Saturday, July 16, 2016

Thirsty Owl Revisited

One of our favorite places to visit in the summer is Thirsty Owl Winery on Cayuga Lake in Ovid, NY.  In addition to their excellent wines (and owl-themed souvenirs) they also have a lovely bistro open for lunch (and dinner on the weekends).
Marisa displays some owl-themed merchandise
Cathy says:
The Bistro at Thirsty Owl Winery in the Finger Lakes Region of NY has a new chef.  His name is Sean Agate and he is a wonderful addition to the area if you are eating gluten free -- or if you are not.  In the past six weeks I have eaten at The Bistro five times and have had a spectacular meal every time.  My personal favorite is the scallops.  There are three very large scallops topped with a tiny bit of caviar.  The vegetable garnishes and the sauce are works of art, tasty and fun to look at. There is also salmon on the menu as red snapper. There is a sirloin serving too, if you are looking for beef.  I admit that I would have liked one of the pulled pork sandwiches and the salted caramel ice cream, neither gluten free, but I cannot complain that I did not eat well at every meal. The Bistro is only open 11:00 to 5:00 Sunday through Thursday, and open till 7:00 on Friday and Saturday.

Scallops at Thirsty Owl Bistro
Sandy says:
I love sitting on the deck at the Thirsty Owl Bistro.  They had some interesting drinks that I considered trying, but in the end I stuck with my favorite wine: Diamond.  This is not a wine for those who like dry, fancy wines.  This is more of a "welch's grape juice with a kick" kind of wine.  Very sweet and fruity, perfect for sipping on a porch on a warm summer's day.
Sandy on the deck at Thirsty's
I wasn't very hungry the day were were there, so I opted for a light lunch of Creamy Roasted Potato Soup.  It was delicious -- perfect to just get a little something in your belly before moving on the wine tasting.  
Soup at Thirsty Owl Bistro

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gluten Free in Times Square

There is a lot to love about Times Square and the surrounding theater district.  The plays are fantastic, the lights and colors are energizing, there are sights and sounds everywhere.

On the other hand, it is a tourist trap, complete with aggressive hawkers shoving flyers in your face or trying to sell you fake tickets.  

In general, it seems like New Yorkers do not think much of the food in the theater district, and even less of the food at Times Square.  However, we had little ones with us, who can't walk very far, are hard to take on the subway, and there were too many of us to fit in a cab.  We needed food near our hotel, which was the Hilton Times Square, (not to be confused with the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square -- that is a different hotel).  The Hilton Times Square is directly next door to Madame Tussauds wax museum.

A few yards from the hotel (40th and 8th) was Schnippers, a burger joint/ quick service restaurant that has a gluten free menu.  You need to ask for it, it is not posted, but it is extensive.  All the burgers and sandwiches can be made with a gluten free bun.  You can add chicken, fish or grilled turkey to a salad (make sure you specify no croutons).  The fish & chips, chicken tenders, and fries are made with a gluten free batter and can be fried in non-glutinated oil (you must ask them to do this, otherwise it will be made in the cross contaminated fryer).  All the shakes and ice cream (except cookies & cream, obviously) are gluten free.  Wow.

I took the advice of several online bloggers who recommended the Schnipper's Chicken Filet, a crunchy fried chicken sandwich that comes with pickles and Schnipper's Sauce.  I was leery of the special sauce, not for gluten reasons, just because I am picky with my sauces, so I skipped it, but that left me with a sandwich that was kind of dry.  

The next day we came back and I had a burger with cheese and tomatoes, and that was a much better choice for me.  Still, while this was pretty decent gluten free burger, I wouldn't have gone back for more.

So why did we come back the next day?  Because the children demanded it.  Little David, who is 4 years old and gluten intolerant was so happy with his chicken fingers that he cried when it was time to leave, sobbing for more chicken!  He and his mother ate there three times over the course of our 4 day trip.  Definitely the perfect choice for a gluten free toddler.

