Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The End of the Danal Story

Read the Beginning of the Danal Story, about how to approach a restaurant to ask for GF food HERE.

So, I emailed the folks back, telling them what I could eat, including a long laundry list of eggs, nuts, dairy, butter, wine, potatoes, etc., and they emailed back a short note saying we could discuss the menu when we got there.


I almost didn't go, but I stuck a couple protein bars in my purse and figured that I could just drink a soda with my friends if the food was going to suck. So, I went.

When I got there, the hostess showed me the menu and said, "Pick out whatever you want, and we'll have the chef make it without wheat or flour."


I got the Salmon and vegetables with lemon/white wine sauce en papillote, which means that they prepare and bake everything in a parchment paper bag. This greatly reduces the chance of cross-contamination, so it's a really good idea for celiacs to consider this method of preparation whenever they're dining out.

It was yummy. I ate a whole lot. The potatoes and veggies underneath were scrumptious. The sauce was delectable.

If you're in downtown Manhattan, try Danal.

More importantly, here's the lesson I learned from this experience: don't just hit the restaurant with a huge list (like the one at celiac.com) of "Thou Shalt Not's." It's counterproductive and sends them into lockdown mode.

After telling them that you can't eat flour, whole wheat flour, bread, bread crumbs, panko, or soy sauce, tell them what you can eat.

I think I freaked them out with the huge list of all the variations of things I can't eat.

Tell them what's okay, including: eggs, dairy, butter, wine, spices (except asofoetida, also called hing, an Indian spice that is nearly always cut with wheat flour because it smells like cat pee or window cleaner,) herbs, garlic, potatoes, fruit, vegetables, most salad dressings especially vinaigrettes but no croutons or blue cheese, and all fresh oil in a clean pan including peanut, olive, and canola.

When they ask what you want, just avoid deep fried stuff and things with buns. Don't make it hard for them.

This one turned out fine. I ate a delicious meal with no glutenization symptoms afterward.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Approaching a restaurant to ask for GF food

I'm shy about having celiac disease. Asking for gluten-free food is restaurants is rough for me.

I don't like making a fuss. I detest being whiney or asking for special treatment.

Case in point: I'm attending a function this weekend at Danal, a country French restaurant in NYC. Ethnic food is usually more amenable to GF options, and Continental food is the hardest. I knew it was going to be tough. So, about 5 days in advance, I sent the following email through Danal's website:


I will be dining at Dinal on Saturday, Sept 19. I have a serious allergic reaction to wheat, gluten, white or whole wheat flour, bread, bread crumbs, pasta, panko, rye, most soy sauce, and barley. What may I eat at your fine establishment?

I admit, I stuck that blog address in there in an attempt to get special treatment.

Danal was very nice and emailed back the next morning:

Hi TK,

I have discussed your allergies with our chef and just wanted to verify, are you able to have oil?
we can prepare something along the lines of steamed fish or chicken with boiled vegetables.

Are you participating in our Rosh Hashanah dinner on the 19th, or a regular dinner?


So, they're being very nice, but I still feel petulant. It's tough, but we have to do it.

This is why I tend to either 1) cook at home, and why I've gotten pretty darn good at it, or 2) occasionally go to chain restaurants that have a standardized menu with GF options, like Outback or P.F. Chang's. When I can, I find small restaurants with GF sensitivities, like Risotteria in NYC, but those're hard to find. It takes research and time to search those out.

Here's where I'm really petulant: When I go to a restaurant, I want something good, not just steamed chicken and boiled vegetables. It's safe, and I have to go out this weekend to this particular restaurant, so I'll grin and bear it, but geez. I can make that at home in 20 minutes, even though I wouldn't make that at home because I'm a vegetarian. (At a restaurant, I eat whatever is safe, but at home I eat low on the environmental food chain, cruelty-free, and what won't cause a heart attack at age 50. Vegetarian food provides all these benefits.)

When I go out, I want to eat something that I can't make better at home. When I'm going to be paying $40-$60 for one meal, like I will this weekend, I want it to taste good. I'm glad I probably won't be getting glutenized, but I'm disheartened about their response to the point where I'm thinking of not going. I'd rather eat Chang's Spicy GF Chicken at P.F. Changs, or the Huge Vegetarian Market Bar Stir Fry with GF Teriyaki Sauce at Stir Crazy, or a whole pan of Betty Crocker's GF Brownies at home.

Anyway, that's my latest dilemma. I emailed them back, and when they email back, I'll post those. It's just mortifying.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Olive Garden's Gluten-Free Choices

Contrary to what you might expect, The Olive Garden has some GF options.

Most of the options are Zone-diet meat-and-vegetables type fare, though they claim that they have GF penne now, too.

I am somewhat dubious about this new leaf that Olive Garden has turned over. First of all, comments about Olive Garden at the Gluten-Free Registry have been less than stellar.

If you go, impress upon the server, manager, chef, and anyone else who will listen that everything must be cooked in fresh water. Usually, they just toss vegetables in the pasta water to cook. That's more than enough cross-contamination to cause a major glutenization.

Caveat emptor.