Mi Mero Mole – Guisados in Portland

Gluten Free Tacos at Mi Mero Mole

The Splendid Humble Taco

Mi Mero Mole is a Mexican street food concept restaurant created and run by Nick Zukin (the Zuke in Kenny & Zuke’s). When you enter the SE Division eatery, you’ll find a blackboard with the day’s “guisados”: three choices of meat, a seafood option, two vegetarian options, and one vegan dish. You pick the guisado (which is a stew or filling) and then choose what format you’d like your guisado served in. You can get them in the form of tacos, plates (platos machos), burritos, and quesadillas.

Mi Mero Mole Daily Blackboard

Here a taco is the most basic, consisting of a guisado with rice on a corn tortilla. Platos Machos is about the same except you get chips, rice, beans, and two tortillas. Burritos are off our menu because they use wheat tortillas (sorry). As many of our readers can probably guess, a quesadilla is about the same as a taco, just add cheese and give it some time on the grill. Some examples of guisado choices from the board: Pork in adobo, meatballs in a chipotle-tomato sauce (the meatballs aren’t gluten free), chicken with cactus in a tomatillo sauce, smoked tongue, shrimp in a cream sauce, poblano chiles in a sour cream and cheese sauce, mushrooms and asparagus in a red chile and cream sauce, and the vegan potatoes and cactus in chipotle and tomatillo sauce.

Care has obviously been taken to present adventurous street fare, as the menu includes tongue, blood sausage, rabbit, and even duck. The printed menu is marked for gluten, vegetarian, vegan, and different levels of fire. The atmosphere is an exact cross between a hipster gastro pub and a Mexican hole in the wall. So the seating format screams Mexican restaurant while the music playing is on the hipster/alt side. You order at a counter, but the lighting is subdued.

Maldonado Punch at Mi Mero Mole

We liked the atmosphere, although to me, Mi Mero Mole seems more like a place to grab some tacos on your way to something else. Probably because of the format: You order at a counter and sit down. The food is brought to you very quickly. Besides chips and guacamole, there aren’t really appetizers. The only thing that says “stay a while” to me are the cocktails and beer. Like the guisado menu, the cocktail menu is very interesting. The drinks are strong. There are also aguas frescas, and the horchata is sweet and heavy on the cinnamon.

The staff is very friendly and helpful. As mentioned, the food comes out quickly and is a good temperature. The ingredients seem to be fresh. The times we’ve visited, Zukin himself was bringing out the dishes and talking to people in the restaurant.

Gluten Free Plato Machos at Mi Mero Mole

The chips are awesome and seem house made. The tortillas are fresh and delicious. The salsa choices are good. The guacamole is disappointingly tame, and could benefit from garlic and lime juice. We have tried a bunch of different guisados. The egg ones we found too salty, but everything else we have tried has been great. I’m pretty sure that the pork in adobo is our favorite, but we are also partial to the chicken and cactus, and the vegan cactus and potatoes. Fans of fried plantains will love the Mi Mero Mole version, which is served with a sauce made from Mexican sour cream, sugar, and cinnamon.

Google translate tells me that Mi Mero Mole translates to “My Mere Mole.” Mole is pronounced like “Ole!” but with an M, and means “a mixture.” I’m thinking that in this case, Zukin was thinking “my simple mix” and that is indeed what the restaurant is. If you’re looking for a no fuss, no muss, inexpensive Mexican taste treat on a weekday night, it’s going to be pretty hard to go wrong with a place like Mi Mero Mole.

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free Friendly but Ask Questions
Times we have visited: 3 (So we feel pretty good about the rating.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: same

Mi Mero Mole
mmmtacospdx.com
5026 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97215
(503) 232-8226

Restaurant Review: Natural Selection on Alberta

There are so many ways to twist the name of this restaurant to make a fancy headline that I’m not going to do it. Not that I’m “into” fancy, eye-grabbing headlines to begin with. If you’re not familiar with Natural Selection, read up on some Darwin. Ha ha. I kid. In reality, Natural Selection on Alberta is a restaurant in (for today, but maybe not tomorrow,) sunny Portland, Oregon. Being on Alberta, you know there’s an angle, don’t you? To be honest, there are several angles. First up, Natural Selection is an upscale vegetarian restaurant. It is vegan and gluten-free friendly. The menu changes weekly on Wednesdays.

Natural Selection Menu

(Sadly, those fried artichokes are not gluten-free! Maybe next time?)

Although a person can order à la carte, it’s really best to do a four course meal with selections from the menu. As you can see, the menu has two columns. So there are 2 of each course to choose from. For an extra 11 clams, you can get wine pairings to go with your courses. We didn’t do the wine pairings, opting instead for a pair of interesting (and strong) cocktails from their extensive and interesting cocktail menu.

Eating at Natural Selection reminded me of a pair of restaurant rules we followed during our trip to Italy. Generally speaking, it’s a good rule to never eat in a restaurant that: A) You don’t know, and B) Is empty. In Venice, it wasn’t enough to look for a restaurant that was full of people, because it might be full of tourists eating terrible Italian Cuisine cooked especially for tourists. We noticed that in restaurants where the food was bad, the Italians would look uncomfortable, almost to the point of looking stunned or visibly dismayed. So to our “no empty restaurants” rule, we added a “look for happy eaters” rule. These two rules served us well. The reason Natural Selection reminded me of these rules is because when we went there, everybody looked happy.

