Dining on the Book Tour

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My first standalone thriller, Blood Always Tells, just came out in paperback. (It’s actually my fourth novel, but it’s the first one that isn’t part of the mystery series I also write.) When Macmillan’s Tor/Forge division first published it last year, I went on a whirlwind tour across North America, which gave me the opportunity to suss out some celiac-safe places to eat… though no time to write about them! But I kept notes and want to share a few favorites that stand out in my memory.

Pizza Fusion in Denver, Colorado

The restaurant’s tagline is, “You like pizza. We have pizza. Let’s be friends.” And Pizza Fusion is ready to be friends with everyone — including celiacs, vegans, and lactose-intolerant types. Ingredients are organic and locally sourced, whenever possible. In addition to exceptional pizzas, there are gluten-free salads (I recommend the pear and gorgonzola) and desserts. In addition to wonderful food, Pizza Fusion is ecologically aware (here’s a list of its impressive eco-initiatives), and the Denver outpost I dined at is operated by the Coalition for the Homeless. Food that tastes good and does good? That’s the best. (Plus, it’s not far from the Tattered Cover!)

Bistro 241 in Delray Beach, Florida

The truth is, I ended up at Bistro 241 because it was a few doors down from Murder on the Beach, a terrific independent bookstore, and there was a terrible storm raging the night of my event. I was literally looking for the first indoor spot that was open for dinner, and I lucked into this one. There’s no gluten-free menu, but the restaurant’s owner is familiar with the GF diet and willing to make modifications wherever necessary (substituting a variety of veggies for the pita bread in the Mediterranean Plate, for example). A number of dishes, including the delicious chicken paillard, require no modification at all.

Sauce Pizza & Wine in Phoenix, Arizona

I should be embarrassed to admit that I like eating at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, but I’m not. Sauce Pizza & Wine is phenomenal. The gluten-free pepperoni-and-porcini pizza is so good that I’m already looking forward to my next visit. (Take note: Sauce has several locations throughout Arizona, including Tucson, Chandler, Mesa, and Scottsdale.)

Old Town Tortilla Factory in Scottsdale, Arizona

I have plenty of reasons to recommend the Old Town Tortilla Factory. Great Mexican food? Check. Dedicated gluten-free menu? Check. Neon-bright margaritas? Check. A short walk away from the fabulous Poisoned Pen Bookstore? Check. What more could you want?

Cafe Zuzu at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona

On my first first to the fabulous Hotel Valley Ho in 2010, Cafe Zuzu didn’t have a gluten-free menu, though it did have well-trained, thoughtful staff who were able to make recommendations and accommodations (which I wrote about previously). While the staff is still terrific, I’m pleased to say that the restaurant now has a dedicated GF menu, complete with roasted cornish hen, grilled lamb, and blackened shrimp. Best of all, my beloved tomato burrata is now served with rice bread.

Z’Tejas in Austin, Texas

Yes, it’s a chain (with outposts in California and Arizona as well), but its proximity to BookPeople and solid Southwestern food (and margaritas) make it a must-visit in Austin. Z’Tejas‘s dedicated gluten-free menu isn’t large, but it includes several vegetarian options (not always easy to find in these parts).

Il Fornello in Toronto, Ontario

This local Italian chain always stocks rice pasta and gluten-free Quejos pizza crust at all of its locations. Il Fornello also offers great salads (the naturally gluten-free Roma salad is a solid bet, with its mix of greens, goat cheese, walnuts, and roasted peppers), and a reasonably priced list of wines by the glass, including several from Ontario wineries.

Reader Report: Burleson and Fort Worth, Texas

I’d like to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who entered the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest. It means a lot to have readers sharing their own expertise with traveling and dining out gluten-free. This one from Cynthia Ross is particularly terrific. Thanks so much, Cynthia!

