Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Eating out - it doesn't have to be scary!

When I first found out I could no longer eat gluten, finding a safe place to eat out was so difficult. As an introvert, the thought of having to speak with a server, manager, gasp- even the chef to see if they understood what gluten is let alone make sure they practice safe food prep practices was terrifying. So those first months we mainly frequented places who had actual gluten free menus, like PF Changs and Outback Steakhouse. Every so often I would need to go somewhere for a business meal or out with friends where there was no such menu so I would carefully research it - first on local boards to see if anyone else had tried going there, then I'd look at the restaurant web site. Finally, if I thought I'd actually try to go there, I would call them during late afternoon when they would not be busy and ask to speak with the manager. I'd quiz them on various things like whether they had gluten free offerings, and if so, would ask "does it have soy sauce?". Most would have no idea that many soy sauces have wheat so that would be my first trick question. I'd then ask about whether they use shared food prep areas. If I finally felt confident that they knew what they were talking about, I would get a detailed list of what I could order, such that when I arrived I could order from that list, refer my server to whomever I spoke with on the phone, and sometimes ask the chef to come out and confirm with me. I still need to follow this drill on occasion but thankfully there are now far more restaurants out there who understand what cooking gluten free means, and gluten free menus are popping up all over the place.

Here is my current list of favorites. Over time the list to the left will change and I will create new posts as I try new places. I hope you find this helpful when you are looking for somewhere safe to eat.

BJ's Brewhouse
One thing I find quite funny is most of the food I would order out prior to going gluten free was actually one of the few gluten free things on the menu. It is as if my body was steering me toward safe food all along. Case in point: BJ's Brewhouse. What did I order before going gluten free? The Santa Fe Salad without tortilla strips(with blackened salmon & Cajun shrimp - the hubby and I would split this), or the BBQ chicken salad without fried onions. And what do you know? BJ's gluten free menu lists both salads as safe IF you order them the very way I did. Amazing huh! Of course, BJ's has also added PIZZA which is just delicious - far better than their original pizza we tried once pre-gluten free days. So now when we go it's always tough to decide whether to get the salad, the pizza or both (and bring a box for take out or go mid-afternoon so we can call the meal a "Linner". I also always order (and previously did too) their Berry Burst (hard) Cider-  in the "taste" size (I think it's 6oz). My only complaint with BJ's is parking at their Cupertino location - we never go during an evening - our best bet is a weekend mid-afternoon stop. The servers are very kind and  each time we go the manager comes over to review our order and let us know they are preparing it in their gluten free area. Finally, the Cupertino location we frequent is very comfortable. We love sitting in one of their comfy booths - in fact, before we had a custom booth built for our kitchen we used to go to BJ's specifically so we could go sit in one of their booths and read. Of course, now that "The Giggler" (our daughter) comes along, no more reading for us. Oh, and if someone from BJ's is reading this, can you please please please please please offer a gluten free pizookie??? That is the one thing we do miss about BJ's prior to going gluten free!

Thai Pepper
I fell in love with Thai food when I moved to the bay area over 20 years ago. I've been making red and green curry's for years using the Thai Kitchen curry pastes and knew those recipes did not include any gluten, but it took awhile before I had "the talk" with my favorite Thai restaurant "Thai Basil" in Sunnyvale. However, something had changed there- the food did not seem as delicious as it was before I went gluten free. So instead I continued to make my own Thai food at home. Then, work threw us a baby shower and a fellow celiac co-worker recommended Thai Pepper. If you tell them you cannot have wheat or soy sauce (since most soy sauce contains wheat) they will go over your order with the chef and make sure it is gluten free. Since then we have ordered tons of take out and have also been there for dinner, always receiving absolutely delicious food.  I can't even go into what my favorite dishes are because we have ordered most of the menu and it's all good. The hubby's favorite dish is chicken larb made spicy. I think my favorite is either the summer rolls with peanut sauce or the Massaman Peanut Curry Chicken. Try this place - you will not be disappointed. The only other Thai restaurant I have liked as much (possibly more...) is Typhoon! in Portland Oregon. Oh, that was some good stuff! If it were local it would be on this list for sure!