Posts Tagged ‘Ontario’

Reader Report: A Gluten Free Adventure in the Junction (Toronto)

Monday, June 17th, 2013

I was so excited to read Helen Nelson’s contest entry for the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest (now extended to July 15, 2013, since I disappeared down the rabbit hole while editing my fourth novel…). I’ve known Helen for several years through an amazing group called Sisters in Crime, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in crime fiction (in spite of the name, it’s just as welcoming to men as it is women). Helen is a talented writer, and I really appreciate her using her talents to share information about gluten-free spots in the Junction, a gentrifying neighborhood in Toronto. Many, many thanks, Helen! (PS Contest rules are here. A big thank you to all who have entered the contest so far. Looking forward to reading more reader reports!)

Helen Nelson: Toronto — A Gluten Free Adventure in the Junction 

In the Junction?

Yes, indeed the Junction has changed. No longer hosting the last remaining Woolworth’s store, a hodge podge of strange little stores and donut shops, it now hosts many of the things that make a neighbourhood fun and funky and dare I say even trendy?

My young niece and I embarked on our gluten free breakfast, lunch and treats hunt at around 10 on a Saturday morning. We started off at Bunner’s Bakery, just a little west of High Park Avenue and Dundas. Bunner’s is a vegan and gluten-free bakery. So for me that’s a bonus as in addition to no gluten, there is also no dairy! There we picked up a pumpkin and chocolate chip muffin, a couple of cinnamon buns, some butter tarts, some chocolate chip sandwich cookies and a loaf of bread that was still hot out of the oven. And we liked it all! OK, the cinnamon bun was too much for me. I couldn’t finish it. Although my husband ate his, we decided that next time we’ll get one and split it! A word of warning — get there early! They were selling out of the bread at a rapid rate. Another word of warning — their Supersonic Gypsy Cookie (which gets huge raves), has oats. So glad I asked before I bought and chowed down! They do have a book you can look at that lists their ingredients. And they are promising a recipe book soon!

For lunch we ventured out again to Gabby’s – right at High Park and Dundas. We eat here often. They have a huge menu with lots of selections and a separate menu that is gluten free. Yes!!! Sadly for me a lot on that menu has dairy, but there are a few things that I can have. In the past I’ve had their burger, ribs, a salad plate and sweet potato fries. Today I had a chicken sandwich (on a GF bun). The chicken and the stuff inside the sandwich is great. The bun, well its a bit dry and crumbly, but I’ve found that is all too often the case since I’ve found I can’t really do gluten (or most grains anyway) any more, a few weeks back. Too bad Bunner’s doesn’t actually make buns! My niece had macaroni and cheese and a bunch of my sweet potato fries. Decidedly NOT GF! But she enjoyed her meal! They have a few too many TV screens for my tastes, but the varied menu with GF items and the food quality makes up for that.

Then we walked back a few steps west along Dundas to Delight Chocolates. They sell some unfriendly stuff — like ice cream and brownies. But mainly they sell chocolate! And they offer many chocolate options that are completely dairy free and soy free. No flour or grains either! Its all fair trade and organic too! For those who can have dairy they also sell hot chocolate that apparently is to die for! For those who are able to do dairy (and others too) they also sell fair trade organic coffee.

There is also The Beet, an organic food café, and The Sweet Potato, an organic grocery store, both within about a block. I haven’t checked these out in a while, but I’ll venture to guess that they have lots of GF options as well!

