Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gluten Free Forth Worth

Yee-haw!  The Traveling Celiacs spent Thanksgiving in Fort Worth, Texas!

We had dinner at my house (Sandy) on Thanksgiving day, including a smoked turkey that I bought mail order from The Salt Lick BBQ.  Delicious.  

On Friday, we entertained the kids by heading out to the Fort Worth Stockyards, a historic district with lots of cowboy-themed activities for the children.  We were there in time to see the Cattle Drive (twice daily!), which was fun, if a little underwhelming.  (There were people lined up like a Disney parade, but there was only a handful of cattle.)

I hadn't found much online about gluten free food at the Stockyards, but we took our chances and were delighted to find that Riscky's BBQ has a printed gluten free menu.  Sandy had the sliced brisket plate with red beans and potato salad.  Cathy had the Chopped Beef Brisket.  Both entrees were tasty.  I like the sauce, though everything was a little salty.  The red beans were very good.  The potato salad, not so much. The gluten free menu was extensive, so I would definitely go there again and see if I can find just the right thing to order. 

A far better meal can be had further north, on the border between Fort Worth and Keller, at Oliva, where they have an incredible array of gluten free pasta dishes including alfredo, marinara, vodka cream sauce, meat sauce, and more.  My son loves the Pasta Oliva, with shrimp, clams, mussles, and calamari over GF linguini in a wine-tomato sauce.  I love both the Parmesan chicken and the chicken Alfredo.  

Oliva is somewhat in the middle of nowhere, but it is worth the drive.  The atmosphere is cozy and romantic, but not so stuffy that you wouldn't want to take children there.  The staff has been very kind to us as well, and they know what they are doing when it comes to GF.  


Monday, October 22, 2012

Gluten Free Asheville, NC

I recently went to Asheville NC with Bob and Ruth's Gluten Free Travel Club. It was my first trip with them and my first time in Asheville, and it was a really fun trip. There were 28 people on the tour and we stayed at the Renaissance Hotel, an easy walk to the restaurants we went to and located right next to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, which I could see from the hotel room window, and which I toured on our “free” day. The tour takes about an hour. Almost everything in the house was original to the house. Neat tour for Thomas Wolfe fans.

We went to the Biltmore, which is the biggest tourist draw in the area and is very beautiful and worth the visit.  Bob and Ruth had arranged a gluten free lunch in the upstairs of the Stable Cafe. There was a fritter appetizer, which I don't think too many people really enjoyed. It tasted a little doughy. Then there was a choice of either a hamburger, a sampler plate or a vegetarian salad. I chose the sampler plate, and I think it really was the best choice. There was some pulled pork, some chicken and some ribs with various vegetables. It was all tasty. I'd have that again if it were available. (I don't think the restaurant normally has much gf.) Dessert was a chocolate mousse. I ate it all. (I ate all of all of the desserts we were served, at all the meals, even if I was overstuffed, and I usually was.) That was the only lunch that we had as a group.

There were three dinners on the trip. The first was a buffet at the hotel. I enjoyed it all, but was especially thrilled with the macaroni and cheese. I don't think I have had mac and cheese since going gluten free, and this version was particularly fine. The quinoa salad and the fried chicken were also particularly good, but there was a large assortment of items, and then two desserts – a sort of Mallow Bar made of a chocolate chip cookie topped with a marshamllowy cream and held together with a chocolate shell, and then a cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream. I ate a full serving of both.

The second dinner was held at Posana's. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough. It was fabulous. First, everything they serve is gf, always! Secondly, the food is wonderfully prepared. Third, the service was excellent. Great restaurant! My entree was small, but I left pretty full. I had sweet potato soup as my appetizer, and scallops with grits as my entree. (There were two choices for each course—but not for dessert.) The dessert was a very delicate walnut chiffon cake, layered with a flavorful bavairan cream frosting and served with a lemon gelato and a couple of candied walnuts. The best dessert of the trip, hands down. Best meal of the trip too, come to think of it.

The third and last dinner was served family style at Strada. First there was am Antipasto platter of various cold vegetable and meats served with a little hummus and, and there was also some flat bread with dipping oil. I ate more of all of it than I should have. Then there was a pasta presentation with two different kinds of meatballs. That was followed by the entrees, which were Veal Marsala and Chicken Sorrentino, served with risotto and broccolini. (I can't believe it, but I took seconds on the risotto, having felt wistful about not getting seconds earlier in the the week of that fabulous macaroni and cheese.) Then dessert! Tiramisu. Yes! Yes! I at it all in spite of being completely stuffed.