Burleson and Fort Worth by Cynthia Ross

What can be more stressful than moving halfway across the country? Leaving everything you know and soon after learning you must also entirely change the way you eat. After relocating to Texas from California, I was already skeptical that I could find the fresh organic vegetables and free-from junk food that I was accustomed buying. Then I learned I had to give up gluten and dairy. The only place these things were available when I left Texas 14 years ago was in Whole Foods Market and that is quite a drive from our little town. Fortunately we do have some options.

HEB in Burleson has a reasonable selection of gluten-free, organic, and natural products. However, their organic fresh produce section is not up to par in my opinion. Their organic fruit is often not fresh enough to last more than a day or two and the selection of organic fruits and vegetables is slim. There is also a small 24-hour market called Tiger Farms, which has a good selection of gluten-free food and stocks fresh organic vegetables purchased from the Dallas Farmers Market each week. Their produce tends to be much fresher, better quality, and less expensive than HEB.

Eating out is a little tougher. Although there are restaurants with gluten-free menus in the area, they seem to cater to those on the diet by choice. The responses to my queries about the prevention of cross-contamination make me very leery of eating around here. But hope is not lost! Fort Worth is a mere 25 minutes away.

After living without sushi for over a year, we discovered Shinjuku Station near downtown Fort Worth. Not only do they have a dedicated gluten-free menu (delicious!), they only choose fish that are sustainably fished and use very fresh ingredients. The owners, chef, and wait staff is very knowledgeable, completely understanding of our food issues, and never make us feel like we are a bother. They always make us feel welcome and I know I am safe eating there.

A couple of other places we enjoy are the Mellow Mushroom near TCU and Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth. The Mellow Mushroom has a dedicated gluten-free pizza menu with a gluten-free vegan crust. It is better than most gluten-free pizzas that I’ve tried but I quickly get bored with it. I’m sure it would be much better with cheese but I can’t have it and cannot stand vegan cheese. Sorry, but there is no substitute for real cheese. If you do eat here, make sure you confirm that your pizza is gluten-free when they bring it to your table. Mistakes have happened.

Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth has upscale Mexican cuisine. It is delicious. The prices are decent and they are very accommodating. The chips, salsa and guacamole are gluten-free and they have a dedicated gluten-free menu. If you are also dairy intolerant, the chef can make those items without the dairy products. I especially enjoy their steak or chicken fajitas. A bonus is that margaritas, champagne and wine are half-price on Thursdays during happy hour.

That said, my favorite gluten-free place is my own kitchen. My husband and I are both good cooks – he has only accidentally poisoned me once. I can eat our cooking without fear and my “limitations” have forced me to become more adventurous in my food choices. By taking our own food with us, we can eat whenever and wherever we want which can lead to some interesting adventures. Just this weekend, we popped into Luckenback, TX on a whim to eat our lunch and discovered there was a Waylon Jennings birthday celebration. If we had gone to a restaurant, I would never have learned what “Chicken-poop bingo” was or met that cool steer named “Tumbleweed.”

Gluten-Free Around NYC’s Grand Hyatt

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There’s not a lot of good I can say about a New York City summer, but one highlight is always ThrillerFest. It’s been described as “summer camp for thriller readers, fans, writers and industry professionals.” Every year, it brings some of my favorite writers to the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan for several days. In the past, other gluten-free attendees have asked me where to dine in the area, and I wanted to share my list, since there are a lot of conferences at the Grand Hyatt throughout the year. I’ve also mapped out the locations with Google Maps. If you find spots to add, please let me know!

S’mac: There’s now an outpost of this delicious, reasonably priced mac-and-cheese restaurant in Murray Hill. It’s a nine-block walk south of the Grand Hyatt, or you can hop on the 6 train at 42nd Street and travel one stop downtown to 33rd Street. It’s well worth it. Given that conference meals can take place at weird times, this is a great spot to keep in mind, since it’s open from 11am to 11pm daily (closing time is 1am on Friday and Saturday nights).

Dig Inn: This health-focused local chain has a few tables, but mostly it does a take-out business. Its 275 Madison location starts serving breakfast at 7am, then switches to a combined lunch/dinner menu for the rest of the day (until 9pm). Check out this chart for GF and allergy information, as well as vegan options.

