While I consider myself enough of a foodie to run a blog that reviews restaurants, I’m aware that I have a few blind spots. For example, Korean food. I wouldn’t know good Korean food if it bit me on the leg. I feel the same way about Tapas, and it isn’t for lack of trying. I’ve actually had plenty of Tapas, and have eaten them in several places (in San Francisco and Seattle) where I was assured that theirs was of great quality. Maybe I should say that I don’t feel a great affinity for Tapas. At the same time, I do feel like I’ve eaten enough great food that I know it when I eat it. And I think Sienna’s experience is similar.
Does it sound like I’m winding up to deliver a negative review? It does, doesn’t it? Well, not so fast. This is a tale of two nights, and I think that it’s going to be a little long-winded, so you might want to get a cup of coffee.
We’ve wanted to cover Andina on Gluten Free Portland for quite a long time. It’s a fancy Peruvian restaurant in the Pearl at NW 13th and Glisan. Not only do they have the reputation of being a great restaurant, they are also very seriously gluten-free friendly. Andina has a separate gluten-free menu, and their staff is very knowledgeable and friendly about the topic. I have to give them 5 out of 5 possible stars on the gluten-free experience. This fits, considering that one of the features of truly good quality restaurants is a high level of service. Andina is simply not messing around when it comes to service. The other two things that Andina has down pat is cocktails and desserts. You cannot go wrong with either.
The first night we went to Andina also happened to be Sienna’s birthday. We had heard a lot about the place, and had been there once before but just for drinks. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they have an extensive gluten-free menu, which is basically the same as the main menu with the few gluten-containing dishes removed. The menu is extensive and adventurous. On the left-hand side of the menu are Tapas–small plates for sharing. On the right-hand side are entrees.
On this night we decided to go for several small plates. Our server recommended 4-6 small plates to feed two people. We ordered the Pimiento Piquillo Relleno, which is peppers stuffed with cheese, quinoa, and ham, the Musciame de Atun, which is cured tuna with a garlic oil and what amounts to guacamole, and the Palta Rellena de Cangrejo y Langostinos, avocado stuffed with crab and prawns. We also ordered a “Causa.” These are like mashed potato cakes with fillings. We got the Morada Causa, which is a purple potato cake with shredded chicken breast. Last, we ordered a cheese assortment with quince jam, called the Quesos Artesanos con Membrillo.
Some quick notes: The cosmopolitan at Andina is top-notch. I had a greyhound, which was awesome. After you order, they bring bread, or in the case of gluten-free diners, fried yucca plant. This is a bit like eating french fries but more kind of doughy and fibrous. I loved the fried yucca plant! I’m used to having to watch everyone else at the table eat bread, and so it was a real treat to get my own “bread.”
Of these dishes, the only one I felt a little hesitation about ordering was the cured tuna. I’m not really a cured fish kind of guy. As it turned out, neither of us was really into this dish, and we both felt that the avocado was under-ripe. Sadly, that also carried over into the prawn and crab-stuffed avocado. This dish ended up being the most disappointing to us. While it was close to being properly ripe, we thought that the avocado just wasn’t quite ready to go. The dish says you’re getting “prawns,” but for the small plate that means you’re getting a single half of a prawn, which we thought was tasteless. The crab was a “crab salad” concoction, which tasted like crab salad one might get in a grocery store deli.
Check out the presentation here. They do an awesome job on presentation at Andina. We were also really disappointed by this dish. It came out cold, which we weren’t expecting. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be served, but we felt that it might be better a bit warm. It was also, on the whole, flavorless. It tasted mostly of potatoes and mayonnaise. I was really shocked and amazed at how dull this dish was.
On the good news side, the Pimiento Piquillo Rellenos were amazing. This was the dish that made us scratch our heads over the other ones. These are flavorful and complex, and are like something I’ve never quite tasted before. They must be popular, too, because we saw the waiters carrying a lot of them that night. Look at the presentation! What a great dish. We also really enjoyed the cheese assortment. It comes with toasted corn, which is unique and makes the dish fun to eat.
I mentioned earlier that the desserts at Andina are amazing. They have a brownie that is gluten-free and is made with quinoa flour. It’s called the Chocolate Andino. Wow it’s amazing. Also amazing is the Mousse de Valle y Selva, which the menu describes as “a tiered semi-freddo of velvety lucuma and espresso mousses, chocolate ganache, and crushed cocoa nib meringue, served with espresso shortbread.” Unfortunately, the shortbread is not gluten-free, but they are happy to put it on the side if your friend wants to eat it. This mousse is easily on par with the best of all the desserts I had during our trip to Italy, which is really saying something. You really should try it.