I'm going to have to do a lot of gustatorial penance for awhile. Yes. I did overeat at every meal. Yes. I would do it again. Thank you, Bob – Ruth, too, who was not present, but whom I will hopefully meet on another excursion.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Two States, Two Restaurants

Within a couple of weeks I ate at two very nice upscale restaurants in two different states. Both places were known for their seafood; both places had very friendly waitstaff who had family members with allergy issues; and both places went out of their way to make sure that my meal was gluten free. The first was in Canton, MS. I was on the road, and this lovely little restaurant was pretty much the only noticeable thing in town. It was at a crossroads and everything around it was fast food. The name of the restaurant is Two Rivers Steak and Seafood, and they are apparently well know for their steaks, but I had the Grilled Redfish. It was very good, but the best part of the meal was the side of sauteed spinach. It's not usually my favorite, but the description the server gave—garlic, lemon and olive oil - made it sound terrific and I have to say, it was. I have been craving it ever since. With that spinach dish in mind, I ordered the sauteed spinach again at Eddie V's in the Arboretum in Austin, TX. Eddie V's is a beautiful restaurant with dressed up wait staff in white jackets and ties but it was a Saturday night and we had not made reservations, so we were seated in the Lounge. It was fine there (although chilly). We were away from a lot of the noise and we had a server, Leah, who was excellent. Eddie V's does not win the spinach-off, I am sorry to say, but they did have the most wonderful crab meat appetizer. (There is a separate section just for cold seafood appetizers on the menu!) The crab was served with avocado slices and a remoulade sauce. Too yummy for words! My entree was halibut topped with crab meat.  It would have come pistachio encrusted, except that there is Panko in the crumbs.  It was superb.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill

My brother held his rehearsal dinner at Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill.

First off, they get huge props for being easy to work with.  Our original choice had been Huggo's, but we dropped them after experiencing a number of problems, including their $2000 food and drink minimum.  For 18 people (three of whom are children), that seemed pretty excessive.

Enter Jackie Rey's.  They didn't require ANY minimum, didn't require a deposit, and were super accommodating.  They don't have Huggo's spectacular view of the water, but they were clearly the better choice in so many other ways.

Sandy ordered the chicken and mushroom risotto.  They had to prepare it without the Portobello Fries that normally accompany it, but it was otherwise gluten free without further modification.  It was spectacular.  I'm always a big fan of risotto.  I'm not always a big fan a mushrooms, but the mushrooms didn't overpower the taste, and there were no big slimy pieces that you sometimes get in mushroom dishes. The rice was flavorful and fluffy and the veggies were perfectly cooked.

Wild Mushroom Risotto with Chicken

Cathy ordered Scallops with Coconut Yams, which came with some green beans.  For dessert she had the gelato.  James had the New York Strip without the demi-sauce, which contains gluten.

Several of the guests in attendance declared Jackie Rey's the best restaurant meal they had while in Kona.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bianelli's Pizza

We had a long day of travel on Friday and had 5 cranky children with us at the rental house in Kona, so we decided that pizza was in order. Mark and I drove down to Bianelli's Pizza in Keauhou and put in a carry-out order. While our pizza's baked, we went next door to the KTA and did some grocery shopping. Bianelli's smells amazing. I just wanted to stand there in the restaurant sniffing the air. Mmmmmm..... The non-gluten eaters assure me that the pizza didn't disappoint, however, the gluten free pizza was lackluster. I ordered two pizzas -- one with pesto sauce and chicken; the other with regular sauce and canadian bacon. The pesto one was inedible -- the sauce was too dry and salty. The regular sauce was pretty good and the crust, while super thin, was tasty and had a nice crunch. It was a good solution for the cranky kid problem, but we probably won't order pizza again on this trip. Sandy

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fish Hopper

We are in beautiful Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii for my youngest brother's wedding. We are staying in a rented house, with a full kitchen, which makes it easier for us to eat gluten free. We have had decent luck with the grocery stores. We went to the KTA in Keauhou and picked up staples, including Corn Chex and gluten free bread. (I prefer Udi's, but they had Rudi's Gluten Free bread and it was refrigerated not frozen, so we were able to eat it right away.  That was a plus.) We also ran over to Target in Kailua-Kona for a new swimsuit and found a gluten free pancake mix (Maple Valley Farms). Eventually we made it to Island Naturals, a natural food grocery store, which did have Udi's and a number of other GF staples, but also had some pretty outrageous prices ($7 for a dozen eggs!?!)

For lunch we headed to The Fish Hopper by the cruise ship pier. They advertised a gluten free menu, so it was on our list of places to try. They did have a printed GF menu, which was great. It had a lot on it, which was great, but some of them were things like "terriyaki chicken -- no teriyaki sauce." Hmmmm....
"Filet Mignon" at the Fish Hopper

My brother James was with me, and he is currently on a GF trial diet. James is already a picky eater, so adding GF to his requirements makes it REALLY hard for him to find food he can eat. The Fish Hopper menu looked pretty good to him though. I suggested the herb-crusted sword-fish, but he decided to go with the filet mingon. The steak he got was tasty, but it would be a large stretch of the imagination to call it a filet mignon. It was also a tad over-cooked.  Nevertheless, it was good, and so were the garlic mashed potatoes that went with it.

