Monday, September 24, 2012

Gluten Free Indian!

Finally after nearly 5 years of gluten free living I am eating restaurant Indian food. I'll admit, gluten free Indian food has probably already been available in many of the Indian restaurants in Silicon Valley but I never had the energy to attempt the conversations with various chefs, managers and servers to make sure we were on the same page with what gluten was and cross-contamination concerns. When Arka Indian restaurant opened in Sunnyvale nearly a year ago, I saw most of the menu was actually labeled gluten free! Then I saw some positive yelp reviews and thought this may be the place! But life continued with a toddler and given our limited opportunities to dine out as a family I wasn't up for seeing if my daughter would fill up on Indian so we always opted for pizza or Thai instead.

But then Arka offered a Groupon and I bit - my first order was take out and everything was delicious. I ordered saag w/ potatoes (spinach curry), butter chicken and rice. The butter chicken was so tasty with a good amount of heat and the saag reminded me of the dish I used to get years ago before having to go gluten free. I knew we'd be back. And we were- last week Arka offered another Groupon so this time we dined in with my parents and brother as well. We tried a ton of things and everything was delicious:

  • Pakoras - the menu said they were made with plantain and chickpea but no one tasted plantain. They were crispy and tasty -even the Giggler ate some.
  • Watermelon Salad - really delicious combination of cool watermelon, cherry tomato, sliced almonds and a light vinaigrette. The Giggler wasn't interested though - she put one piece of watermelon in her mouth and promptly put it back on her plate. I guess she's a watermelon purist.
  • Masala Dosa- oh yes! This is what I had been waiting for. I was unable to order this during our take out order because their grain grinder was broken and the manager could not confirm the packaged flour was gluten free (he would not even let me order the dosa because of this -definitely a good sign) It reminded me of the masala dosa and potato sabji I used to order at Pasand's before they went out of business.
  • Butter chicken - just as good as when we had it for take out
  • Rogan Josh - tasty but nothing special compared to some of the other dishes
  • Curried Brussels Sprouts - tasty but I'd order the saag next time
  • Dal (the one that has no onions/garlic) - very watery - ordered this for the Giggler. I liked it but probably would not order it again -not worth $10 IMO.
  • The lamb dish w/ ricotta- this was one of my favorites. The sauce was very delicate and flavorful.
  • Tandoori kabab - this was served with a green rice which I really liked. The kabab was nicely cooked too.
And nearly a day later - no reactions. So now I don't have to cook Indian myself every time! Check them out!

Also, if you do want to cook Indian yourself, my favorite chicken tikka masala recipe is here:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pizza Antica

Last night we decided to try Pizza Antica's Santana Row location. I first heard about Pizza Antica from my local bay area celiac board with comments like "best gluten free pizza I've ever had". But armed with no expectations we made our way to Santana Row just before 5 on a weekday. The restaurant was almost empty and service was excellent. We were seated just across from the kitchen so we could look into the wood fired ovens. We ordered 2 gluten free pizzas - one just a standard cheese for the Giggler and one with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. The verdict? Just ok - we probably won't be back.

- the wood fired oven made for a great cracker kind of crust
- the sauce was tasty
- no gluten reaction now 12 hours later

Areas for improvement:
- the crust was very "corny" - a bit too chewy for us. DH thought there could be bean flour in there but I did not notice any sort of bean aftertaste
- definitely not enough sauce or cheese. This is more like a "California pizza" where sauce and cheese are add on's versus what we native NY + native Chicago-er's see as key components of pizza

We also ordered the bittersweet chocolate torte for dessert which is flour-less. It was served with fresh whipped cream, peanuts and caramel. We liked the cream but the tart was not very chocolaty and very meringue-like whereas we're more suckers for true fudgy-ness.

We spoke to the manager to learn about their procedures. While the manager and their menu state that they cannot guarantee a gluten free product due to flour in the air, they do only cook gluten free in the right oven and use special pans, cutters, etc for the gluten free food.

Pizza Antica also offers a number of salads, pasta dishes and entrees on their gluten free menu as well as some appetizers so it's definitely somewhere to check out if you're looking for variety. As I said the service was excellent and we really liked the ambiance although some cushions on the booth seats would be a big improvement comfort-wise.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vegas Baby!

We just returned from a few nights in Las Vegas. We decided to skip the rental car which made me a bit nervous - would we be able to eat? The answer is a resounding YES although as usual it required some extra effort.

  • Lodging- We stayed at Hotel Aria which is on the strip, sort of between Bellagio and Monte Carlo. We came armed with our standard travel food - apples, bananas, Nugo bars, gluten free oatmeal packets, trail mix and some applesauce for the Giggler. Since we knew we'd spend a lot of time in the room for naps and bedtime we decided to splurge on a Corner Suite - and we were not disappointed. In addition to having the separated bedroom/living area so we could hang out during naps and in the evening, all suites have a separate empty refrigerator for our use - something no gluten free traveler should be without. In fact, every time we travel if the room does not include an empty refrigerator we order one. We then made a short walk to the nearby CVS on the strip to pick up some water, yogurt and applesauce. 

