Gluten-free food: Two chefs get it. Let’s get through to the rest.

“What’s your favorite gluten-free restaurant?” A group of NYC bloggers answered this question during introductions at dinner on Tuesday night. When my turn came (too soon! Wasn’t ready!), I said, abashed, “I don’t eat out much anymore, so I don’t have one yet.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, 93% of people (and, I bet, even more in New York) enjoy eating out, but I’m generally no longer among them. The service is always too brusque, the food too suspect, the assurance too absent. Instead of relaxing, I worry through the entire experience, from ordering (oh God, I’m taking so long) to paying (does the waiter really deserve 20% after dropping crumbs into my meal? But what kind of person doesn’t tip?). Admittedly, my so-so experiences may be partly a function of my restaurant selection and neurotic personality. But it’s also true that a lot of places just don’t get it.

Recently, though, I visited two that did. Check out my reviews, then let’s discuss how to make experiences like these happen more often for us all.

Mehtaphor

When I attended the launch of the GREAT Kitchens Chef’s Table luncheon tour at MehtaphorChef Jehangir Mehta (who also owns Graffiti) served us elegant, inventive tasting courses inspired by Asian (especially Indian) and French cuisine. Standouts, for me, were the grilled tofu topped with a chickpea flour-breaded onion ring and cilantro chutney, and dessert—a rum raisin ice cream sundae topped with sweet pappadum-inspired crisps. The food made me think differently about some of my favorite (and least favorite—see: cilantro) foods, which is exactly what a restaurant should do.

More importantly, the chef and his waitstaff were pleasant, articulate, reliable, and accommodating. Mehta seemed passionate about the idea of serving everybody who entered, and he did it well. He said his dream was to one day own a restaurant serving just one person at a time, which I found pretty cool.

MORE chickpea flour!!!

MORE chickpea flour! It’s everywhere.

Tommy Lasagna

Chef Tommy Mosera is new to the gluten-free business, but it doesn’t show. At Tuesday’s blogger dinner at Tommy Lasagna, our server Zach and the chef himself were so personable, informed, and forthcoming that I almost want to say the service was the standout—except that that’d be unfair to the housemade focaccia and mozzarella, farmers market lasagna, flourless chocolate cake, and light-as-air cheesecake.

Chef Mosera explained he phased in gluten-free items a few at a time to get his staff used to taking precautions—and, my, the precautions! The pasta is made in-house, but in its own equipment, in the morning before any gluten molecules might be in the air to drift into our lasagna like so many acid snowflakes. Mosera also names the gluten-free menu items differently from gluten-containing items (not just “GF such and such”) to avoid confusion at the point of order—an inspired idea. His work seems to have paid off, since afterwards we all felt great (if a tad overstuffed). The restaurant is launching its full gluten-free menu this weekend.

Whatever the omnivores were having sounded good, too, but give me two slabs of fresh mozzarella and I am o-k-a-y.

Whatever the omnivores were having for their first course sounded good, too, but give me a few slabs of fresh mozzarella and I am o-k-a-y.

My compliments to the chefs!

Both chefs also contended admirably with other restrictions thrown their way, including my vegetarianism and a smattering of allergies. If you’re in the New York area and eat gluten-free (or don’t), Mehtaphor and Tommy Lasagna are both well worth a visit.

What inspired these chefs to give us an experience so out of the ordinary? Chef Mosera created his gluten-free menu after his business partner’s wife (the person who suggested he open a restaurant) became gluten sensitive. Chef Mehta feels that serving people food they can eat is why he opened a restaurant in the first place.

So now I wonder: How can we get other chefs to follow their example?

I tried to answer that question this week on My Life With Food Allergies. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to stop by and let me know if you agree.

And, in the spirit of trying new things, check out these blogs by the folks with whom I had the distinct pleasure of sharing these meals. Some of these bloggers, I already followed and was excited to meet in person; some I’d met before and was thrilled to see again; and some were new to me; but all of them are smart, fun folks whose blogs you ought to read (if you don’t already!).

Barbara of About.com IBS, Mike of Gluten-Free Mike, Anya of Another Gluten-Free Blog, Judith of Fooditka and We Heart Astoria, Carolyn of Gluten-Free Bird and the Brooklyn Gluten-Free Meetup Group, Candice of London to NYC, Katie of Gluten-Free Blondie and the hilarious When I Went Gluten-Free, Kristen of Pasta’s Kitchen, and Erin (who organized the Tommy Lasagna dinner) of Gluten-Free Fun, Gluten-Free Globe Trotterand the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup Group.

Have you discovered any new favorite blogs or restaurants recently?

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13 thoughts on “Gluten-free food: Two chefs get it. Let’s get through to the rest.

  1. Pen says:

    Oh wow, a rare time I wish I lived in New York…
    I have an upcoming complicated tonsil-sinus-face surgery coming up right around Thanksgiving and my father (a hardcore anti-gluten and Paleo diet follower) said he was going to make sure to make his gluten-free cheesecake just for me. Which I can eat because it is more a mousse and doesn’t have any “sharp” pieces that will both my throat! I’m trying to pin him down on the recipe because it’s amazing!

    Ahem, slight tangent, but I was excited and thought this would be a good place to share my happy news, since everyone on here is so kind about diet issues. I don’t know how you feel about cheesecake, but I will certainly make sure it share it if I can get the recipe :-)

    • Molly says:

      Every place is a good place for cheesecake tangents, in my opinion. I hope you will share your dad’s recipe (and I wouldn’t say no to Chef Tommy’s, either!). New York has its drawbacks, yes, but lack of great food isn’t one of them. Very best of luck to you with your surgery. That doesn’t sound like fun…though at least it’s a good excuse to eat cheesecake (not that one is needed).

  2. Go to Bistango, you won’t regret it! They are very attentive to GF needs and have a full GF menu inc awesome Italian bread.
    What kind of NYC blogger hangout is that? (Nosy lol)

    • Molly says:

      I won a gift card to Bistango at a fundraiser, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, so I will definitely be getting myself there soon. The dinner was at Tommy Lasagna and I don’t know for sure if similar things will come up but Erin of Gluten Free Fun was the organizer so if you’re interested in attending future events I’d suggest you connect with her via Twitter. :)

  3. Also bistango offer dairy free items also!!!

  4. shaina says:

    Just went to Bistango for dinner last week and it was delicious (GF squash tortellini, mmmm).

    My favorite recent find is Hu Kitchen, right by union square – everything’s gluten free except some of their beers (which makes me breathe so much easier when I eat there), and they have a really great cider/GF beer selection too! (It’s actually not an asian place, but more of a paleo/”clean” foods type of place, with lots of interesting vegetarian/meat-eater options.

    • Molly says:

      I like Hu Kitchen too! They do a great job of striking a balance between paleo and vegetarian, which is a balance some don’t believe is achievable…I also visited Hampton Chutney last night, buoyed by recent successes, and had a very tasty dosa.

  5. I still eat out (not nearly as much though) but I just stick to places I feel ‘safe’. I haven’t tried anywhere new in months now. Sometimes that makes me sad but I’m just not willing to risk the glutening anymore (or at least not right now).

    I envy you living close to other gluten free bloggers and getting to do meetups with people who understand you and celiac. :)

  6. […] The few restaurants I can actually visit without it being considered an act of self harm   I guess I sorta gave you that one.   […]

  7. […] (or that a LOT of other gluten-free people have). Since even those of us in metro areas have approximately two restaurants like that in our lives, this one’s a […]

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