a delicious spinach salad with feta, tomatoes, and onions in a fig-infused balsamic dressing. For the main course, I had the Penne all’Amatriciana, with prosciutto and dry ricotta cheese in a tomato sauce. My only regret was that by the time I was finished, I was too full for dessert (the gluten-free lemon sorbet is imported from Italy… just one more reason to return).

The restaurant’s website doesn’t mention its gluten-free offerings, unfortunately, but take a look to get a sense of the offerings (the staff told me that, except for the ravioli, gnocchi and lasagna, any of the pastas can be made in a gluten-free version, and some of the meat and fish plates are already celiac-safe without modifications). Barolo is an elegant restaurant with thoughtful service and plenty of variety. In addition to its gluten-free offerings, it was nice to find an upscale eatery that provides booster seats and a special menu for the ragazzini.

Barolo [address] 8935 Towne Centre Drive, San Diego, CA 92122, [tel] 858-622-1202 [email] [web]

Gluten Free in SD [web]