Besides the interesting menu and happy patrons, they have very cool lighting, nice decor, had Radiohead playing the entire time we were there, and their staff was friendly and prompt. I’m going to get our one complaint out of the way right now: The seating there is kind of uncomfortable. The restaurant is basically a row of tables with chairs on one side and cushioned “booth” type seating on the other. The chairs are hard and too upright for my tastes. On the cushion side, there is a large gap between the bottom cushion and the back cushion, so Sienna ended up sitting with her purse behind her to avoid it.

Gluten free sweet pea soup

On to the food. On the menu posted up above, I did the fully vegan, gluten-free right-hand side run of courses. Note that our waitress did mention that you should tell them that you’re gluten free. She said that there might be a difference in what you get, depending on what’s on the menu. Before the courses began, we were brought a tasty little amuse bouche. Then came the Sweet Pea Soup. This soup was delicious, and didn’t taste like any pea soup I had ever had. The carrot and pickled red onion island there in the middle was crunchy, which served as a nice counterpoint to the creamy soup.

Next up on my side was a Radish and Cucumber Salad, the photo of which didn’t turn out, but which was very interesting. It had pickled sea weed (“sea beans”) and radishes, so it was kind of pickly, vinegary, and bitter. Pictured above is a Mixed Romaine Salad with pear, dried figs, and a walnut dressing. That was the better of the two salads. I found my salad a little too monochromatic, and liked the more sweet and cheesy walnut flavor of the romaine salad.

Abalone Mushroom on Polenta - gluten free

Here’s the Abalone Mushroom on fried Polenta. This dish was really amazing. The Polenta was done perfectly, and the sauce was tasty. We had to look up what “romesco” was. It’s a sauce made from nuts.

Asparagus and new potato hash

Here is the Asparagus & New Potato Hash. This was like having a wonderful potato hash with asparagus (as the name would suggest) but came with a tasty vinaigrette that made the dish very interesting.

rice pudding strawberry consomme

Before the dessert, we were brought a small scoop of hibiscus strawberry sorbet, which was amazing. For dessert, delicious coffee from a press and a nutty vanilla rice pudding with a delicious strawberry rhubarb consomme. This was awesome! If you’re looking for a big sweet slab of rice pudding, you might be disappointed, but I was delighted with this light nutty and fruity dessert. Mmmmmmm.

The dishes are definitely paced, so it’s the kind of place where you’re going to want to slow down, enjoy the company of your friends, dine, and people watch. However, nothing took overly long. As mentioned earlier, our server was friendly and knowledgeable, and 3/4 of the menu can be made gluten-free. I should also mention that the servings are the exact right size so that you won’t end up walking away overstuffed or feeling hungry. How can you go wrong? This place is awesome, and is perfect for special occasions.

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free friendly but Ask Questions!
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars (wow!)
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Natural Selection
www.naturalselectionpdx.com
3033 Northeast Alberta Street Portland, OR 97211 / 503.288.5883

Many thanks and a quick shout-out to Liam for the restaurant recommendation.

Restaurant Review: Gustav’s and The Rheinlander

We were a little confused about Gustav’s and the Rheinlander German restaurants. They are listed differently and have different names and websites. So to clear things up: It’s basically the same place with the same menu. Gustav’s is more of a pub atmosphere, whereas The Rheinlander is restaurant atmosphere. Both serve up cocktails and German food. As far as the pub atmosphere goes, it’s barely like a bar or a pub, really. More like a restaurant with a huge bar on one side. We decided to do the pub thing and ate at Gustav’s.

While we’re talking about atmosphere, it would be criminal for us to not mention that there are staff in lederhosen, and that the decor is full-on what you imagine when you think of Oktoberfest. At least that’s the feeling I got. Everyone we talked to at the restaurant were very helpful, particularly our server, whose name was Sara. She was knowledgeable and just: awesome. Gustav’s has a separate gluten-free menu, which they get points for. They also serve gluten-free beer: St Peter’s Sorgham Beer. For the vegetarian readers, I have to say that although they have a separate vegetarian menu, scanning it makes me think that if you’re gluten free AND vegetarian, you should probably steer clear.

The Sea of Cortez

We decided to get some drinks, and that was definitely a good idea. Sienna got the Love for Sale, which is vodka, passion fruit liqueur, pineapple juice and orange juice. This tastes exactly like Hawaiian Punch, but with alcohol in it. I got something called a Sea of Cortez: “Arbol chile infused Herradura blanco tequila, fresh grapefruit and lime juices, triple sec, served on the rocks with an Arbol chile, salt and sugar dusted rim.” This drink is awesome! Spicy, bitter, and sour with some hot chile burn. This photo reminds me to mention that Gustav’s has only one gluten-free mustard, the spicy kind.