Chipotle: This is my go-to fast-food spot. Avoid the tortillas, which are made with wheat flour, but the burrito bowl and all its potential ingredients are gluten-free. The chain provides some helpful food-allergy information on its site. There are three locations within a stone’s throw of the Grand Hyatt: 150 East 44th St. (between Lexington and Third), 274 Madison Avenue (between 39th and 40th), and 9 West 42nd Street (between Fifth and Sixth).

Hale & Hearty: I know it’s hot out, but if you’re still craving soup for lunch, this chain has an outpost in Grand Central itself. Daily options change, but you can usually count on a gluten-free broccoli cheddar and the GF and dairy-free Thai chicken.

4Food: Usually, I only mention spots I’ve visited, but this one was just recommended to me. 4Food makes everything from scratch, including its gluten-free pressed-rice bun. I’m looking forward to checking it out!

Bloom’s Deli: I have to be honest: while I love basic diner food, I’m not thrilled with what’s served up here. Still, I appreciate that the place offers a gluten-free menu, which includes omelets, pancakes, burgers and sandwiches.

Bistango: Almost every item on the menu of this Italian restaurant in Murray Hill can be prepared in a gluten-free version. There’s plenty of gluten-free pizza and pasta dishes, as well as meatier offerings like  rack of lamb. What really makes a meal at Bistango stand out is the graciousness of its staff. The owner, Anthony, goes back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen, talking to everyone and making sure that diners are comfortable. This is a gem.

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. It’s a little far to go for lunch, but a great spot for a post-conference dinner.

Dos Caminos: If I’m having dinner with a group that includes people with various food allergies and intolerances, this is one of my favorite spots. The cuisine is modern Mexican, and the service is incredibly accommodating.

Pip’s Place — The Gluten-Free Cakery: I’m not going to recommend that you have a slice of banana layer cake, a chocolate cupcake, or a raspberry pinwheel cookie for lunch… but if you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, this dedicated gluten-free bakery is just the spot, especially since it’s only three blocks south of the Grand Hyatt.

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The Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest is open until July 15th. Enter now!

Reader Report: Lucifer’s Pizza in Los Angeles

While I was in Los Angeles in March on my book tour, I heard about a great gluten-free pizza place called Lucifer’s, but I didn’t have time to check it out. Fortunately, reader Laura Smith did, and she wrote this report for the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest (which will be open to entries until July 15, 2013, so send yours in soon!).

Lucifer’s Pizza by Laura Smith

I visited Los Angeles, California, for 2 weeks in April and went for pizza to Lucifer’s. It is one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten, including pre-gluten free! The crust was crispy and sooo very flavorful. Many people order it instead of the regular because it tastes so yummy. I had the Hot Chick (chicken, black pepper, pepperoni, green bell pepper, garlic, onion, tomato & hot chili sauce) personal size and ate it all! The flavors were so perfectly matched with the meat,carmelized onion, peppers and sauce and after four years of going without a good pizza I was in heaven. I cannot recommend it enough. Lucifer’s also offers dairy-free options for the cheese. Their gluten-free crusts are from Venice Bakery and you can order them online. 5 stars for this pizza!

Scottsdale Is Delicious

Hotel Valley Ho evening

I’m on tour right now for my third novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, which was released by Tor/Forge on March 5th, 2013. Evil is a crime novel that features my travel-writing, crime-solving heroine Lily Moore (who first appeared in the Anthony Award-winning The Damage Done); this time, she’s on a press trip to Acapulco when another journalist disappears. The book has been earning rave reviews, and articles about me have been featured in the National Post and the Toronto Star. I’ll be in Austin (BookPeople, March 26, 7pm), Houston (Murder by the Book, March 27, 6:30pm), Chicago (The Book Cellar, April 4, 7pm), Milwaukee (Mystery One, April 6, noon), Minneapolis (Once Upon a Crime, March 8, 7pm) and Toronto (Ben McNally Books, March 18, 6pm). Details about the events are online. If I’m visiting your city, I hope you’ll come say hello!