GF Chicken Tenders at Schnippers

Waiting for our meal at Schnippers
We ate at another burger place, The Counter, not far away at 41st and Broadway.  Their website says that the fries are gluten free; however, our server advised us that is not always true.  On this particular occassion, they had been frying something else in the oil, so it was cross contaminated.  Bonus points to the server for knowing that and telling me!

I had a 1/3 pound beef burger on a gluten free bun with garlic aioli, tomatoes, avacado, and cheddar cheese, medium rare.  It was awesome.  One of the best burgers I ever ate.  So yummy.  I also had a milk shake with chocolate and marshmallow fluff, which was good, but probably not worth the calories.
GF at Counter Burger in Times Square

One night we were too tired to go out and brave the crowds, so we ordered pizza from Don Antonio's and had it delivered to the hotel.  It was, as my sister-in-law says, "snooty pizza."  In other words, it was fancy gourmet Neopolitan-style pizza, not your standard Domino's type pizza.  That is perfect for me, but not so much for little David.  In the interest of trying something new and different, I ordered a Montanara Starita -- fried pizza dough topped with tomato sauce, smoked buffalo mozzerella, and basil.  The crust was very rich, due to the saturation of oil, but delicious.  I actually liked it even better the next morning when I ate it cold, with my Starbucks latte.

GF pizza from Don Antonio's

David did better at John's Pizzeria, which offered a thin crust, wood fired, gluten free pizza.  It was also right next door to the theater where Something Rotten is playing, so if you are heading to that theater (St. James), this would be the perfect spot to grab a pre- or post dinner pizza.

While David was eating at John's, I was spending the evening in a more upscale environment.  I took the two older children (13 and 14) to Etcetera, Etcetera, a cute little Italian bistro near 44th and 8th.  We were heading to the theater with a 7 pm curtain time, and arrived at 5:30.  They asked us what time our show was and presented us with the bill at precisely 6:45, so as to give us time to get to the theater.  Perfect!

I had an excellent risotto, with asparagus, peas, and pecorino cheese.  It was supposed to have mushrooms as well, but when I mentioned that I didn't care for mushrooms, the waiter told me he could have them on the side, but insisted that I try one, as these are particularly good mushrooms. I ate the risotto without mushrooms, but I did pass them to my son, who appreciated them.

We had dessert, at the instance of the teenagers, and I was glad we did, because my chocolate pudding with hazelnuts was one of the most insanely delicious things I have ever had.  Wow.

GF Risotto at Etc Etc in NYC
The bottom line is, with some research and a willingness to spend NYC prices, there is delicious GF food to be found in Times Square, without resorting to TGI Friday's or one of the other chain restaurants you can find in any town in the USA.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Gluten Free Under the Lemon Tree

On the island of Capri, we dined at one of the most unique restaurants we've ever had the pleasure of experiencing -- Da Paolino.

Wow!  This stunning restaurant is in the middle of a lemon grove, with huge lemons hanging off the trees all above and around you.  There were so many lemons that I was slightly worried that one would fall down and hit one of us, but no incidents occurred.  Don't worry about rain either -- the restaurant has a retractable roof to switch from dining indoors to al fresco as needed!

Caroline and Brandon at Da Paolino, dining under the lemon trees.
Da Paolino koi pond

Lemon Trees at Da Paolino

I started with an excellent mojito, and they brought me some GF bread and crackers.

GF crackers at Da Paolino
The waiter was very helpful in going over the menu with me.  They had both GF spaghetti and penne pastas available, and I chose to go with the penne in a lemon cream sauce.  It seemed appropriate to go with something lemon flavored, after all.  I worred that the lemon would be overpowering, but instead it was very subtle and delicate.  Lovely.

Penne in Lemon Cream Sauce

I thought that there would be nothing on the dessert buffet for me, but amazingly there were a surprising number of things I could eat.  I was incredulous as the waiter took me through and showed me a creme caramel, panna cotta, chocolate pudding, coconut cookies, and two types Torte Caprese (gluten free almond cake) -- lemon and chocolate.  There were also large bowls of beautiful berries and mounds of whipped cream.  