  • Hotel Aria Dining- I attempted to find us some treats within the hotel from the various food stands (pastries, ice cream, and so forth) but all the ice cream places sold gelato based on a wheat slurry and of course none of the baked goods were safe. But each morning I was able to buy a fresh fruit cup along with some hot water for our oatmeal packets so that worked for 2 of our 3 breakfasts. The 3rd we had at "The Buffet" restaurant within Hotel Aria. Not too pricey ($18/person) for a hotel buffet and the giggler was free. I asked the greeter if they had a list of gluten free items and he said no but let me go in and take a look. Low and behold, gluten free items were all labeled in green on the buffet. Besides the standard fruit,yogurt and made to order eggs there were also some antipasto kinds of things as well as a Mexican casserole thing, sausage and bacon. The only negative is they had a breakfast burrito labeled "gluten free" and when I asked the server what it was "wrapped in". She told me "whole wheat" - then gasped, realizing they had not thought about the wrap, only the insides. So they promptly removed the gluten free sign. In the end I had no reaction so I call that a gluten free success. 

Outside Dining- Our dining outside of the hotel was far better.

  • Mon Ami Gabi (at Paris - with a terrace view across from the Bellagio fountain show)- this is one of many Lettuce Entertain You restaurants who seem to really get gluten free and their gluten free menu offered a good selection of choices. In fact, if you are ever traveling to Chicago, Santa Monica, Las Vegas or DC, check out their web site to find some great dining options. Our favorite gluten free restaurant of all time - Wildfire (see my Chicago posting) is also a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant. Mon Ami Gabi served gluten free toast with some olives and warm butter which was just ok, but well appreciated. (the Wildfire gluten free bread on the other hand is not to be missed - being close to Wildfire is the only logical reason I could ever find to move to Chicago- forget the fact that we have tons of family there. It's all about Wildfire...) OK, back to Vegas. At Mon Ami Gabi we ordered the chicken breast which was pounded flat, grilled and served with a tasty sauce, as well as the grilled scallops. We also ordered some sides of mashed potatoes and vegetables - all were very tasty. They also had 3 dessert options and we settled on the Chocolate Mousse which was also delicious. Definitely a place I'll want to return to on future trips to Vegas.

  • Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab at Caesar's Forums Shops is also a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant and while a bit more pricey than Mon Ami Gabi, was well worth the money. Their gluten free menu was expansive, service was spectacular, seating (a booth) was very comfortable for the 3 of us (and the giggler was quite happy in her booster seat) and the food delicious and healthy. We opted for the stone crab appetizer, the mahi mahi entree and a ton of sides (2 sweet potatoes, 1 mashed potato, green beans and broccolini) and even the kids menu had a gluten free option for the Giggler - sauteed shrimp with broccolini. We had a wonderful time and will be back.

  • Our final night we dined with family at the Rainforest Cafe in MGM Grand. Past blog posts had mentioned this location had a real gluten free menu but when we arrived we were told they discontinued it since the overall Rainforest Cafe menu had changed and they decided not to keep the gluten free menu up to date. So the chef came out and explained what we could order- it all worked out OK but we really prefer having a menu to look at so we don't have to decide on the spot what to order (while the rest of our family looks at us like we're high maintenance freaks). At any rate, we ended up ordering a roasted chicken with corn dish for the Giggler (plus a side of mashed potatoes), a chopped salad for us, plus a side of vegetables and french fries- whenever we have the chance to eat gluten free fries we do it and these were yummy although I still prefer Red Robin fries. Everything was fine - not the best food in the world but given the ambiance of the place (with animatronic gorillas howling every 15 minutes) it could not be beat. In fact the Giggler seemed to raise her overall happiness level several notches during that meal which has not lowered in almost a week. Too bad I've read such terrible reviews about the San Francisco location or I'd make a trip up there.

  • One morning we met up with a local Las Vegas friend who drove us to the Children's Museum and also a stop at the Beau Monde gluten free bakery. We sampled some coffee cake, a brownie, vanilla cupcake with strawberry butter cream and 2 cake pops: carrot and chocolate mint. All were good, but not in the same category as the amazing Zest Bakery in San Carlos or 2Good2B in La Jolla. But as always we really appreciated being able to eat gluten free baked goods and I highly recommend checking them out if you are in town. My favorites were the cake pops - dense flavorful cakes covered in a yummy white chocolate (for the carrot cake) or dark chocolate (for the mint) coatings. 
So there you have it - good food can be found in Sin City!