It’s been a whirlwind so far, but one thing I love about being on the road is discovering great places to eat. So far, Scottsdale wins the prize for best food. I was there for a couple of days after appearing at the Tucson Festival of Books and before speaking at the Poisoned Pen. Here are the places that impressed me:

  • Sauce Pizza & Wine: When I landed at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, I was starving. Fortunately I discovered this spot before I started gnawing on a protein bar. The gluten-free pepperoni-and-porcini pizza I had was so good I pretty much inhaled it. Can you believe I’m looking forward to going back just to eat at the airport? Fortunately, Sauce has several locations throughout Arizona, including Tucson, Chandler, Mesa, and Scottsdale.
  • Citizen Public House: Nestled in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, this spot was a little tricky to find, but it was worth the trouble. The menu is annotated with gluten-free labels, and options include a salad of local field greens with cashews, dried cranberries, goat cheese, grape tomatoes and mustard-fig vinaigrette, and smoked duck breast with creamy rosemary millet, spiced pistachios, and sauteed greens (I can personally recommend both). Next time I’m on tour, I’m trying the butternut squash chowder and the buttermilk roasted chicken.
  • Old Town Tortilla Factory: Neon margaritas and a gluten-free menu? What more could you want? The green enchilada with chicken is simple but perfect.
  • Cafe Zuzu at the Hotel Valley Ho: The menu didn’t mention gluten-free, but the restaurant’s staff is well-trained and thoughtful. They are able to quickly point out celiac-safe options and make modifications wherever necessary. I loved the tomato and cucumber salad in a balsamic vinaigrette and grilled bone-in pork chop.
  • Dottie’s True Blue Cafe: I’m not as enamored of this breakfast spot, since the kitchen placed wheat toast atop my gluten-free omelette. However, I’m including them because the staff was very responsive and helpful when I explained to them why I couldn’t eat the omelette, and they cooked up a fresh one for me. They also serve up excellent gluten-free pancakes. I’m hoping that they’ll be more careful going forward. If you eat there, please let me know!
  • Los Sombreros Cafe & Cantina: I’m cheating a bit by including this restaurant, since I was there last time I was in Scottsdale. Still, it serves up excellent Mexican cuisine, has a beautiful outdoor patio, and I meant to write about it already.

My friend Liisa has given me a list of gluten-free spots to try in Scottsdale next time. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Gluten-Free

I can’t believe my third novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, will be out in three weeks. I haven’t even finished writing about all of the places I hit when I was on my book tour for my second novel, The Next One to Fall. Case in point: Denver, Colorado. I’d never visited the Mile-High City before, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was a gluten-free mecca.

My stay in Denver was all too brief (when I’m touring, I often get only 24 to 48 hours in a city, sometimes less). But I was lucky enough to stay at the stunning Castle Marne Bed & Breakfast (pictured above), which gave me an incredibly warm welcome. Located in the historic Raymond House, a three-story stone mansion that dates back to 1889, the B&B is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever stayed. I’d told them in advance that I have celiac disease, and they assured me they’d have no trouble accommodating that. They weren’t kidding — they offered me gluten-free snacks and, at breakfast, had gluten-free bread and blueberry muffins ready. The staff are incredibly kind and thoughtful.

I wish I could recommend Encore, the fabulous restaurant where I had dinner before my event at the Tattered Cover Bookstore, but it closed about a month after I visited Denver. Naked Pizza, just around the corner from Castle Marne, closed up shop as well. Fortunately, the Tattered Cover itself is still going strong, and that includes its excellent café, which offers gluten-free and vegan treats. Denver overall has an abundance of dining options for the gluten-intolerant. Some places that were recommended to me (and are still in operation!):