Shopping in Southwestern Ontario

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

It’s starting to feel as if a gluten-free grocery store opens in Southwestern Ontario every other week. I used to make a trip to the Specialty Food Shop each time I visited Toronto, but with the number of options expanding, I’m checking out a wider range of places offering gluten-free groceries:

Cabbagetown Organics: The sign in the window advertising fresh bread from Aidan’s Gluten Free is what lured me inside. As the name suggests, the store’s strength is organic produce, but the gluten-free section is substantial. [address] 499 Parliament Street, Toronto [tel] 416-913-7296

Goodbye Gluten: This combination grocery store, bakery, and caterer opened this summer. Everything you’ll find here is gluten-free, and there are also nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and vegan options. [address] 2066 Avenue Road, Toronto [tel] 416-781-9191

Nut’n Gluten: This is a large store, especially when you consider that almost everything on the shelves and inside the fridges and freezers is gluten-free (there are products for people allergic to nuts, too). My impression — based on a single visit — is that some prices are higher than what I’m used to paying, but there are also brands here that I haven’t seen carried at any other shop. [address] 3120 Rutherford Road, Vaughan, Ontario [tel] 905-553-7901

Remark Fresh Markets: Whenever I visit my aunt in London, Ontario, this is where she goes to stock up on celiac-safe foods for me. Lots of choice, with both Canadian and international brands featured here. [address] 1190 Oxford Street West, London, Ontario [tel] 519-474-2561

Specialty Food Shop: Not everything in this shop is gluten-free — there are products for people with food allergies, metabolic disorders, cystic fibrosis, and other conditions. It’s small, but it stocks great staples and snacks and has registered dietitians on staff. [address] At the Hospital for Sick Children (main floor), 555 University Avenue, Toronto [tel] 1-800-737-7976 or 416-813-5294

A few other stores with plenty of celiac-safe options: Whole Foods, which has its own Gluten-Free Bakehouse products as well as items made by other brands; Noah’s Natural Foods, a small, health-oriented local chain with several locations; and Ambrosia Natural Foods, just north of Toronto in Thornhill, which offers some of the best prices on gluten-free goods that I’ve found anywhere. Also, a couple of websites offer shop listings (and, frequently, a lot more): Gluten-Free Ontario and Celiac Canada.

Roundup: Contest and More Tips From Readers

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

The Gluten-Free Guidebook is having its first-ever Reader Report Contest (check out this post to enter). I’ve received questions about it from some readers, and I wanted to answer them here, in case others are wondering the same thing. It’s perfectly fine to send a list of your favorite celiac-safe restaurants and shops, without actually “reviewing” each one. Some Reader Reports that are already on the site are actually lists like that, and they’re very helpful to people. The Reader Report can be about anywhere in the world, and it’s perfectly alright to write about a destination already featured on the site. There’s always new information to share. I look forward to reading your entries!

Contest aside, several readers have sent me tips about gluten-free restaurants and bakeries via e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, and I want to pass these along. I’m always grateful when people take the time to share information, and I know that these tips will help many others.

Kathy, a reader in Montreal, visited New York a few weeks ago, and wrote to tell me about a restaurant she’d enjoyed: Emporio. She described it as having a “great GF menu, helpful staff and wonderful atmosphere.” I haven’t tried it yet but plan to. ([address] 231 Mott Street; [tel] 212-966-1234; [web] www.auroraristorante.com)

Chelsea, a reader in Toronto, wrote: “The Starving Artist cafe/waffle bar in Toronto (near Bloor/Lansdowne) has really awesome gluten-free (and vegan) waffles. You can substitute the GF waffles in any of their waffle meals/desserts.” That’s another place on my list of places to try. ([address] 584 Lansdowne Avenue; [tel] 647-342-5058; [web] www.starvingartistbar.com)

My friend Henny Groenendijk, also based in Toronto, told me about a new gluten-free bakery in Oakville, Ontario. It’s called Voila Gluten Free Bakeree ([address] 22 Lakeshore West, Unit 6; [tel] 289-837-0110; [web] www.voilaglutenfreebakeree.com).

Another friend, Margaret Littman, told me about Fifth Group Restaurants, a company in Atlanta, Georgia, that recently launched gluten-free menus at each of its five restaurants: El Taco, Ecco, La Tavola Trattoria, and South City Kitchen (which has two locations). From the company’s official statement: “We are dedicated to giving our guests as many dining options as possible – and that includes options for those with dietary restrictions. It’s another step in striving to satisfy our current patrons and potential new diners, and with a rise in celiac disease diagnoses, I think it’s a big step that we absolutely must take.”

