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.  


Dinner in a Castle

Castello della Castelluccia

The lure of staying in a castle prompted us to choose this hotel over ones that were actually in Rome, and I think we made the right decision.  Compared to the luxury hotels in Rome, Castello della Castelluccia was quite affordable.  If you are looking to save money, of course, you are better off at budget hotels, but if you want luxury at a lower price tag, this is the place for you.
Castle Hotel and Restaurant outside Rome

The first night, dinner was served on the grounds of the hotel, in a tented facility that was very lovely, but not part of the actual castle.  That was because the castle was hosting a wedding that night, so the dining room was being used by them.  The ambiance was still very festive and elegant.  

As with most places we went in Italy, they understood what gluten was and knew what items were and weren't gluten free.  Their menu was heavy on seafood, which I don't care for, but that is a personal pickiness issue, not a dietary issue.  The first night I had a steak and potato dish, which was delicious. .
Steak and potatoes at Castello della Castellucia

The second night, we ate in the actual castle dining room.   I was starting to feel irritable because I still had not had any pasta, so I asked my server, and lo and behold -- they could make any of the pasta dishes with GF pasta.  I asked them for spaghetti with a plain marinara sauce, which was not on the menu, but they did it for me anyway.

Spaghetti at Castello della Castellucia

We also ate breakfast at the castle one morning, which the children greatly enjoyed as it seemed to comprise mostly of different kinds of cakes and fruit tarts.  Not particularly GF friendly, but I ate yogurt and poached pears.  


GF at Ostia Antica

Our first stop on our fabulous Rome vacation, was the ancient port city of Ostia, a large archaeological site near the Fiumicino airport. It was a perfect destination after a long flight, as it gave us a chance to walk around and really stretch our legs.  One could easily spend all day there, but tired as we were, we lasted about two hours.

Ruins of Ostia Antica

Just outside of the ruins is a tourist trap restaurant called Allo Sbarco di Enea.  It is a cute place filled with statues and other replicas from Roman antiquity, making it a great place to have lunch after a tour through Ostia Antica.  

Colin at Allo Sbarco di Enea

However, they were not very GF friendly.  There was no gluten free pizza or pasta options, so I had a Caprese salad.  Fortunately, it's very difficult to screw up a Caprese salad.  I was told that steak was also an option for me, but I chose to stick with salad.  My fellow diners did not particularly enjoy their meals either, but it was at least a fun place to hang out and cool off.


Delta Airlines Gluten Free Meal

We took an International flight from Atlanta to Rome in June 2016 and I requested a gluten free meal from the Delta website.  We were flying Delta Comfort Plus, which is their term for their extra-leg room seats, but it also includes free booze.  Score!

I did receive my gluten free dinner, a gluten free breakfast, and even a gluten free snack!

First of all, it's airline food, so my expectations are low; however, they did a pretty decent job of keeping me fed.

Dinner was a tasty (and hot) chicken dish with veggies, salad, fruit, and a rice cake.  My son is a fan of rice cakes (yuck), so I passed that to him.  There was olive oil for the salad, but not salad dressing.

At snack time, the Normal People got ice cream and pretzels.  I got an apple.  Still, points for thinking of me at all.

Breakfast was a gluten free version of the frittata that the Normals received.  I am not eating eggs right now, so I skipped it, but it would have been a good offering for someone who can eat eggs.  I was not given a yogurt (probably their gf meal is the same as the dairy free meal), so I stole my husband's yogurt.