  • 3 Guys Pies: Their claim to fame is their New York-style pizza, hand-tossed and baked right on the stone. Offerings include gluten-free pizzas, and they’ll deliver for free within a two-mile radius of their location on Capital Hill.
  • Cucina Colore: Contemporary Italian cuisine, complete with gluten-free pasta and other main-course options
  • Lime: a local chain with multiple locations, all offering Mexican staples, from corn-based flautas to ceviche
  • Modmarket: Another small local chain, health-conscious Modmarket offers a gluten-free menu, complete with salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and soups
  • Phat Thai: I love how this restaurant describes itself: “This isn’t a traditional Thai restaurant. We are not Thai. We’re not even Asian. Not even close. Hell, we’ve only visited Thailand!” I love the honesty, and their willingness to accommodate gluten-free diners (much of the menu is naturally gluten-free; some dishes require modification)

Denver also has several gluten-free bakeries, including:

  • Deby’s Gluten-Free: a dedicated gluten-free, peanut-free, and shellfish-free kitchen that offers cooking classes as well as a long list of products (more than a dozen different breads, English muffins, pizza crusts, hotdog buns, cakes, pies, cookies). Deby’s goods are carried by a number of restaurants and grocery stores in and around Denver (check out this list for more celiac-safe places to eat in the city)
  • The Gluten Escape: I love how the spot describes itself: “Our mission is to give people a place to find great food without unwanted ingredients! Welcome to choice, welcome to creativity, and welcome to a place where food differences are no big deal.” The Gluten Escape is also soy-free, dairy-free, and vegan, and can accommodate other dietary restrictions.

Next time, I need to spend more time in Denver. I’ll be back there on March 20th, reading from Evil in All Its Disguises at the Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch Bookstore at 7:30pm. If you’re in the area, please stop by to say hello!

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Evil in All Its Disguises will be published by Forge on March 5th, 2013 (it will be released as a hardcover, eBook, and audiobook that day). I’m giving away advance copies via my author newsletter; if you want to enter the draw, all you have to do is sign up. Book reviewers who are registered with NetGalley can download a copy right now. My second novel, The Next One to Fall, will be released in a paperback edition on February 12, 2012; there is a giveaway on GoodReads right now. Also, for a limited time, the eBook price of my award-winning debut novel, The Damage Done, is down to just $2.99. If you’re a mystery reader, I hope you’ll check out the series.

Cleveland Rocks!

Last month, I was in Cleveland, Ohio, for Bouchercon, the massive, magnificent crime-fiction conference that takes place in a different North American city every autumn. It was my first visit to the town known as both The Rock ‘n’ Roll Capital of the World (thanks to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was a joy to visit) and The Forest City (a truly apt name — from the plane, Cleveland looked like a forest with gorgeous buildings nestled under the foliage).

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to expect on the food front, so I was thrilled to discover that gluten-free awareness has hit Cleveland big-time. One restaurant that absolutely wowed me was Lola Bistro, which fans of “Iron Chef” may already have heard of; I don’t watch the show, so the name Michael Symon didn’t mean anything to me. Fortunately, I was hanging out with better-informed people! My friend Katrina Niidas Holm (whose husband is terrific crime novelist Chris F. Holm) is an “Iron Chef” aficionada, and she sussed out the spot and made reservations.

Lola Bistro has very low lighting, so it took a little while for my eyes to adjust and pick out the “GF” notation next to many, many dishes on the menu. (Unfortunately, this isn’t reflected on the version of the menu that’s currently online, but — trust me — there are plenty of gluten-free choices.) I had the root vegetable salad with feta, red onion, dill, Marcona almonds, and mint, followed by the smoked Hampshire pork chop accompanied by a decadently cheesy polenta. You’d better believe Michael Symon is now firmly on my radar.

Lola Bistro [address] 2058 East 4th Street, Cleveland, Ohio [tel]  216-621-5652 [web] lolabistro.com

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News on the crime-fiction front: I was at Bouchercon to talk about my second novel, The Next One to Fall, a thriller set in Peru. It’s out now as a hardcover and an e-book; in February 2013, it will be released in paperback. On March 5, 2013, my third novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, will be released by Tor/Forge in the United States and Canada. Want to win an advance copy? There are 10 up for grabs over at GoodReads. Enter the giveaway now.