Dessert Buffet at Da Paolino

The Torte was a little dry, but was improved by adding the whipped cream.  The creme caramel was just ok, and the chocolate pudding was a little too rich for my tastes, but the panna cotta with raspberry sauce was a real winner.  Eating the torte was probably a bit risky from a cross-contamination standpoint, but the pudding/caramel/panna cotta were in individual dishes, which is really nice.

I left in physical pain from eating so much, and I only regretted that I couldn't go back for more!  If you are in Capri, this is an experience not to be missed.

Colin and Caroline at Da Paolino


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Gluten Free Capri

The next stop on our tour of Italy was the fabulous island of Capri.  Our tour book snarkily said that tourists flock to Capri looking for the rich and famous, finding only their prices.  There's probably some truth to that, but the other side of the island -- Anacapri -- is surprisingly affordable by comparison, and far more down-to-earth.

Our hotel, in Anacapri, was the Hotel Girisole.  They did not have a restaurant but they did have a free breakfast buffet.  It was your typical European breakfast with pastries, coffee, lunch meats and cheese.  I had yogurt.

Just down the street was the Pizzeria Aumm Aumm where the staff could not have been more friendly.  They were open to eat in the middle of the afternoon (3 pm), which is pretty much unheard of in Italy.  We were famished and enormously grateful that they would feed us.

They had both gluten free pizza and pasta available, and I chose pizza.  The crust was... gluten free.  Not great, but I've had worse.  The cheese and sauce were delicious.  My non-GF hubby loved his meal here and we all loved that it was close to the hotel and not terribly expensive.

The next day, we took a boat ride around Capri.  Most of the tours leave from the larger Marina Grande, but this one left from Marina Piccola on the other side of the island.
Caroline and Brandon boating around Capri

The kids all loved the boat ride.  After it was over, we ate at a restaurant in Marina Piccola called Lo Scoglio delle Sirene.    Stunningly beautiful, it sits on an outcropping of rock with the water on three sides of it.  It is, without a doubt, the prettiest place I have eaten in.  The food gets mixed reviews.  They did have gf pasta available, but I chose to go with a Caprese Salad, a safe but forgettable choice.  The non-seafood eaters were less than impressed with their meals, but those who ordered seafood were in heaven.

Caprese in Capri

Mark and Colin at Le Sirene

Outside the restaurant was a little gelato stand.  In addition to gelato, they sold  ice cream pops (like the kind you get from an ice-cream truck) and the strawberries and cream pop was clearly labeled "senza glutina" on the sign.  Yum!

We also had a meal in the main piazza of Capri at a place called La Palma, which was part of a hotel. We ate outside on the patio and watched the well-heeled tourists go by.  This is the expensive part of the island, and boy did we pay for our location.  Nevertheless, I was happy with my food (a steak with marinara sauce) and they brought me gluten free rolls too!  I foolishly ordered a Torte Caprese, a traditional almond cake native to Capri, even though I was really too full to eat it.  It was delicious, but I pretty much had to be rolled home afterwards.

La Palma Restaurant in Capri

GF Pizza in Naples

Ah, Napoli!  The birthplace of pizza.  I had feared that I wouldn't get to enjoy a slice of pizza in Naples, but a change of plans brought us into Naples at dinner time.  On the advice of our wonderful concierge at Villa Signorini, we headed to Pizzeria Ciro a Santa Brigada.

Neapolitan Style pizza must, according to the True Neapolitan Pizza Association, have a hand kneaded crust (no rolling pins allowed), be baked in a wood fired oven, and must not exceed 35 cm in diameter.  The crust is soft and pliable.

My gluten free pizza at Pizzeria Ciro a Santa Brigada was nothing short of amazing.  Seriously, it was the best gluten free pizza I have ever had.  The crust was soft and chewy, nothing like the crisp cardboard that usually gets passed off as gluten free pizza.  It was perfect -- wood fired and topped with a flavorful sauce, tomatoes grown on Mt Vesuvius, and plenty of mozzarella cheese.

