A Celebratory Gluten-Free Lunch In New York

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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

Smart Businesses Support Celiacs

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Back in May, I was excited when Starbucks introduced its first-ever gluten-free baked treat, the Orange Valencia Cake. But last week, the company announced — via Twitter — that it was no longer going to carry it. Instead, gluten-intolerant people would have to make do with KIND bars, one of those fruit-and-nut snacks which, in my opinion, are neither healthy enough to justify as part of a meal nor decadent enough to qualify as a treat.

To me, it was a great disappointment. It wasn’t that I was in love with the cake. I’d been in several Starbucks locations where the cake had been taken out of its packaging and set on a cake stand in the display case, alongside the wheat-based baked goods, entirely defeating the point of it being gluten-free. But I was surprised that such a major US chain would go to the trouble of developing the treat, stocking it nationally, then just ditch it within weeks. I’m not sure what Starbucks’ message to the growing number of gluten-free consumers was supposed to be, but it certainly wasn’t that they were committed to serving us.

Triumph Dining has organized an online petition to Starbucks, designed to get the company to bring back the cake. Personally, I’m choosing to focus on shopping at places that have consistently shown an interest in serving celiacs. The recession has made me more conscious about where I spend my money. With the growing number of empty storefronts in New York City, I want to support new businesses like HealthSmart of NY, which opened in Murray Hill a couple of weeks ago and which boasts a surprisingly huge gluten-free section for a relatively small store. I also like to buy my groceries at local stores like Natural Green Market and Fairway, or national chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, all of which have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the celiac community.

My feelings about supporting businesses that serve celiacs extends to bakeries — such as Babycakes and Shabtai Gourmet — and especially to restaurants. When I’ve gone out lately, it’s mostly been to spots such as Bistango, Risotteria, GustOrganics, and Rosa Mexicano, all places with an impressive record of serving celiacs. (Rosa Mexicano doesn’t have a gluten-free menu, but over the course of many visits I’ve found them to be very celiac-aware.)

At a time when we’re all watching our budgets, I’d like to make a case for spending even more carefully. If a major corporation like Starbucks isn’t serious about serving the gluten-intolerant, I see no reason to support them. As Ethan at Gluten-Free Maps pointed out to me last week, Starbucks offers a gluten-free fair trade chocolate cake at its outlets in Great Britain. And this isn’t just about Starbucks; as Chris at Celiac Handbook has noted, McDonald’s restaurants in Finland have a gluten-free menu (as do the ones in Sweden). If these American-based companies can manage these feats overseas, they can do it here. No excuses.

Conference Dining for Celiacs

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I just spent four days at the ThrillerFest conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York. If you’re a fan of mysteries, crime novels, or thrillers — or if you aspire to write them — you may have heard of it. Best-selling writers such as Lee Child, Steve Martini, Lisa Gardner, David Baldacci and Meg Gardiner all spoke at the event (along with many others). It was a fascinating scene.

And yet, what I was really thinking about was lunch.

When I registered for the conference a couple of months ago, there was a place on the online form to add any special notes. I mentioned that I have celiac disease, and that I would need a gluten-free meal for the luncheon on Thursday (other meals weren’t included in the conference, so this was the only one I needed to arrange in advance). I didn’t really expect to hear anything back from the organizers, so 10 days before the conference, I e-mailed them. I told them what I needed, and asked them how I would go about arranging it. They responded promptly and assured me that they would look into it. And so I waited… and waited.

After a couple of reminder e-mails, I got a message from one of the organizers. This is what it said:

I never got an answer back on my question about this. What we have done in past years for the banquet is that you tell your waiter your special requirements when you are seated. If I learn something different, I’ll let you know.

At this, alarm bells went off for me. While a restaurant can come up with a gluten-free meal with no notice, it’s tougher at a catered event. My worst experience on this front was at a conference I attended in Chicago five years ago, just after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I’d told the organizer what I could and couldn’t have, and she told me I’d be fine. Then, at dinner the first night, I discovered that our meal consisted mainly of pizza. When I cornered the organizer, she was indifferent. “You can eat the toppings on the pizza,” she told me. “You don’t have to eat the crust.”

