“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.
When I attended the launch of the GREAT Kitchens Chef’s Table luncheon tour at Mehtaphor, Chef 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.
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.
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 Trotter, and the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup Group.
Have you discovered any new favorite blogs or restaurants recently?