When “Gluten Free” Means “Danger”

By now, you’ve probably heard that Domino’s rolled out a gluten-free pizza a couple of weeks ago. It was a clever marketing ploy, since May is Celiac Awareness Month, and the demand for gluten-free products is growing; the new pizza crust was covered by news organizations including ABC, CBS, NBC and USA Today. Unfortunately, Domino’s move was nothing but a cynical attempt to cash in on gluten-free consumers. Its “gluten free” pizza isn’t actually safe for celiacs or gluten-intolerant people.

If you want to read an account of the debacle, check out these articles from The Consumerist and Nation’s Restaurant News, and this particularly perceptive piece from Daily Finance. At the core of Domino’s problem is that, while they developed a pizza crust that is gluten-free, the company’s sketchy kitchen practices mean that cross-contamination with wheat is pretty much a given. As a result, Domino’s claims the pizza is for people with “mild gluten sensitivity.” Yes, you read that right. Even Daily Finance was stunned: “Seriously? Is this a tease? Why even offer gluten-free crusts without reorienting kitchens to cook them separately from crusts slathered in flour and wheat dough — exactly the ingredients that keep most celiac sufferers from even thinking about ordering a pizza? No wonder the Center for Celiac Research is recommending that those with gluten-related disorders avoid the new Domino’s crusts.”

This isn’t the first time a national chain has marketed a “gluten-free” product that was unsafe — remember California Pizza Kitchen? But to me, the most disheartening part of the Domino’s story is that its gluten-free pizza received a seal of approval from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Specifically, Domino’s received something called an “Amber designation” from the NFCA. What’s an Amber designation? It’s a bizarre middle ground between Green (safe) and Red (unsafe) in the tiered credentialing system the NFCA launched in April 2012. Basically, it means that the NFCA was well aware that Domino’s “gluten-free” pizza wasn’t safe for celiacs, but the organization gave it a seal of approval anyway.

I’d be the first to say that the NFCA has done good work in the past. The organization has a terrific program to educate restaurant staffs about celiac-safe practices. But I will never again be able to look at anything that has received the NFCA’s seal of approval without suspicion. I trusted that an NFCA seal of approval meant a restaurant or product was safe for celiacs; I will never make that mistake again.

Thanks to a tremendous outcry from the celiac and gluten-free community (people like Shirley at GFE) — and a petition organized by the terrific people behind @1in133 — the NFCA has suspended use of its Amber Designation. In its public statement, the NFCA said: “Given the public response and recent developments in this field, NFCA is suspending the use of “Amber” designation to describe a restaurant or foodservices establishment. We will conduct a review to determine the most effective and clearest way to warn the community of the risk of cross-contamination and the use of the phrase ‘Gluten Free.'”

A big part of the problem is that, in the US, there is still no official designation of what gluten free means (the FDA is still working on that). The implications are frightening; to quote the American Celiac Disease Alliance: “Almost everyone with celiac disease or a related gluten-disorder knows that currently there are no gluten free labeling requirements in the United States, and that consumers are routinely misled by inappropriate labeling.”

It seems that Domino’s, and the NFCA, are determined to keep on misleading consumers. When I checked Domino’s updated FAQs about its “gluten-free” pizza after it lost its NFCA “Amber” designation, here’s what I found:

Q: What are the NFCA’s “Great Kitchen Standards” and how is Domino’s rated?

A: The NFCA supports Domino’s efforts to provide a Gluten Free Crust to a national audience and has given Domino’s a “Gluten Free Ingredients” rating. The NFCA granted Domino’s this rating because of our verified ingredients, consumer education approach and customer service training. This means the NFCA and Domino’s do not recommend this pizza for people with celiac disease. However, because the risk for gluten exposure is low, this product may be an option for those with mild gluten sensitivities. While the Gluten Free Crust contains no gluten ingredients, a risk of gluten exposure can occur due to the handcrafted nature of the pizza and the variety of procedures in the kitchen.