Grilled Chicken with Citrus-Lemon sauce and Molokai Potatoes
  I ordered a grilled chicken breast with citrus-lemon sauce with the Molokai potatoes (mashed purple potatoes). The presentation was beautiful -- the chicken on top of mounds of purple mashed potatoes, topped with some steamed spinach -- gorgeous. The chicken was great. The potatoes were interesting. They tasted kind of like a sweet potato. I'd probably get the garlic mashed potatoes if I went back, but it was fun to try the purple potatoes. All in all, it was a successful meal.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

GF in the Poconos

The Sarah Street Grill's address is Quaker Alley in Stroudsburg.  I had googled "Gluten Free Poconos" or something like that to find it.  They posted their GF menu on line, so I made a reservation and took to dinner there a very dear and old friend whom I had not seen in -- are your ready for this? -- some 55 years!  We had a great time reminiscing, and strangely both ordered the same entree -- mine was gluten free -- hers was not.  We ordered scallops, which were served in a tomato, basil, garlic sauce that was very much like a bruschetta.  Her dish looked slightly browner around the edges.  Maybe the chef thought that it was safe to broil hers for a minute or two and that mine needed to be baked only. Anyway it was delicious, the portion was about right, and the meals there were relatively inexpensive.  I was not given any choice for sides -- baked potato and veggies were the sides for everything on the GF menu.  I wish that I could say that the sides were as good as the entree, but they were pretty mundane.

Also on the GF menu was a teriyaki shrimp appetizer.  I spoke to the waiter about that, asking him to warn the chef, in case he didn't know, that most soy sauce is not gf, and the waiter said that would speak to him, but added that the chef had been trained at the CIA (not the spy agency, the Culinary Institute of America) and he was sure that the chef would be up on details.  Hmmm.  Maybe.  I wish he had gotten back to me on what the chef said, but I will have to wait till I get a chance to go to the Poconos again.


Friday, June 1, 2012

2012 Summer in the Finger Lakes Begins

There are a lot of wineries in the Finger Lakes. Some of them have lunch. The kitchen at Thirsty Owl Winery's Bistro is quite familiar with gluten free dining, and the Bistro is a relaxing and beautiful place to eat. Most of the tables are outdoors on the newly covered deck which overlooks Cayuga Lake and some of Thirsty Owl's vineyards.  (Click on the link to see a picture on their web page -- it really is beautiful.)

This was my first lunch of the summer there so I am afraid that I overdid it. Steve and I split a dish of mussels, which they served with large thick slices of a seed laden whole grain gf bread. (You have to ask for the gf bread. It normally comes with gluten laden bread.) I asked which of the entrees were gluten free. The waiter said that any of them could be made to accommodate a gf diet, but that the Crispy Skinned Salmon was gluten free in and of itself. I ordered the salmon. It was served over a creamy white sauce with spinach and small navy beans. I took half of it home in a takeout box because (1) I had eaten a lot of the mussels and pretty much all of the bread, and (2) I was going to have dessert. We had split a bottle of Thirsty Owl's 2011 Dry Riesling and I didn't have any left in my glass, so I ordered an iced tea to drink with Diamond Custard over Strawberries. The custard is called “Diamond” because that is the name of the wine used in the recipe. Diamond is not so sweet as to be a dessert wine, but is definitely one of the sweeter wines that they offer. People who like sweet wines love it. People who like dry wines are not as enthusiastic, but Diamond does make a lovely creamy golden custard that complements the strawberries beautifully.

I'm so happy to be back in the Finger Lakes. What a great place to spend summer.


Thundercloud Subs in Austin

Thundercloud Subs is an Austin institution.  They have been serving sandwiches since 1975 and are, as they say on their webpage, "an engrained part of the Austin community."  Heh heh.  "Engrained."  Not sure if they meant that as a joke or not.  Since I am now "dis-grained" and an ingrained part of the Celiac community, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they are beta-testing a new GF sandwich roll at their Lake Austin Blvd. location.

Unfortunately, it wasn't very good.  It was gummy and tasted strongly of bean flour.  Points to Thundercloud for trying, but I recommend passing this one up.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Gluten Free at the Austin Arboretum

We spent all morning in the car, then this HUGE lunch at the Salt Lick, then we ran around Schlitterbahn, followed by yet more time in the car.  I was nauseous, the kids were dropping, and we just needed a light dinner so we could all go to bed.  Noodles & Company was right next to the hotel and sounded like a good place for the kids.  I figured I would just have a soda.  Not much chance that I could eat anything at a place with a name like "Noodles & Company," right?

I was pleasantly surprised.  Turns out that they have a rice noodle that they can substitute in a number of their noodle dishes to make them GF.  They had a load of disclaimers on the menu about how they can't guarantee there will be no cross-contamination, but they really worked hard to make sure my meal was safe, changing their gloves, using clean utensils, etc.  I had the Pesto Cavatappi (basil pesto, garlic, mushrooms, tomato, wine, cream, and Parmesan) which was the perfect thing for my slightly unhappy tummy.  Nicely spiced, but not overpowering, and very filling.


Gluten Free at the Salt Lick

I have already used this space to rave about the wonderfulness that is the Salt Lick in Round Rock (or the original location is Driftwood, TX), but they deserve another mention.  Nearly everything they serve is gluten free (except for the obvious, like bread and cobbler) and the food is out of this world.  We have been going to The Salt Lick for nearly two decades, but this weekend we got to do something we had never done before.  Our waitress took us into the kitchen and let the kids baste the meat on the huge barbecue pit.  This process involved taking a huge stick with cloth on the end (like a small mop), dipping it into a vat of sauce, and then slapping the meat with the sauce-soaked mop.  Colin enjoyed it so much we had to drag him away.