Pizza in Naples

I would strongly recommend that you call ahead to make a reservation and tell them that you want a gluten free pizza.  The hotel called for us, and they had the pizza ready to go into the oven when I arrived.  Perfect!

A couple of notes -- we passed another restaurant called Ciro in the harbor.  That is not the right restaurant.  You want Ciro a Santa Brigada.

Also, while you are there, stop into the Galleria Umberto I, just around the corner.  This shopping center seems to have fallen on hard times, but the architecture is amazing.
Galleria Umberto I in Naples

Tile mosaic on the floor of Galleria Umberto I


GF at the Villa Signorini Hotel in Ercolano

It should be said that we were not staying at "budget" hotels on this trip to Italy.  We chose the Villa Signorini Hotel in Ercolano because it was interesting and conveniently located to Herculaneum.  The Signorini is a 18th century villa which has been converted to a hotel.

While most of the rooms here are "ordinary" (and extremely affordable!), there are a few (significantly more expensive) suites on the upper floor that are truly astounding.  We occupied two suites (with 6 people).  One had a large room with a queen and a sofa bed, and the other had two bedrooms, each with a queen sized bed.

What made it so astounding was the frescos painted on the walls and ceilings.  Just imagine -- when you wake, the first things your eyes see are this ceiling.
Ceiling fresco at Villa Signorini
The other reason we chose this hotel was that their restaurant is certified by the Italian Celiac Association!!  The restaurant (Le Nuvole) is open to the public for lunch and dinner, and provides a breakfast buffet for hotel guests.

We ate dinner in the restaurant the night we arrived.  I had a pasta dish (substitute GF pasta) that was kind of like a lasagna without the layer-- the ricotta and tomato sauce were mixed together with the pasta.  I cannot remember what they called the dish, but the menu said it was classic Roman cuisine.  I enjoyed it, and it was the only pasta I was served in Rome that wasn't WAY too al dente for my tastes.  (I don't want mushy pasta, but I don't want it to chip my tooth either!)  We asked the server to recommend a wine, and his choice was excellent.  There was also some gluten free bread.
GF Pasta at Villa Signorini

Breakfast at the hotel was a more casual affair.  The buffet was very heavy on the sweets, including a GF chocolate torte, which was phenomenal.  The other cakes and sweets on the buffet were glutinous, so they brought me a selection of pre-packaged GF snacks including cookies, rice cakes, and plum cakes.  There was bacon and eggs available, as well as some deli meat and cheese.

We were back again the next day for lunch and I had a delicious bean soup served with a gluten free roll (much better than the bread they served the night before).  All in all, I felt the restaurant was above average and very convenient if you are staying at the hotel anyway.  Other dining options in Ercolano are pretty limited.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

GF in Rome at Taverna Barbarino

We chose the Taverna Barbarino for two reasons.
1) It had an extensive GF menu and
2) It was on the same square as the Convento dei Cappuccini, a crypt decorated with the bones of more than 4000 Cappuccini monks.

While the Convento dei Cappuccini is a "must do" for anyone traveling with teenagers who enjoy the macabre, the Taverno Barbarino is a "must do" for Celiacs.

They brought me GF bread, individually wrapped, so I knew it was safe from cross contamination, and told me that nearly everything on the menu could be made gluten free.  It was a very tough choice, but I decided to go with Pasta e Fagoli soup, as I used to really love that soup at the Olive Garden in my pre-GF days.  

This soup was not like the Olive Garden version, which is tomato-y, but was delicious nonetheless.  It was a hearty bean soup, served in a glass jar.  (I assume they have them pre-made in the jars and heat them up as needed.)

Pasta e Fagoli soup

The soup went well with the GF bread and with the Chianti we ordered.  This restaurant is where my son discovered that he is fond of Chianti.  Let's hope that doesn't become a problem.  :)

Colin's First Chianti 
I deliberately ordered a light lunch in order to save room for dessert.  Unfortunately, the GF tiramisu was forgettable and had a sort of sour flavor, but at least I got to try it.  If I ever make it back there, I will stick with the entrees.