I searched the NFCA’s website to find out what a “Gluten Free Ingredients” rating is, and I couldn’t find any mention of it. However, I did find this NFCA statement about Domino’s:

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness supports Domino’s efforts to meet the needs of the gluten-free community. However, we want to make sure all customers are fully informed about Domino’s practices and the potential risks of cross-contact.

Please be advised all of Domino’s menu items, including pizza made with Gluten Free Crust, are prepared in a common kitchen. While the Gluten Free Crust contains no gluten ingredients, there is a risk of gluten exposure. NFCA supports the availability of Gluten Free Crust at Domino’s, but CANNOT recommend the pizza for customers with celiac disease or any gluten-related disorder.

Working with NFCA, Domino’s recognizes its current operational model cannot – beyond all doubt – provide the environment needed to assure those with celiac disease that its pizzas are 100% gluten-free. Domino’s would rather be honest and transparent with what this product is and is not, than risk a consumer ordering this product under false pretenses.

“Honest and transparent” is not at all what I’d call this mess. Not by a long shot.

Viva Las Vegas!

Las Vegas’s official motto is “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but I was there for a few days in December, and you wouldn’t expect me to keep secrets about where I dined, would you? I’m thrilled to report that the Strip is filled with an ever-expanding array of gluten-free options. Here are some of of the places I enjoyed:

Mon Ami Gabi: This Parisian-style bistro is directly across the Strip from the Bellagio’s fountains, so you get a spectacular show every half-hour. The gluten-free menu was just as impressive to me, and I ate at the restaurant twice: once for dinner (with decadently cheesy French onion soup and lovely steak frites) and once for lunch (for a savory burger with a gluten-free bun… and more frites). Every gluten-free guest is automatically served warm GF bread, which was a delight (that was something Mon Ami Gabi didn’t offer the last time I was in Vegas, in 2009). In Paris Resort & Casino [address] 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-944-4224.

Border Grill: Located at the south end of the Strip, this restaurant also offers a separate gluten-free menu. The dishes are on the heavy side, but you didn’t come to Vegas for health reasons, did you? The queso fundido was served up as a starter, but it almost made an entire meal, with its gooey mix of melted manchego, panela, asadero, and Oaxacan string cheeses, served with chorizo and roasted poblano peppers. Don’t ask me how, but I still found room for the Kobe beef tacos, too. In Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino [address] 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-632-7403.

Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare: Located at the Wynn, this was a break-the-bank kind of meal, but the incredible fish is worth it (the “catch of the day” is literally flown in fresh each day). On the phone, I was told there was a gluten-free menu, but I was disappointed when I first saw it, because what I saw was a small booklet with all of 10 dishes listed inside. However, that turned out to be simply a list of the plates that are naturally gluten-free, and the chef was happy to modify almost anything on the menu to make it celiac-safe. The restaurant overlooks a private lagoon, making for an exceptionally romantic setting, too. In Wynn Las Vegas [address] 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-770-3463.

Aria Buffet: I’m a little afraid of buffets, to tell you the truth. There’s so often a risk of accidental cross-contamination — all it takes is for a careless guest to use the same serving tongs on a mix of gluten-full and gluten-free different dishes to ruin the latter ones. That’s why the Aria was such a pleasant surprise. I was there for brunch, and the fresh omelette station was a welcome find. Overall, the buffet was well organized, so that fruit salad was far away from cereals, lessening the risk of cross-contamination. Located in the Aria [address] 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 877-230-2742.

P.F. Chang’s: I’m still wishing a P.F. Chang’s would open in Manhattan. The restaurant has an Asian-inspired gluten-free menu with plenty of choice for starters and mains, and two options for dessert: rich chocolate mousse or a dark-chocolate-and-raspberry cake. Located in Planet Hollywood [address] 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-836-0955.