Colin basting the meat at The Salt Lick

Gluten Free Tea in Austin

We spent another Memorial Day weekend in Austin, TX, celebrating our wedding anniversary with my brother Alex and his fiance, as well as our dear friend Jonathan and his fabulous wife Jonelle.

The big find on this trip was a place called The Steeping Room in North Austin, in the shopping area known as the Dominion.  Wow. Wow. Wow.  Just.... wow.

I have a weakness for the concept of Afternoon Tea.  I like tea.  I like sandwiches.  I like scones, and cakes, and clotted cream.  Most of the time, this is but an impossible dream for a celiac like myself.  Lately, however, I've had the opportunity to partake in this ritual feast, first at the Plaza Hotel in NYC, then on the Disney Cruise.  This one, however, has those two beat all to heck.

The menu at The Steeping Room is clearly marked with a "GF" next to any food that is or could be made gluten free.  Every day they offer a gluten free scone and a gluten free cupcake.  They also have gluten free bread.  So when they say that a sandwich can be made gluten free, they don't mean that they can give you the sandwich fillings except without the bread.  They mean they can give you a gluten free sandwich.

Century Oaks Tea Service at The Steeping Room

It was extremely challenging to decide what to order, however, I decided to go "whole hog" and order the Century Oaks Tea Service.  At $20, this is the most expensive thing on the menu, but I assured myself I was doing it for the benefit of you, my reading public.  Noble of me, don't you think?

The Century Oaks Tea Service includes two kinds of tea sandwiches, a scone, a spread (clotted cream or honey butter), jam, tea cake, tea cookies, and a pot of tea.  Wow.

For my sandwiches I chose chicken salad with a lapsang vinaigrette and roast beef/cucumber with wasabi mayo.  Both were excellent, but let me just say that I will be dreaming about that wasabi mayo for years to come.

It should be said that I am not a fan of mayonnaise.  I almost ordered the sandwich without it, but I wanted to try it with the wasabi, so I took a risk.  This was not "mayonnaise."  "Mayonnaise" is a thick, sour, glob of yuckiness that is mistakenly slathered on sandwiches by people who have been tricked into thinking it is food.  But this, this was a gorgeous cream sauce with just the right amount of wasabi, giving it a "bite" that was strong, but not overpowering.  It was delicate and light and absolutely perfect.

So, to re-cap, I had two sandwiches, plus the gluten-free-scone-of-the-day (apricot) with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam, two little gluten free meringue cookies, a HUGE gluten free cupcake (carrot with cream cheese frosting -- Mark declared it the best thing on the menu) and a pot of tea.  I ate every bite and drank the whole pot of tea.  I was stuffed.

In the meantime, my son (who is not GF) was in almost as much ecstasy as I was.  I don't know too many 10 year olds who get excited about tea, but my son does.  As we anticipated our meal, he was giddy -- "tea goes really well with sandwiches!" he told me, as he placed his order for Earl Grey and roast beef with cheese.  The children's version of the tea is a bargain.  For half the price of my meal, he got one sandwich (instead of two), a scone, jam, cookie, and fruit, plus his choice of tea, hot chocolate, or juice.

Sadly, my husband and daughter didn't love the Steeping Room as much as my son and I did.  The next day, Colin and I pretty much insisted that we go back to the Steeping Room again for breakfast.  Mark and Caroline went along kicking and screaming.  Fortunately, they liked their food the second day better than what they ordered the first day.  Caroline got some flatbread (not GF) and Mark had a bacon strata (also not GF) and they both liked them.  Colin and I ordered very nearly the exact same things we had the previous day.  Colin chose a different type of scone (for the record, he liked plum better than cheddar) and a different tea (English Caramel).  I swapped my chicken salad for a BAT -- bacon, arugula, and tomato sandwich with basil mayo.  Sooooooo good.  Remember what I said about the wasabi mayo? Ditto for the basil mayo, except that pairing the basil mayo with fresh tomato slices was so good, it should be illegal.  Seriously, tomatoes were invented for the sole purpose of being paired with that basil mayo.  It was that good.

The Steeping Room.  Go there.  You will not be sorry.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Old Town Alexandria Gluten Free

A photo captured by roving reporter Mark Morris (aka my loyal hubby).  The Paradiso Pizzaria is now serving gluten free!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gluten Free San Francisco

I went to San Francisco with a list of several restaurants that were gluten free friendly.

We ate at none of them. Mostly we snacked at museums where we did have some nice salads and tea (and Kettle chips). The rest of the time we had snacks on the concierge floor of the Hyatt Regency on Drumm Street, which had a wonderful view and was okay for breakfast, but was iffy on the dinner time gluten free snacks – think raw veggies and cheese – and some nice Chateau St. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon.