It’s always exciting to see more places offer gluten-free options. What have you found lately?

The Best of 2009 for the Gluten-Free

Monday, December 28th, 2009

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One of my favorite things about the last week of the year is that it’s a good time to take stock of what’s happened over the past 360+ days. In 2009, I found that some posts got a great deal of feedback from readers — and I learned that sometimes it’s impossible to predict which ones will spark the most interest. Below are the posts that garnered the greatest responses, and if you missed them the first time around, you can still read them (and comment) now.

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to e-mail me, follow me on Twitter, join the Facebook group, or make a comment on the site. I deeply appreciate your support, and look forward to hearing more from you in 2010. Happy new year!

Vacation Planning for Celiacs: Cruises

The irony for me was that, after researching different cruise options, I ended up going to Las Vegas instead. But my research wasn’t wasted: because I looked at the gluten-free options onboard different cruise lines, I was able to share what I’d found about Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, MSC and other companies. Better yet, so many readers contacted me about their cruise experiences (mostly with positive reports about dining gluten-free) that it inspired another post.

New York City Day by Day… for Celiacs

When I wrote the New York City Day by Day guidebook for Frommer’s, I was a newly diagnosed celiac. Fortunately, the book didn’t require full-length restaurant reviews; since it was intended as a cheat sheet to the city, and mostly filled with walking tours, I could get away with short mentions of favorite eateries. Of course, that list included many great spots for the gluten-free, such as Rosa Mexicano, Rice, Blue Smoke, and Pure Food & Wine. The book is now available as a download from the New York Public Library; for details, check out the original post.

Philadelphia’s Great Gluten-Free Initiative

Bravo to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness for training so many Philadelphia chefs via its Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training (GREAT) program… to the wonderful chefs who took part… and to the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation for being savvy enough to recognize this as a terrific tourism initiative.

Smart Businesses Support Celiacs

This was inspired by Starbucks’ “now you see it, now you don’t” gluten-free Orange Valencia Cake. Remember it? But the post was about much more than Starbucks. It was about making smart choices to support businesses that are responsive to their customers’ needs. One of the things I wrote last July was, “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 isn’t serious about serving the gluten-intolerant, I see no reason to support them.” I stand by that position.

Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Toronto Eaton Centre

This post was an accident. While I was in Toronto last June, working on the Frommer’s Toronto 2010 guidebook, a business lunch was canceled at the last minute. Since I was stranded near the Eaton Centre, my hometown’s famous shopping complex, I decided to explore the fast-food options there. The response from readers was overwhelming. It turned out that just about everyone wanted to know more about celiac-safe fast food. This post had an unexpected result: a Toronto reader wrote to tell me that the Druxy’s Famous Deli in Commerce Court had gluten-free bread. When another reader saw that, she contacted Peter Druxerman, Druxy’s vice-president of marketing, to ask if the company could make gluten-free bread available at their outlet inside Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. In the blink of an eye, Druxy’s responded, adding gluten-free bread to its offerings at PMH. Remember what I said earlier about supporting businesses that are responsive to their customers?

On the Road With…

I love finding out the secrets of great travelers. Both Alice Bast, founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and Sloane Miller, who writes the delightful Allergic Girl blog and runs Worry-Free Dinners in New York, were kind enough to share many of theirs.

Mail-Ordering Gluten-Free Groceries

First and foremost, the Gluten-Free Guidebook is about travel and dining out. But even if you’re on the road a lot, as I am, you need to buy groceries sometimes. I’m lucky to have some great spots near me in New York, but there are also some companies that I order from online. And it still surprises me that Amazon consistently offers some of the best prices on gluten-free groceries.