That was an eye-opener for me. And however ill-informed that conference organizer was, she forced me to realize that even when you explain to someone else what celiac disease is and what you need to avoid, they may not take it as seriously as you do. It was an important lesson.

In the end, my luncheon problem was easily solved, because I got in touch with the catering staff at the Hyatt directly. As with every Hyatt property I’ve visited — from Toronto, Canada to Santiago, Chile — they assured me that it would be no problem to get a gluten-free meal ready for me. And they meant it: I was served a main course of chicken with steamed broccoli and carrots. (Several people I’ve interviewed, including Alice Bast and Vanessa Maltin, have mentioned how helpful and accommodating Hyatt is on the gluten-free front.) But it reminded me that sometimes you really do have to take matters into your own hands.

A Tale of Two (Gluten-Free) Tablas

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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

Roundup: Celiac Disease in the News

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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.

Mail-Ordering Gluten-Free Groceries

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Finding gluten-free food while traveling is an obvious challenge, but I’ve been hearing lately from readers who are having a tough time eating at home. One reader in Canada was appalled when she began to place an order at the online Gluten-Free Mall and discovered that it would cost $34 just to ship a one-pound parcel to her (unfortunately, the Mall doesn’t post its shipping charges on the site, so potential customers are sometimes in for a shock when they reach the checkout stage).

Living in New York means having lots of options, since grocery chains such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods carry plenty of gluten-free products, as do independent stores such as Natural Green Market. In other parts of North America, it can be tough to find gluten-free baked goods, pasta, and other essentials. For those who depend on mail-order to get their gluten-free groceries, here’s some advice:

  • Find manufacturers that ship products to customers directly: A few companies, such as Shabtai Gourmet, make this incredibly easy. Shabtai, which makes cakes, cookies, and other treats that are gluten free, lactose free, soy free, and casein free, ships its products anywhere in the continental US — for free. Kinnikinnick Foods ships its celiac-safe bagels, breads, donuts, and other products to Canada and the US; as you order, a tally of charges, including shipping, adds on the upper right corner of the page, so there are no upsets at checkout.
  • Remember to comparison shop: Gluten-free products tend to be expensive in North America, and there are no government subsidies for celiacs, as there are in countries such as Italy and Turkey. I’ve found Amazon to be a great place for deals on basics such as gluten-free pasta. Amazon is a bit like Costco, in that you have to buy in bulk, so instead of purchasing one package of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Homemade Wonderful Bread Mix, you need to buy four; in the case of Tinkyada Brown Rice Spirals with Rice Bran, you’d need to purchase a pack of 12. However, when you compare Amazon’s prices to certain sites that market themselves to gluten-free consumers, Amazon’s are great deals. Also, “Gluten-Free” is a major category in Amazon’s grocery department, so products are easy to find — and shipping is free on orders of $25 or more.
  • Read product reviews: It can be tempting to order treats that you’ve been missing, but we know that not all gluten-free products are equally good. In fact, some have the consistency and flavor of cardboard. Unfortunately, with products for delivery, you usually can’t send them back if you don’t like them. Before you order something new, be sure to check out sites such as Gluten Free Food Reviews; Amazon is also useful for its product reviews, even when you’re not ordering from the site.
  • Know that some restaurants do mail-order, too: New York’s Risotteria immediately comes to mind. Have you tried the Fudgie yet? You really should. My favorite local bakery, Babycakes, delivers, too. (By the way, Babycakes has its first-ever cookbook coming out; click on “Recommended Reading” to see it.)
  • Check out the great lists of gluten-free retailers that have already been compiled: Gluten-Free in SD has a great one, and it’s not just for people who live in San Diego. The Celiac Handbook has links to an exhaustive list of companies that ship gluten-free products. A listing isn’t an endorsement, but it’s still a great place to start.
  • Shop locally when possible: Some American companies won’t ship outside of the continental US. However, Canadians have the option of shopping from Toronto’s Specialty Food Shop, which I’ve written about before. The SFS will even ship frozen foods. In Hawaii, Sweet Marie’s (which reader Liisa wrote about here), delivers locally and internationally.

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Just a reminder: there’s a Gluten-Free Guidebook group on Facebook, where members are posting fascinating news, such as the attempt by Australian researchers to develop a vaccine for celiac disease (thanks, Bruno!). Also, I’m now on Twitter, and if you’d like to follow me there, I’m @hilarydavidson.