Maggiano’s Little Italy: My first time dining here, and I loved it. Gluten-free guests automatically get a visit from a sous-chef at their table, so their (many) options are clearly pointed out. I’m officially a fan of the “Rigatoni D” (with chicken, caramelized onions, mushrooms and a marsala cream sauce). Located in Fashion Show Mall [address] 3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-220-4185

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I have book news: my debut novel, The Damage Done, is now out in paperback in the U.S. and Canada! You can see its beautiful new cover, watch a video interview with me about the book, and enter a contest for a signed copy.

My second novel, The Next One to Fall, will be released on Valentine’s Day 2012. It’s a murder mystery set in Peru, and it’s already getting wonderful reviews. There’s a special contest for people who pre-order the book, and for every copy that is ordered before the release date, I’m donating a dollar to Heifer. I’m also planning a book tour that will take me back to Houston, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and that will introduce me to Austin, Denver, and San Diego. Hope to see you while I’m on the road!

Spectacular St. Louis

In September, I attended the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in St. Louis. I had an amazing time for many reasons, including the fact that my debut novel, The Damage Done, won two awards! At the opening ceremonies, I was presented with the Crimespree Award for Best First Novel; then at the close of the conference, I discovered I’d won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It was a dream come true for me in so many ways, and I want to say a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who has supported my fiction. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

While I was in St. Louis, I had some memorable gluten-free meals. Bouchercon took place at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel (which did a fabulous job with the Anthony Awards brunch). Here’s a list of the restaurants I discovered while I was in town:

Rooster: If you’re looking for a gluten-free crepe in downtown St. Louis, you’re in luck. Rooster describes itself as a European-style cafe, and it has a lovely Old World ambiance in its design (plus sidewalk seating in warm weather). But the crepes are what I remember best, and I split two with my dining companion: the savory Bacon #2, which is made with Vermont cheddar and caramelized onions, and the sweet Nutella crepe with strawberries. Even writing about them now is making my mouth water. [address] 1104 Locust Street, St. Louis [tel] 314-241-8118

Copia Urban Winery: My publisher, Tor/Forge, hosts a dinner every year at Bouchercon — and the thoughtful editor who organizes it always asks me to check out the place in advance to make sure I’ll be able to find gluten-free options. Copia was a stone’s throw from the conference hotel, and it boasted a menu filled with fresh produce and a staff that was well-versed in potential cross-contamination issues. I had the Copia Salad (mixed greens with a red-wine-soaked onion, plus tomato, and goat cheese, hold the crostini), and a filet of beef tenderloin with grilled vegetables. [address] 1122 Washington Avenue, St. Louis  [tel] 314-241-9463

Mango Peruvian Cuisine: Having visited Peru, I know that authentic Peruvian cuisine is generally celiac-friendly (it’s based on corn, potatoes, and quinoa). Still, North American interpretations of Peruvian cuisine aren’t always as easy to navigate. Mango had a number of great options, though, including ceviche, salad, and spicy-yet-sweet chicken breast topped with mango and red pepper. The restaurant also boasted the best pisco sour I’ve had since I was in Peru! [address] 1101 Lucas Avenue, St. Louis [tel] 314-621-9993

Culinaria: Is it strange to include a supermarket? Not if it’s Culinaria. Its fresh-food department had a Greek salad that made for a quick gluten-free meal when I needed one (since it was conveniently packaged, I also brought one to the airport with me after the convention). There’s cafe seating upstairs (and in front of the store, in good weather). There’s also plenty of gluten-free food — crackers, cookies, etc. — in its grocery aisles. [address] 315 North 9th St., St. Louis [tel] 314-436-7694

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More book news: My second novel is called The Next One to Fall; it will be published in the US and Canada on Valentine’s Day 2012. It’s a mystery set in Peru, and it’s already getting some wonderful praise from novelists such as Laura Lippman and Meg Gardiner. There are 10 advance copies up for grabs in the GoodReads giveaway (entering the giveaway is free; all you need is a mailing address in the US or Canada). I’m already planning my book tour, with dates in New York City, Houston, Austin, Scottsdale, and other cities.