A Celebratory Gluten-Free Lunch in New York

For those of you who know me mainly as a travel writer and celiac advocate, it came as a shock that I have a dark side. My debut crime novel, The Damage Done, will be published by Forge in October 2010. I have been publishing short stories for a while, but I’m still happily surprised about my two-book deal with Forge. What I didn’t expect was that some criminally minded fiction types would be interested in the Gluten-Free Guidebook, too. David Cranmer, editor of Beat to a Pulp (one of the best places to find contemporary crime fiction), asked me about both my novel and my gluten-free travels when he interviewed me. Jen Forbus, the book blogger behind the wonderful Jen’s Book Thoughts, was kind enough to ask me to take part in her Six-Word Memoir project, in which she asked crime writers — including Dennis Lehane, Linda Fairstein, Joseph Wambaugh, Sue Grafton, Lee Child, Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, and Mary Higgins Clark — to sum themselves up in six words. Have you read mine yet?

Reader Reports for Celiac Awareness Month

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

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October is Celiac Awareness Month, so there’s an uptick in coverage about the disorder and generally about gluten intolerance. A couple of the better pieces that have been published lately: “Gluten-Free: Is It for Me?” by Daphne Oz on Oprah.com and “Why Common Foods May Hurt Your Health” by Dr. Jon LaPook on The Huffington Post.

Everyone knows it’s Halloween at the end of this month, but parents of children with celiac disease and/or food allergies need to hear about the Halloween candy list that’s available from Sure Foods Living. Keep in mind that this list was compiled using American sources. Canadian parents, when you read that Smarties are free of gluten, know that this is not true of the popular Nestlé treat, but of an American candy that is unrelated but shares the name. Also this month, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness hosts a Gluten-Free Cooking Spree in San Francisco. It will take place on October 30th; check the NFCA site for details and ticket information.

Some Gluten-Free Guidebook readers also have advice to share. Carolina, who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, recommends one gluten-free spot:

There is a place called CeliGourmet here in Buenos Aires that sells food to take out. It has all sorts of things, such as crepes, tarts, pizzas, sandwiches, empanadas (typical local food). There are also many kinds of cake, like cheesecake, chocolate cake, tiramisu, etc., and a variety of breads. There are two stores: one in General Paunero 1927 – Martinez (like half an hour out of town) tel, 4798-2990, and one in Thames 1633 – Palermo Soho, in town, tel 4831-5162.

To my ear, Buenos Aires sounds more and more like a gluten-free paradise. Reader Silvia Basualdo Róvere shared some local restaurants in this post and in this one. If you visit Buenos Aires, check out Oleo, a website that allows you to search for city restaurants that serve gluten-free meals (“comidas para celiacos”). There are currently 300 places on the list!

Another reader, Sybil, left an incredibly helpful comment on my post “Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Eaton Centre.” In it, she mentioned that the Druxy’s Famous Deli in Toronto’s Commerce Court kept gluten-free bread in its freezer. I’d never heard about Druxy’s offering gluten-free options, but Peter Druxerman, the company’s vice-president of marketing, confirmed it. Right now it’s just a test program — the only Druxy’s with gluten-free bread is the one in Commerce Court — but it’s one that Druxerman says the company would like to expand.

Next summer, if you’re visiting Ontario’s spectacular Stratford Festival, take a tip from another reader, Marilyn, who shared this:

We twice visited the festival last summer, and we were able to order ahead, by phone or online, for a gluten-free picnic lunch that we picked up from the Festival Theatre lunch bar. We found the food and beverage supervisor very helpful in discussing options, and the food was excellent!

If you go, the Festival Theatre Café is located at 55 Queen Street, Stratford, [tel] 1-800-567-1600 or 519-271-4040. According to the website, picnic lunches need to be ordered at least 48 hours in advance.

Many thanks to Carolina, Sybil, and Marilyn for their terrific tips. Please keep them coming!

Dining With Conviction in Toronto

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

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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.

Reader Reports: Gluten-Free Paris and More

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

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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 01.42.55.19.61. 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!