A Gluten-Free Gem in New York’s West Village

New Yorkers are notorious for their impatience, but I think that it’s mostly a myth. I’ve become a more patient person since moving here seven-and-a-half years ago, though it hasn’t happened by choice. New Yorkers are forced to wait in line for just about everything. If you’ve ever visited the Trader Joe’s supermarket on East 14th Street, you know what I mean (the line to check out wraps around the entire store and can take 45 minutes on a bad day). And while I love Risotteria, there’s a reason I haven’t written about it before: having dinner there requires patience.

Risotteria is in the West Village, a few blocks from Washington Square Park. It describes itself as one of the most famous gluten-free restaurants in America, and I don’t doubt that. It’s perpetually mobbed, and since you can basically count the number of seats on your fingers and toes, demand consistently outpaces supply. Even in this economic downturn, Risotteria keeps packing them in — not a surprise when you factor in its very reasonable prices for its excellent cooking. Service is incredibly swift but also quite sweet. Here’s the bad part: Risotteria doesn’t do reservations. That means you wait for your table with everybody else, either in the tiny vestibule or out front on Bleecker Street, where there’s a bench. When the wait gets extremely long, sometimes the waitstaff comes outside with gluten-free breadsticks, guaranteeing that you’ll hang around.

Not everything on the menu is gluten-free, but the many celiac-safe options — including risotto, pizza, and panini — are clearly marked, as are the choices for vegetarians (plentiful) and the lactose-intolerant (slim pickings). There is nothing I’ve tried in my many visits here that I haven’t loved. The gluten-free Caesar salad is a favorite (but so is the spinach salad with goat cheese and roasted peppers). The risotto dishes are irresistible to me (I usually choose them over pizza, a fact that shocks me). I love the carnaroli risotto with roasted chicken, porcini mushrooms, and pine nuts; my husband loves a spicier risotto with shrimp, hot peppers, and mozzarella. And every person I’ve dined with at Risotteria has been wild about the desserts, all of which are gluten-free (don’t get me started on the subject of the “Fudgie,” two thick chocolate-chip cookies with chocolate fudge in-between).

That’s the secret about Risotteria. I’ve met others with celiac disease while dining there (the tables are so close together that mingling is common), but none of the people I’ve dined with at Risotteria are gluten-intolerant. They are willing to put up with the long wait because the food is that good. You can use your wait-list time to explore the neighborhood. Bleecker is filled with interesting shops, the excellent Partners & Crime bookstore is a few blocks away, and the Village boasts stunning architecture and charming streets. Just remember to be patient.

Risotteria [address] 270 Bleecker Street (between Sixth Avenue & Seventh Avenue), New York, NY [tel] 212-924-6664 [web] www.risotteria.com

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] www.babycakesnyc.com). 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] www.bewitchingelegance.com

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] www.cinderellasweets.com

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] www.coffeeplant.net

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] www.gfpatisserie.com

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] www.rosesbakery.com

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] www.swirlzcupcakes.com

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] tripleoakbakery@gmail.com.

New York City Day by Day… for Celiacs

Back in 2005, I wrote a New York City guidebook for Frommer’s Travel Guides. That slim little volume (it’s all of 192 pages, tiny compared to most guidebooks but a perfect fit for pockets or handbags), New York City Day by Day, was designed to be a cheat sheet to the best of the city. Not only does it highlight the best of the five boroughs, it maps them out for readers in a series of 22 self-guided tours.

As comparatively compact as it is, the book was the most labor-intensive of the 17 guidebooks I’ve written. That’s the reason I’ve been so pleased to see it take on new life recently as an eBook. Better yet — the eBook is available as a free download from different libraries around the United States. I am not sure if every one handles it the same way, but at the New York Public Library, you can download the book as a PDF and read it on both PCs and Macs. The NYPL download is for 21 days, the usual length of time you can borrow a book from the regular collection. Best of all, you don’t need to visit the library to get it — you can download it from the NYPL’s website so long as you have a valid library card. (If your public library offers eBook downloads, but doesn’t yet have New York City Day by Day, you can request it.)