The brownie came out with Happy Birthday on it, which was unfortunate because it was for the wrong person. The brownie was mine, but it was Sienna’s birthday. Doh! We decided not to make a big deal out of it, considering the service up until that point had been amazing.
What we did next is not for the weak of heart. After discussing the meal between ourselves over the next couple of days, and finding that we agreed on the weak points and the strong points, we decided to call Andina and tell them that we had been disappointed with our meal. We were confused. Andina has an adventurous menu, great service, some really promising dishes, some amazing desserts, and people rave about it. We were confused about how they could have served us something that tasted like mayonnaisey crab salad on an under-ripe avocado. Sienna did the calling. She ended up speaking to the manager, and spent some time with him. One of our questions was, “Did we get dishes that aren’t very flavorful?” Maybe we picked the wrong dishes? Maybe we should have tried the entrees instead?
I’ve found that complaining at restaurants can be a harrowing affair. Besides having the feeling that you might be asking for some spit in your replacement dish, I’ve had one or two really awful experiences. For example, I once had a chef come out into the dining area, walk over to our table, and ask if I could tell him what I didn’t like about the dish. He stood there, awkwardly, looking at the floor with hunched shoulders, while I told him that I thought the dish was over-cooked and tasteless (he asked–and I wanted to be honest). Then he apologized and walked back into the kitchen. The restaurant comped the dish, and we never went back.
I should mention here that we did not tell Andina that we were Gluten Free Portland. We never tell restaurants. They might have known who we were by Sienna’s name–there aren’t a lot of Siennas running around–but I doubt it. The manager at Andina asked us to come back and try them again. He sent us a gift card and a letter in the mail. He asked us to make sure he was a aware when we would be coming back, and he told us that he would make sure we had a better experience.
So we went back, and we told him that we were coming. This was a little bit at odds with our usual policy of showing up at restaurants anonymously, but we decided that it was the right thing to do. We also went with a plan: we decided to get some entrees instead of small plates. For the entrees, we got the Dorato al Rocoto y Kion, which is the fish of the day over a shiitake mushroom, with bacon in a broth, and served with asparagus-quinoa fried rice. I got the Arroz con Pato–Duck with rice. For an appetizer, we ordered the Anticucho de Pulpo–grilled octopus kebob.
The Pisco Sour at Andina is awesome! You should get one.
While ordering, we mentioned our situation to our server. It turned out that he had already been alerted to our presence. We consulted with him about our dishes with an eye towards making sure that the dishes we chose would be flavorful, and that seemed to work. We really liked the octopus kebob dish. It was garlicky and interesting. It comes with a chimichurri–which is kind of a chunky green sauce. This was the kind of dish we had been looking for the first night!
The roasted fish in broth. The menu states that this dish comes with mahi mahi, but on the night we visited it was made with sea bass. Again, this dish was great. The fish was perfectly prepared. The broth was excellent. The dish has sesame oil in it, which makes for a very interesting flavor combination with the fish and shiitake mushroom.
The duck with rice, which was exceptional. They cook the duck breast how you like it, which is really key with a duck dish like this. You can see it’s a little rare here, which was excellent. The duck breast comes with a duck confit, and a sauce that is a little bit like a sweet and sour. I was very happy with my dish. The rice for the fish and the duck has quinoa seeds and slices of asparagus in it. Also during the meal, we were brought a little gluten-free fish cake treat. The cake was made with quinoa and sea bass.
During dessert they brought by a taste of guava and prickly pear sorbet. For dessert, I had no choice but to order the mousse, which was just as fantastic as it had been the other night. Sienna got the crème brûlée run, which is three different flavors of crème brûlée in separate pots. On that night the flavors were lemon verbena, caramel, and dark chocolate. All three of these were great. Did we mention that the coffee is excellent? It is.
We ended up happy, stuffed, and content. We were also relieved. The both of us were really worried that our second night at Andina would prove to be as disappointing as the first. We were delighted that we were able to tell everyone who asked that all of our dishes were delicious. We’ll doubtlessly be back for special occasions, although we hope to be able to go with a much smaller profile the next time, and we will consult with our waiter to make sure that we’re choosing flavorful dishes.
Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free friendly but Ask Questions!
Times we have visited: 2 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same
1314 NW Glisan St., Portland OR 97209 / 503.228.9535