Finally on the last night, we had a restaurant meal. We went to Kincaid's which is on the water and near the airport and our hotel. The view was lovely and I was feeling adventurous. I had been seeing the word “sriracha” bandied about in magazines, so I chose the sriracha seasoned Ahi and Albacore Duo off the menu, a dish that our server pronounced "guaranteed gluten free”. It was quite tasty. There were little fish roe on the plain rice. ( I would say that was “caviar”, wouldn't you?) The albacore “poke” was served on Boston lettuce and had a distinctive peanut butter flavor.

Steve had the Cioppino Mussels, which we requested without bread, and I did not even ask about the french fries. I just didn't eat them. The mussels were a little bit spicy for my taste, but I did have a few, just to check them out. With our dinners we had a Chateau Ste.Michelle Riesling, which we both enjoyed. No dessert. We went back to the hotel and drank tea and ate some very excellent chocolates that I had purchased at the Farmer's Market in the Ferry Building.

Probably I should do a separate post about the Mariposa Bakery (of Oakland), but I will just summarize here that they had a booth at the Ferry Building's.' Farmer's Marker, and their Cinnamon Toast Biscotti is to die for.

Places I didn't get to but had hoped for:

Hot Spud 2640 Mason St. Ph: 415-399-1065

Zadin 4029 18th St. Ph: 415-626-2260 –

Om Shen Tea Room 233 14th St. Ph:888-747-8327

Ristorante Bacco 737 Diamond St. Ph: 415-282-4969 -


Monday, March 26, 2012

Gluten Free on the Disney Cruise Line -- Part 2

In the previous post, I described the rotational dining system on the ship and the dinners we ate on the Disney Magic cruise ship.  Lunch and dinner are more "free-style" and you can choose from a number of options.
Funny napkin-hats made by our server

The one exception is the Character Breakfast, which is at an assigned day, time, and place.  The character breakfast always takes place on the morning AFTER you eat at Animator's Palate for the first time.  It's a lot like the character breakfasts offered at Disney World.  The characters come around to the tables to sign autograph books and have their pictures taken with the kids.  There was a number of choices on the menu, and I chose to have the scrambled eggs served with grilled ham and pineapple.  They served it with the same GF rolls they serve at dinner.  It was a pretty good breakfast, although the orange juice was pretty watery.  I think that it just wasn't stirred enough before they poured it, as it was fine for all the other breakfasts I ate on the ship.  Obviously the highlight isn't the food, it's the characters.  The kids loved seeing Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto, and the waiters made funny hats for everyone out of napkins. It's definitely a "don't miss" event.
The kids wearing their napkin-hats with Minnie Mouse.
On shore-days we ate fast breakfasts.  I usually had a banana and a strawberry smoothie at Goofy's Galley, a pool-side snack stand.  Top-siders and Parrot Cay also had buffet breakfasts (Parrot Cay was only open for breakfast on shore-days), but I chose to avoid them rather than wait for a chef to go through it with me. On at-sea days, we ate at the more formal restaurants, since we had plenty of time.  Lumiere's is the only "a la carte" option for breakfast, unless you have a reservation at the adults-only restaurant Palo's.  In the mornings it was quiet and we were finally able to enjoy it's lovely ambiance.  (At dinner it was terribly noisy and crowded.)  The menu had a lovely french toast dish that made me wish I could eat gluten, so I asked the chef if he could make it for me with GF waffles, which they did.  Between the waffles was grilled pineapple and it was topped with a maple-glazed fruit salad.  Yum!  They were the kind of waffles you buy in the freezer section, so I'm sure it would have been much better with french toast, but at least I had a semblance of the real thing.
Gluten free waffles with pineapple and strawberry coulis

We also had a brunch at Palo's, the adults-only restaurant.  This was the best meal of the entire trip!  Palo's did a fantastic job of making sure I had plenty of GF food to eat.  The chef came out to talk to me and we started with buffet appetizers, which featured a number of GF offerings, including fancy cheeses, shrimp, crab claws, humus, grilled tomatoes, asparagus, and hard boiled eggs.  Delicious!  There were also lots of olives and pickled vegetables. The only pickled item I tried was the pickled artichoke hearts, which were excellent despite the fact that I usually avoid things that are pickled.  (This is dietary finickiness on my part, not gluten-avoidance.)
Seafood buffet and olive bar at Palo's
We then moved on to the main course, which was made to order.  The chef made me Eggs Florentine with Udi's toast, which was cut into a pretty little circle to mimic the more traditional English Muffin.  Hooray for Udi's!  It was topped with sauteed spinach, poached egg, and a white sauce specially prepared for me with corn starch instead of flour.  He even brought me a side order of Udi's toast.  He mentioned that they can also do their breakfast pizzas with a GF crust, but he didn't recommend it as the crusts simply aren't very good.  I appreciate honesty like that.
Eggs Florentine at Palo's

There was an amazing dessert buffet with several choices available for me.  I chose a panna cotta with mango (very good), white-chocolate dipped strawberries (who can resit that?), and a chocolate pots de creme (not particularly good).
Desserts at Palo's

Palo's is an "upcharge" restaurant.  Unlike the other restaurants on the ship, you pay a fee for eating there.  Brunch was $20 per person, and the price included one mimosa (champagne and orange juice).