One tough thing about writing the book was that the restaurant reviews had to be kept incredibly short — most are a mere two sentences — which didn’t allow for comments on their celiac-friendliness. As an addendum to the guidebook, I’d like to point out a few of my favorite New York City restaurants. These are all places where I’ve found great gluten-free dining, and I’m happy to report that they’re still in business four years after I did my original research for the book!

  • Blue Smoke: If you love rich, smoky barbecue flavors, you’ve found your heaven. This spot offers special gluten-free, nut-free, and vegetarian menus; [address] 116 East 27th Street, New York [tel] 212-447-7733 [web] www.bluesmoke.com
  • Eleven Madison Park: Elegant dining with farm-fresh ingredients and impeccable service; [address] 11 Madison Avenue, New York [tel] 212-889-0905 [web] www.elevenmadisonpark.com
  • Pure Food and Wine: This Irving Park raw-food restaurant is a vegan gem; here’s a full review; [address] 54 Irving Place, New York [tel] 212-477-1010 [web] www.purefoodandwine.com
  • Rice: Always a delicious spot for brunch; click here for the full review. [address] 2 locations in Manhattan, 2 in Brooklyn [web] www.riceny.com
  • Rosa Mexicano: Excellent Mexican cuisine, much of it naturally gluten free; [address] 3 locations in Manhattan [web] www.rosamexicano.info
  • Ruby Foo’s: It’s impossible for me not to think bordello when I walk into this restaurant — but I come back for its gluten-free menu; [address] 2 locations in Manhattan [web] www.brguestrestaurants.com
  • Tocqueville: This is a splurge spot, but for special occasions it would be hard to imagine anyone taking better care of a gluten-intolerant diner; [address] 1 East 15th Street [tel] 212-647-1515 [web] www.tocquevillerestaurant.com

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Facebook Update: I mentioned in my last post that I would be creating a Facebook group for the Gluten-Free Guidebook. The group is now up and running, and I invite every reader to join. I hope that it will be another helpful resource for you as you plan your travels, as well as a place where we can share information and advice via the messageboard. I look forward to seeing you there!

Sushi for Celiacs in New York

For many people, fast food means the Golden Arches or a food court; for me, it used to mean sushi. I know many New Yorkers who feel the same way. Unfortunately, after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my sushi consumption dwindled. It wasn’t just the fact that I had to smuggle a bottle of gluten-free soy sauce with me into restaurants — I’ve been shameless about that. But sadly, it turned out that some seemingly innocuous ingredients in sushi were sometimes marinated in soy sauce, and that the fake crabmeat used in many maki rolls is made from wheat. Fortunately, Lilli and Loo has come to the rescue.

I’d first heard about the restaurant in the spring, when one of my favorite bloggers, Allergic Girl, hosted the first of her Worry-Free Dinners there. The first time I tried the restaurant, months later, I found that it offers great gluten-free lunch specials. The pan-Asian options run from Kung Pao chicken to Singapore noodles and Pad Thai, all of which are served with green salad (the non-noodle dishes come with white or brown rice, too). The specials are served Monday to Friday from 11am to 4pm and cost $10.95 each.

Still, dinner is what really won me over. There’s a long list of gluten-free appetizers (including tender chicken satay with a sweetly spicy peanut sauce) and entrées… and then there are the sushi rolls. There aren’t a lot of options, but what is on offer is special, like the Tuna Lover’s mix of spicy and fresh tuna with pomegranate vinaigrette and avocado, or the Black Angel’s blend of rock shrimp tempura and spicy tuna with purple basil. LIlli and Loo also gets points for convenience — since you can dine in or get your order to go — and for food-allergy awareness.

I haven’t yet tried Lilli and Loo’s new sister restaurant — Lili’s 57 — but I’ve heard that its celiac-safe sushi offerings are more extensive. Gluten-intolerant New Yorkers, get your chopsticks ready.

Lilli and Loo [address] 792 Lexington Avenue (between 61st & 62nd streets), New York, NY 10021 [tel] 212-421-7800 [web] www.lilliandloo.com

Lili’s 57 [address] 200 West 57th Street (at Seventh Avenue), New York, NY 10019 [tel] 212-586-5333 [website] www.lilis57.com