Monday, October 31, 2011

Gluten Free in Balboa Park

Is there a better place to spend the morning than wandering through Balboa Park in San Diego?  Our plane landed around 10 am, and we didn't have to be up to Rancho Bernardo until evening, so we headed straight to Balboa Park.  No actual plan, just figured we'd find something to do when we got there.  We chose to go to the Museum of Man which has a wonderful permanent exhibit detailing the life of prehistoric man, as well as a permanent Ancient Egypt exhibit with some really cool mummies.

Now the really fun thing.  I googled "Balboa Park gluten free" and up pops.... Mom's post here on the Traveling Celiac, where she reviewed eating at Balboa Park's premier restaurant, The Prado.  Since it's important to listen to your mother, I ate at The Prado.  Wow. Just Wow.

First of all, we ate on the patio, overlooking the Japanese Botanical Gardens, and the weather couldn't have been any more perfect.  Just being there was a treat.  Then I asked if they had a gluten free menu, and the waiter told me that there is a key on the regular menu indicating the items that are GF.  Then he said that if there is something that looks good that isn't labeled GF, to let him know because they may be able to make it GF with modifications (for example, the steak tacos aren't labeled GF, because of the flour tortillas, but the steak is fine, so they could make it with corn tortillas instead.)

The waiter brought out hummus for the table, which is normally served with a flatbread cracker, but he brought me taro chips instead.  Yea!!!  The hummus was quite spicy, hotter than I normally like my food, but it was so flavorful that I didn't care.  Too often, here in Texas, I get food that is hot for the sake of being hot, not because the flavor really works.  This had a perfect balance of heat and flavor.

Mark had a mojito, which was perfect and should serve as the model for all mojitos everywhere.  I had a cup of Mexican hot chocolate, also extremely good.

I ordered tortilla soup, also a bit spicy, but absolutely to die for.  This is the second best tortilla soup I have ever had.  (The best was from The Mansion at Turtle Creek in Dallas).  It was thick and hearty and delicious. Sometimes tortilla soups have big chunks of stuff in them, like a stew, and I don't like that.  This is a real soup.

I should have stopped there, but my eyes were bigger than my stomach, so I ordered a stone fruit salad -- a mixture of baby greens, peaches, toasted almonds, and "Midnight Moon Cheese" topped with a caramel cider vinaigrette dressing.  The waiter told me I could add any of their proteins to it as they are all gluten free (salmon, steak, chicken, shrimp), so I added steak.  It was quite lovely to look at, but I was so full from the soup, that I pretty much just picked out the peaches and ate those, but I did let them box it up for me to take "home" on the hopes that the hotel would have a fridge in the room.  (It did.)

To be honest, at that point I was thinking the salad was a miss.  It seemed bland compared to the soup and just didn't dazzle me.  The next morning, however, I ate that salad cold for breakfast and thought I had died and gone to heaven.  The steak was flavorful, the salad dressing made me want to lick the to-go box to get every last bit, and the moon cheese was a revelation!  Wow, wow, wow.  Obviously I had been too full and had eaten too much spice to fully appreciate the subtlety of the salad the previous day.

The Prado was a huge success and I would gladly eat there again (and again and again).  Thanks, Mom!


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