We ate one additional meal at Palo -- afternoon tea.  Unfortunately it was not as big a success.  It was probably not the wisest action to even attempt something like afternoon tea, which is usually a gluten-fest; but I was over-confident after the fabulous brunch they served me.  The big problem came down to the fact that there are no chefs on duty during afternoon tea.  They prepare the meals ahead of time, and the waiters just serve them.  There is no one available to make special requests to.
Tea sandwiches at Palo's

They knew in advance that I was coming, and the chef did prepare some sandwiches for me.  They were not on Udi's bread, but on two different breads -- a white bread that I didn't recognize and a brown bread that I think was Food For Life brand brown rice bread.  It was untoasted, and as we are all aware, unless it's Udi's, gluten free bread pretty much has to be toasted to be edible.  I ended up eating the fillings out of the bread with a fork.  Still, the meal could have been salvaged at that point.  I can forgive yucky GF bread.  Most GF bread is yucky.  But at that point the waiter told me that he had nothing for me AT ALL for the other two courses.  I protested.  The second course was supposed to be scones with jam and clotted cream.  Now I never expected GF scones, but they served me those darn tapioca rolls at every single meal and I'd had Udi's toast at Palo's the previous day.  I asked him to find me rolls or toast to eat my jam and cream with.  He reluctantly agreed and finally came out with a GF roll (not properly warmed up, it was frozen on one side and warm on the other), but at least he figured something out.

He didn't intend to give me any dessert either.  The dessert plate he brought my husband had the white-chocolate covered strawberries I ate the day before, but he didn't have any extra for me.  Luckily, he was willing to share.  I'm fairly certain the triffle was also GF (though I wasn't going to risk it) as it was just strawberry compote, custard, and whipped cream.  It didn't seem to have any cake or ladyfingers in it.  If so, why didn't the chef put one aside for me?  He finally went and scrounged up a lemon sorbet from the freezer.

I felt bad for the guy.  He obviously wasn't supposed to have to do anything but bring the pre-set dishes out, and there was no one for him to turn to.  There apparently no chefs, managers, or anything in the restaurant.  So the guilt falls on the chefs who failed to prepare something for him to serve.

As I said before, afternoon tea is a hard thing to do gluten-free, but they had things on hand that they could easily have substituted, so they really should have been able to do better.

For the record, the afternoon tea is also and "up-charge" meal.  It's ten dollars a person, well worth it if you aren't gluten free, but I think this one is best avoided by celiacs.

Skip afternoon tea, but definitely try the brunch.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gluten Free on the Disney Cruise Line

The ship: The Disney Magic
The itinerary: Eastern Caribbean (St. Thomas and St. Maarten)

It would take me too long to describe all the wonderful experiences we had on this cruise, so I'll confine myself to describing the food.  

Disney has a "rotational dining" system.  You have an assigned dinner time (5:45 or 8:15) in one of their three restaurants, rotating through them so that you eat in each one twice.  Your servers and table number stay the same no matter which restaurant you are in.  So, for example, you eat in Lumiere's on Monday at table 20 with Constantine the waiter.  On Tuesday, you eat at Animator's Palate at table 20 with Constantine the waiter.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  

This should be a great thing for a celiac, since you don't have to explain your dietary needs over and over again with each new waiter.  However, my particular servers had very limited English and no understanding of what was in the food whatsoever.  And I was stuck with them for the duration.  Sigh.  To be fair, they were very nice and would have been great waiters had I not had special requirement.

The first night on board, we were assigned to Animator's Palate, which was exciting for me, as that was the restaurant I was most anxious to try.  Animator's Palate is not just a restaurant.  It's part show as well.  The paintings on the walls start out black and white and, one by one, they turn color.  At the end of the evening, Mickey comes out and does a little dance, and the waiters -- who were also in black and white -- are now sporting colors as well.  It was a fun show, and I imagine it was more impressive when the Magic was a new ship in 1998.  It still holds up well.

The first night on board, the chefs hadn't had time to prepare anything special for me, so the waiters were instructed that whatever I ordered, it would come without a sauce.  So I had Naked Chicken.  They did, however, have GF rolls (the same kind they have in Disney World restaurants).  For dessert, I ordered off the kids menu -- chocolate pudding.  There was a reason it was on the kids menu, not the adult menu.  It had a layer of pudding topped with a layer of Hershey's syrup, topped with sprinkles.  A little sweet for my taste, but sure to please a kid.

At the end of the meal, one of the waiters brought me the menu for the following night and told me to pick what I wanted and the chef would make it GF for me.  
Lamb with scalloped potatoes

So, the next night was Parrot Cay, a Caribbean-themed restaurant.  It happened to be formal night, and we were all dressed to the nines, and contrast of the wild tropical decor and the tuxes was kind of funny.  The lamb, which I chose the night before, was fantastic.  It was served with a scalloped potato dish and had a nice sauce.  Yea!

