Open Letter to Resaurants

Majority of the time, I try to bring a lunch to work so I don’t have to deal with the hassle of eating out.  Life happens though, and sometimes I have no other option than running out in search of food near my office.  I have a hard time finding places I trust, instantly cringing anytime I see a restaurant that has bins of ingredients lined up, an instant concern for cross contamination.  But seeing a place that has so many signs about requesting gluten-free gives me hope that I can give somewhere a shot.  I always begin my order by courteously requesting that my server change their gloves, explaining that I am “severely allergic” to gluten.  So why then today, after watching the server carefully take off his gloves, wash his hands and arms, and putting on new gloves would the server then hand my food off to the next person in the chain?  Before I had caught up with my food it had already been contaminated!  Seething as I watched my gluten-free salad poured onto another workers stale gloves to be chopped, I explained the situation and they tossed out my first round of food.  As that server then began to clean his hands, another server attempted to make salad round two for me.  Now explain to me why on earth, after two servers have washed their hands and changed their gloves for me, would a THIRD begin making my salad with OLD GLOVES?!

After throwing out two salads that had been contaminated, I finally had one made by a single person with fresh gloves, but it made me think about the situation as I watched this all unfold.  Under no circumstances would it be acceptable for a server to sneeze on food and serve it to a customer.  So why then, after I’ve carefully explained my situation, do they continue to be so hasty with my food?  I am not on a fad diet, I do not eat gluten-free because it’s trendy.  I eat gluten-free because it’s the only solution to celiac disease!  And when restaurants are careless with my food the following almost always occurs within 30 minutes:

1. I am forced to leave work for the day, feeling too ill to continue.
2. I spend the next few hours curled in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, intermittently vomiting and dealing with diarrhea.
3. I lose all energy, and sleep for hours.
4. I deal with lingering symptoms for the next few days.

It’s not acceptable for me to walk over and casually spray your meal with bacteria; don’t do the same to me by hastily handling my food.  When I tell you I have a severe allergy please take me seriously and know that your actions have very serious consequences to my health!

Columbia Firehouse – Alexandria Restaurant Week

I’m a little behind on getting this entry up, but Alexandria Restaurant Week was the week following DC’s, and naturally I had to try out another new place!  I had plans to meet up with a good friend of mine, and she happily agreed to trying somewhere new.  After going through all of the menus, we settled on Columbia Firehouse thanks to their incredible sounding seafood dishes.  I had called a few of the restaurants in advance to see how they reacted to my request for a gluten free restaurant week selection.  Columbia Firehouse was quick to tell me that although they did not have a separate selection for gluten free guests, the chef was very knowledgeable, and could work with me to ensure I had a great meal.  SOLD!

This next part of the reservation was something I wish I’d figured out earlier.  I’m not sure how many people out there are already using Open Table, I used it occasionally, but it’s now become my best preemptive move when making reservations.  Remember my last entry about Bora Bora?  At the end, one of my lessons learned was to notify the resort in advance.  Hint: That concept doesn’t just apply to resorts!  I’ve updated my profile on Open Table to include the following automated special request (which will be sent to the restaurant anytime I make a reservation): “Guest has a severe Gluten allergy, must eat gluten free and restaurant will need to be aware of potential cross-contamination. Thank you!”  It’s short and sweet, and while we all know it isn’t a gluten allergy, the response I get to that message is incredible!

When I arrived at the restaurant, my friend had already been seated and was gushing about how concerned the staff was that they prepare my meal safely.  After realizing the request was for me and not her, they held back further information until I was seated.  Once I was handed my menu, our waiter discussed with me the items that would definitely not be safe.  He then asked what I wanted so he could discuss modifications with the chef.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I personally prefer ordering items with the least modifications necessary.  It’s the easiest on the kitchen, and has more of a chance to taste the way the chef initially intended.  I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted, so I let the waiter tell me what the most popular and “famous” items on the menu were.  Being a cold day, I settled on the soup of the day, along with their scallops, and a slightly modified apple – pear compote for dessert.

Every last bite of each course was delicious!!!  Not only that, but the staff were so accommodating.  When my friend didn’t want the potatoes that came with her meal, they allowed her to substitute the side with an additional helping of greens without batting an eye.  When her sauteed kale came out, I have to say it looked great!  Open Table’s special requests section was definitely a success.  All future reservations I make will without a doubt include that message 🙂 Now for the fun stuff…pictures of my dinner!

Sweet Potato Soup

Pureed Sweet Potato Soup with Pesto and Cream Garnishes

Seared Day Boat Scallops

Scallops, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, House Cured Bacon, Turban Squash, Mulled Cider Syrup

Spiced Apple & Pear Crisp

Cinnamon-Vanilla Apple and Pear Compote & Ginger Ice Cream (ordered without the Oat Streusel to make the dish gluten free)

Bora Bora – Honeymoon part 1

While my husband and I were planning a vacation years ago, we decided to build a “bucket list” of places we’ve always wanted to visit.  The list started as a very rough list in my phone, and has grown to a live document organized by region of the world.  Back then when Bora Bora was mentioned, we decided that it was such an incredible and extravagant destination that it had to be either our honeymoon, or a major anniversary celebration.  Fast forward a few more years, and there we were planning the honeymoon of a lifetime!

This trip was a huge step for me in learning to manage my celiac disease.  Prior to our honeymoon I’d been to fifteen foreign countries, but my last trip had been only months before the celiac diagnosis.  As I learned to live with the limitations and adjustments, I had completely stopped traveling!  I set out trying to figure out how to tackle our trip, and what I need to take care of before we left.  We were planning to stay at the Hilton Bora Bora, and from what I could tell on their website, the restaurants on the property would be first class.