A Dedicated Gluten-Free Ontario Bakery

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

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A while back, I wrote about the impressive array of gluten-free groceries at the Specialty Food Shop at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. The store isn’t just for celiacs, and not all of its products are gluten-free. But located in its aisles are gluten-free North American brands such as Glutino, Mi-Del, Enjoy Life, and Kinnikinnick, and international ones such as Australia’s Orgran and Germany’s Glutano. There are plenty of treats — cookies of all descriptions, ice-cream cones, snack bars — as well as healthier fare, including pastas, cereals, breads, soup bases and mixes, baking products, and frozen dinners.

The Specialty Food Shop introduced me to a Canadian bakery that I’d never heard of before, but a taste of El Peto‘s unbelievably delicious butter tarts made me want to get to know them better. Founded in 1988, the company is a Swiss-style bakery and a dedicated gluten-free facility. Since El Peto is located in Cambridge, Ontario — about an hour’s drive west of Toronto, close to the charming theater town of Stratford — I decided to visit the last time I was in the area.

El Peto is “free” of so many ingredients, I started to wonder what they do bake with. It’s not only entirely wheat-free and gluten-free, it also offers corn-free, yeast-free, milk-free, egg-free, peanut-free and trans fat-free foods. Their product range includes breads and pizza crusts, muffins and pies, hot and cold cereals, cake mixes and cookies, and their own milled flours, made with ingredients such as romano beans, chickpeas, quinoa, potato, and brown rice. Their company store also stocks gluten-free products from other manufacturers, such as pastas from Tinkyada and Gogo Quinoa (a Bolivian fair-trade company), waffle ice-cream cones and wafers from Barkat, and soup cubes from Celifibr.

Then there are, of course, El Peto’s wonderful butter tarts. It turns out that other types of tarts are also available — pecan, lemon, raspberry — and that there are unfilled tart shells, too. El Peto’s prices are reasonable, but the best news is that you don’t need to visit to shop there. You can order via the online store. El Peto’s products are also turning up more frequently in mainstream grocery stores — those butter tarts can now be found at the Loblaws Superstore in Toronto, along with breads, rolls, and mixes.

El Peto [address] 65 Saltsman Drive, Cambridge, Ontario [tel] 800-387-4064 or 519-650-4614 [fax] 519-650-5692 [web] www.elpeto.com

Dining at the Royal Ontario Museum’s C5

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

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I have mixed feelings about the Royal Ontario Museum‘s redesigned building. From Bloor Street West, Daniel Libeskind’s crystal is aggressively fabulous. It’s an übermodern work of jutting glass and steel, and you can’t miss it, even from a mile away. The interior of the crystal is another story. In spite of its towering ceilings, it lacks the grandeur of the façade and resembles a whitewashed warehouse. This is not to say that the collections aren’t breathtaking. I particularly love the Chinese galleries, which feature an intact Ming tomb as well as the Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art. The ROM also has wonderful galleries devoted to ancient Egypt and Greece, and its perennially popular dinosaur collection. But the building is disappointing on the inside.

The exception is C5, the Royal Ontario Museum’s beautiful restaurant, which is located on the crystal’s top level. Here the skylights and criss-crossing window segments provide a gorgeous view of the city. The dining room is modern chic: white leather banquettes and chairs for dining, black leather sofas and wing chairs for drinks, and an open kitchen that knows how to pair flavors for maximum impact. This is where I had my most memorable meal on my last visit to Toronto: fresh cod, grilled to perfection and served with a lentil-and-vegetable salad and a tangy mustard sauce. The menu is short, but everything on it is prepared from scratch, and the staff is familiar with celiac disease and food allergies.

Keep in mind, if you visit, that you don’t need to pay admission to the museum to dine here (though I strongly recommend that you visit the collections). Just tell the staff that you’re going to C5, and they’ll point you to an elevator that will whisk you upstairs.

C5 at the Royal Ontario Museum [address] 100 Queen’s Park (at Bloor Street West), Toronto [tel] 416-586-7928 [web] www.C5restaurant.ca

Conference Dining for Celiacs

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

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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.