The third night was dinner at Lumiere's (named after the Candlestick in Beauty and the Beast), which is their French(ish) restaurant.  My dinner (chosen the night before) started with a really nice avocado and orange salad (mine was missing the avocados and had to be sent back, but we got it all straightened out).  I had lamb again, since it was such a success the previous night, and this time it was served on a bed of polenta.  I was happy with my food, and my husband felt Lumiere's had the best food on the ship.  However, it was really really loud in there and we were seated right next to the waiter's station, so there was lots of hustle and bustle.  I was feeling overwhelmed, so we left, forgetting to order my meal for the next day.  Oh, no!
Lamb on a bed of polenta

It turned out not to be a big problem.  I simply had to go back to the "no sauce" policy.  I had prime rib (naked, of course), but it did have a grilled tomato and some little sweet potato croquettes, which was nifty and different.  At this point, we had begun our second time through the rotation.  Animator's Palate only does the whole show (with Mickey) on your first time through the restaurant.  This time, colors came and went, but there was no show.  The kids still thought it was fantastic and would yell out --"look, now Ariel's lit up!" and so on.  
Prime rib with grilled tomato and sweet potato croquettes

The second time through Parrot Cay, I was a little sea-sick, which is a shame  because the Caribbean chicken I ordered was fantastic.  I worried that it would be too spicy, but not to worry.  It was flavorful, but not hot.  Sometimes I forget that when I'm not in Texas, spicy doesn't mean "burn your tastebuds off."  I can take a fair bit of heat, but Texans begin having jalapeno-eating contests when they are toddlers.  But I digress....
"Chef's Surprise" Desert at Lumiere's

The second time through Lumiere's was just as noisy.  That night was the "semi-formal night" and we were dressed up again.  The ambiance at Lumiere's seems more appropriate to formal attire, so that was nice.  I had a fresh fruit cocktail and an asparagus risotto.  I normally love risotto, but this one was made with a really strong cheese and was a little under-cooked.  It was the only thing I ordered on the ship that was a total flop.  Since I wasn't eating my dinner, I decided to get dessert.  I had been avoiding the dessert out of a desperate desire not to gain too much weight during this vacation, but it was time to splurge.  I was told that I couldn't have any of the desserts on the menu, but that the chef would make me something "special."  The dessert was a mocha mousse cake and it was tasty, but I don't really like the idea of not knowing what I am getting until the waiter puts in down in front on me.  Part of my "control-freak" nature, I suppose.

Chicken Satay

The last night of the cruise, we were back at Animator's Palate for the final meal.  The menu was appropriately titled the "Until We Meet Again" diner.  I had ordered chicken satay, mostly to see what they would do, and I was impressed with how good they were.  They were pan-fried in olive oil with some spices and served with a mint/yogurt dipping sauce.  I also had a potato leek soup, but it was a bit watery.  For my main course, I had steak. Thus concludes the seven night dining adventure on the Magic.  "But wait," you say.  "You only covered dinners in the main dining rooms and not the other meals."  True -- but that is a post for another day.


Gluten Free at Universal Studios Orlando


My kids were dying to go to Universal Studios in Orlando to see the Harry Potter attractions there.  We had to be at our cruise ship by 2:00, so we needed to use our time as efficiently as possible.  Guests who stay in the Universal hotels get early admission to Harry Potter -- one hour before they let the masses in.  As I type this, the current wait at the main attraction (Forbidden Journey) is one hour.  (I love this Facebook app that tells you the wait times at Disney and Universal.  So cool.)  Frequently it is even longer, and we were short on time, so we stayed at Lowe's Royal Pacific, one of the three Universal hotels.  According to online reviews, they have gluten free options at the hotel restaurant, but we opted for room service, which we ordered the night before.  To avoid any hassles, I didn't even mention gluten-free.  I just ordered fruit and tea.  Unfortunately, mine was the best meal.  Mark and the kids pronounced the omelets inedible.  So avoid room service and eat in the Islands Restaurant.

So we were off to Harry Potter Land, arriving about 15 minutes before they opened the gates for early admission.  The kids were geared up in the Hogwarts robes -- Caroline was a Gryffindor and Colin was a Ravenclaw.  (By the way, Hogwarts robes are acceptable attire, but they discourage elaborate costumes -- anything that might cause you to be mistaken for a Universal Studios employee.)

The attraction is amazing.  Just blows you away.  The kids were awestruck.  We rode the Forbidden Journey ride with NO WAIT!  Then the kids and Mark went back a second time and rode it again.  By this time there was a 10 minute wait.  While they rode, I went into the gift shop and bought the photo.  Whoever thought up this idea of taking pictures of people on a ride and then selling it to them as a souvenir was an absolute genius.  We didn't even look very good in the photo and we bought it anyway.  It's like free money for Universal Studios.  Genius.