When it came time to pack up our suitcases, I decided to bring with me enough LÄRABARS to have one per day.  I’m not sure how everyone else does when they get hungry, but if I can’t eat as soon as hunger hits, we’re all in trouble!!  I tend to get very nauseous, a little cranky, and very quickly lose my appetite to the point that I really can’t eat.  I’ve always blamed my reaction to hunger on the fact that I no longer have a gallbladder, but let’s be honest, I’m no doctor and I don’t know the true reasoning behind it.  The LÄRABARS gave us the confidence to know that wherever we were, I had something I could eat immediately if need be!

Please let me stress before you read this next part, Bora Bora was an absolutely incredible trip, and I truly had the time of my life!  Once we arrived, we quickly learned what appears to be many restaurants on the hotel’s website is in reality only two.  One very expensive restaurant, and a more “reasonably” priced grill style restaurant.  Here’s a basic synopsis of how each of our meals turned out:

Breakfast: The Hilton truly had a five star experience for breakfast.  There was an entire room filled with fresh fruits, in addition to an omelet station (I ignored everything else).  Because none of the ingredients in the omelet station had gluten in them, I was able to have one every morning without thinking about cross-contamination in the pans.  Of course I always started the day with a nice variety of tropical fruits as well 🙂  Once the hotel found out I could not have gluten, they went out of their way to track down gluten free breads in town, which were promptly brought to our table each morning!

Lunch/Dinner: These meals were more of a challenge for me.  The menu for the grill restaurant had the following sections: starters/salads, sandwiches, bruschetta, pizza, pasta, burgers, fish, meat, and dessert.  You can see where I started to have a problem.  The bruschetta, pizza and pastas were out, leaving me with salads (without the croutons), burgers (without the bun), fish or meat.  On top of that, they only had three fish options, fish of the day in vanilla sauce, fish’n’chips (yikes!), or a fish plate to share which had both tempura and soy sauce in the description!!  Needless to say I was getting an overload of protein, with too much vanilla sauce and very little variety.

Stuffed tuna dinner at the upscale resort restaurant.

Stuffed tuna dinner at the upscale resort restaurant.

The biggest surprise hit of that week was our excursion outside of the resort to get dinner.  We had heard other honeymooners rave about Bloody Mary’s, so we had the concierge book us a reservation near the end of our trip.  Dinner that night was beyond anything we’d imagined!!  Walking in, we were brought to an open ice display of raw food (check it out here!) which was our menu for the evening.  The servers quickly addressed my gluten concerns, pointing out exactly which appetizers and meals I could not have.  We ordered our food on the spot, and were escorted to a private table where we enjoyed kicking off our sandals to feel the sand floor beneath our feet!  I wish I could remember exactly what we ate, but hopefully you’ll enjoy this fun picture instead 🙂
Bloody Mary's Menu

Getting to choose our dinner from a raw bar of options!

Overall it was an incredible experience! Here were my major takeaways from the trip…I had to start somewhere right?

Lesson #1: People in the tourism industry are usually very eager to please their guests, let them know ahead of your trip that you require special dietary needs so they have plenty of time to research and prepare!

Lesson #2: Resort is not a synonym for “easy access to anything you need,” if it took you 10+ hours to fly there, chances are it takes just as long, if not longer, to get typical deliveries of goods there as well.  This especially is important to remember when telling the resort about food allergies (back to lesson #1, I should have warned them ahead of time).

Lesson #3: When you pack gluten free snacks in your bag, don’t forget to transfer them into whatever you’re carrying for the day!  They won’t do you any good back in your room 😦

Local Flavor – Lincoln Restaurant Review

Here goes nothing!  I’m new to blogging, so we’ll keep this first entry simple.  This past week was restaurant week in Washington, DC and I love trying new places at a great price.  For those of you that have never heard of restaurant week, it’s essentially one week that local restaurants offer a three to four course dinner for $35.14 (or $20.14 for lunch).  My husband and I decide to venture somewhere new after a good friend told me about Lincoln’s gluten free menu.  This restaurant did not disappoint!  The service was incredible, the ambiance was so unique and patriotic in a glamorous way, and the food was absolutely delicious!

First of all, they had a specialized gluten free menu which was almost completely separate from their regular dishes to help the kitchen staff differentiate between gluten-sensitive guests.  Our waiter seemed very knowledgeable about cross-contamination, and assured us that the staff would be incredibly careful in making my dishes.  Overall I give them an 8 out of 10, definitely a restaurant I’ll return to!  Without further ado, here’s what I ordered.

Yellowfin Tuna - Poke Style Tuna, Coffee Bean Vinaigrette, Grapefruit Ponzu Jam, Honey Compressed Jalapeños, Candied Grapefruit, Smoked Crème Fraiche

Yellowfin Tuna – Poke Style Tuna, Coffee Bean Vinaigrette, Grapefruit Ponzu Jam, Honey Compressed Jalapeños, Candied Grapefruit, Smoked Crème Fraiche

Beet Salad - Grilled Baby Beets, Whipped Goat Cheese, Sunflower Sprouts, Candied Walnuts, Creamy Horseradish Dressing, Olive Soil

Beet Salad – Grilled Baby Beets, Whipped Goat Cheese, Sunflower Sprouts, Candied Walnuts, Creamy Horseradish Dressing, Olive Soil

NY Strip Steak - Black Garlic Gelée, Duck Fat Potatoes, Smoked Sea Salt

NY Strip Steak – Black Garlic Gelée, Duck Fat Potatoes, Smoked Sea Salt

Burnt Banana Sundae - Fudge, Stracciatella Ice Cream, Toffee Popcorn

Burnt Banana Sundae – Fudge, Stracciatella Ice Cream, Toffee Popcorn