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] www.blissfullfood.com

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] info@barolos.com [web] www.barolos.com

Gluten Free in SD [web] www.glutenfreeinsd.com