The biggest highlight of the trip was that my daughter was selected from the audience at the Ollivander's Wand Shop show.  She got to come up to the front and try out wands until one "chose her."  (The wand chooses the wizard in the Harry Potter world, not the other way around.)  Then we had to buy the stupid wand.  They really have amazing talent for separating you from your money.  There was no way both kids were not going home with a wand after that!
Three Broomsticks pub in Hogsmeade

When we were done with all of the attractions, we headed over to the Three Broomsticks for some Butterbeer, a cream-soda-ish concoction from the HP books.  Universal Studios advises that the Butterbeer itself is gluten free, but there is strong possibility for cross contamination.  Well, it's not like I'm going to make a regular practice of slurping down Butterbeer, so I went ahead and took the risk.  (Sorry Mom.)  It's BUTTERBEER, for goodness sake!  So worth it!  They serve it either cold or frozen (like a Slurpee) and I preferred it frozen.  For the record, I did not get sick (but we all know that "not sick" does not necessarily mean "not glutened" -- so drink at your own risk.)

The crowds were so light that we were finished with all the attractions before noon and even rode a couple other non-HP rides (a Jurassic Park raft ride and a Rocky and Bullwinkle themed flume ride).  We ate lunch at Mythos in the park.  Mythos has won awards for "Best Theme Park Restaurant," a difficult feat for anyone who is not Disney.  Their website describes the cavernous interier as looking "as if it’s been carved from the rock by the very gods whose images are etched into the walls."  It really does, too!  It's like eating a cave, but a really clean cave with adequate lighting.
Mythos Restaurant at Islands of Adventure theme park

I am so glad we took the time to eat in a sit-down restaurant.  It was fantastic!  They had a gluten-free menu and the waitress was very knowledgeable.  I ordered the "Risotto of the Day" which was mushroom risotto topped with shrimp.  I am not a huge shrimp fan, and I asked if they could leave off the shrimp.  The waitress suggested that I substitute chicken instead.  Yea!  I was so happy.  It was absolutely delicious and I ate every bite.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Gluten Free in Austin -- Maudie's vs Hula Hut

Maudie's, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin, Texas, is a favorite hang-out for my brother Alex and his friends.  It has the most important things a twenty-something requires: talented bartenders and cheap food.  They also have a gluten free menu, which is why we headed out to Maudie's Milagro location, close to the Arboretum.

The food was cheap.  The bar tenders were talented -- I had an awesome Mojito.  They did have a gluten free menu.  Unfortunately, that's pretty much the best I can say.  The food was second rate at best.  The regular chips are not gluten free, but they will bring you special gluten free chips.  Pros -- they bring them out in a sealed bag, so you know that you got the right ones.  No one messed up in the kitchen and gave you the gluten-y ones by mistake.  Cons -- they were flavorless and a little stale.  The chili con queso was adequate, and we got the version that was layered with bean dip, which made a nice change of pace from the usual Tex-Mex offerings.

I ordered the Skinny Sheryl, which is two steamed corn tortillas, pulled chicken, tomatillo sauce, lettuce, and tomato, served with grilled zucchini.  It sounded great, but it fell short in reality.  It was adequate, but bland.  The zucchini was limp and soggy.  Too bad.  I realize that it was trying to be a "healthy" option, but healthy and tasteless aren't synonymous.

The restaurant was also extremely noisy.  Granted, it was a Saturday night, so crowds are to be expected, but the acoustics in the place were poor, so everything was amplified.  It was not possible to have a conversation.

Despite all that,  it shouldn't be ruled out entirely.  There may be other items on the menu -- the non-healthy choices, that are better.  And they deserve points for an extensive gluten free menu with fajitas, enchiladas, salads, and even a tortilla soup.  Contrast that with Hula Hut, a restaurant I adored in my pre-GF days,  where the GF menu had three items: 1) a hamburger without the bun, 2) a salad, from which you had to subtract all the interesting ingredients (no meat, no fried poblano ring, no tortilla strips) leaving you will basically lettuce and only one choice of dressing.  (Though to be fair, their creamy jalapeno ranch is absolutely divine!)  3) Flan.  They used to have a tortilla soup, but that has been removed from the GF menu.  And they served the flan to me with a cookie that wasn't GF.

Given the choice, I'll take Maudie's.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

MCDonalds Fries

A reader recently commented on one of my older posts that McDonald's French Fries contain both wheat and dairy.  Ah, the fry debate continues...

A quick recap -- Prior to 2006, McDonald's maintained that their fries were gluten free and always fried in a dedicated fryer to reduce chances of cross-contamination.  In 2006, they revealed that a flavoring used in the oil was made from hydrolyzed wheat bran.  Lawsuits and panic followed, and McDonald's no longer lists their fries as gluten free and they contain an allergen alert for wheat and dairy.

End of story?  No, because the tiny amount of highly processed wheat used in a tiny amount of flavoring in the oil used, not in the fries themselves, but in the oil used to par-fry the potatoes, leaves behind no detectable gluten.  The Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) at the University of Nebraska tested the fries and determined that no gluten was found in a test sensitive to 3 parts per million.  The current threshold for a product to be allowed to call itself "gluten free" is 20 parts per million.

Gluten-Free Living magazine ran a fantastic article on this subject in 2009 (Issue4/2009).  It's worth reading, but unfortunately you will have to pay $9 for the back issue.

In the meantime, I am going to keep eating McDonald's fries, but sparingly.  After all, none of us really need to be eating french fries, even if you aren't gluten free.