Ceasar Salad at Gustav's

We have to say that our eating experience at Gustav’s ended up being a little lackluster. The Caesar Salad was definitely of the Americanized, mayonnaisey sort. The lettuce was fresh, but the flavors ended up being too monochromatic for us. We were wishing for some more lemon and some bite to the cheese.

Gluten free cheese fondue

The gluten-free fondue ends up being a little bit challenging. Unlike another place we could name, they don’t serve the fondue with vegetables. Instead, they serve it with two bratwurst sausages. The cheese flavor was good, although we both thought it was too salty. But dipping sausages into melted cheese was a little too hardcore carnivore artery hardening for me. I was really wishing for some veggies or some gluten-free bread pieces. The bratwurst was good, at least as far as we could tell. We’re not really experts in the sausage/wurst area, so your mileage may vary.

gluten free schnitzel, mashed potatoes, and mushrooms

Here is where I explain what a schnitzel is. They take a piece of meat like a chicken breast, pound it flat, bread it, and then fry it. In the case of the Gustav’s gluten-free schnitzel, this simply means that they pound it flat and then grill it. This is the chicken schnitzel with portabella mushrooms and mashed potatoes. The mushrooms were the best part, even though they seemed to have been steamed. The mashed potatoes were OK. The chicken was flavorless and kind of overdone.

gluten-free flourless chocolate cake

It seems like you can’t throw a rock in Portland without hitting a slice of gluten-free flourless chocolate cake, and I certainly cannot complain about that! Besides the crazy cocktail, the dessert was the best part of our meal. It was creamy, rich, and had this salty thing going on, which I really liked. Gustav’s serves Illy coffee, which we really love and went perfectly with the flourless chocolate cake.

It was at this point that we decided, based on our first experience at Gustav’s, that they are kind of like the Applebees of German cuisine, except with Lederhosen and wandering accordion players. Depending on your tastes, that might be a good thing or a bad thing. We thought that the food, although it was all edible, lacked a spark. If you scroll back up and look at the presentation on all of the dishes, you’ll see the same thing. It’s all really sort of functional. We do, once again, have to comment about how great the staff was, though.

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free friendly but Ask Questions!
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Gustav’s & The Rheinlander
gustavs.net & rheinlander.com
5035 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland OR 97213 / 503.288.5503

Andina Gluten Free – A Tale of Two Nights

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.”

Cured Tuna with Avocado at Andina

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.

Causa - purple potato cake

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.

Andina Relleno

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.

Gluten-free Quinoa Brownie

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.

Pisco Sour at Andina

The Pisco Sour at Andina is awesome! You should get one.

Octopus Kebob at Andina

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!

Roasted Sea Bass in Broth

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.

Rice with Duck

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

Andina
www.andinarestaurant.com
1314 NW Glisan St., Portland OR 97209 / 503.228.9535

Restaurant Review: Pastini Pastaria Redux

We reviewed Pastini about two years ago when I first started this blog, and it was kind of a disaster. I was just now writing an email to someone where I told them about how I hate giving bad reviews. I just naturally want everyone to do well. At the same time, when we have a bad experience at a restaurant, we have to be honest, and I try to make sure that I am specific about what went wrong with the hope that the owner will be able to fix it. Although I doubt that I can claim credit for the improvements at Pastini since we last visited, they definitely took care of my two main complaints.

Gluten Free Flag at Pastini Pastaria

When you get a plate of gluten-free pasta at Pastini Pastaria, they bring it out with a little flag to mark that it’s gluten-free. That’s awesome! That way everyone knows that it’s gluten free and you won’t end up with food getting mixed up, or bread being added to the dish. Our other main complaint with the restaurant in our last review was that the pasta had been overcooked. They definitely solved that problem as well. Another score.

Pastini Pastaria cocktail

In case you’ve missed Pastini, they are an Italian restaurant chain based in Portland. They have four locations in Portland, and a location in each of: Beaverton, Tigard, Bend, and Corvallis. We went to the Pastini on NE Broadway near 14th. Check here for a map of locations. Here is their gluten-free “menu,” which is more like a page that talks about their gluten free pasta and Tiramisu.

The restaurant is popular. We went there with our friends, who go there a lot. Pastini has a lot going for it. It’s a little family, a little upscale, and a little casual. They have a full bar. It’s got a happy energy. It’s a popular place so there’s usually a little wait before you get seated.

Pastini Gluten Free Ziti

Sienna got the Capellini Primavera, which is a simple dish with zucchini, mushrooms, sweet peas, roasted peppers, broccolini, fresh basil and garlic. She got it with gluten-free Ziti pasta and had them add chicken.

Pastini Gluten-free spagetti

I decided to get the gluten-free Spaghetti with Marinara, which is my all-around favorite way to eat pasta. Our friends got the Ziti Vegetariano, which is pasta with zucchini, tomatoes and yellow squash tossed with olive oil, garlic, tomato pesto, fresh herbs, and Kalamata olives. All of our dishes were delicious. The pasta was cooked just right, and the sauces were rich and flavorful.

Our waiter was very helpful and knowledgeable. As we mentioned in our past review, Pastini takes basic steps to prevent cross-contamination, like boiling the gluten-free pasta in different water. Our dishes came out in a reasonable amount of time and everything was the right temperature. Now I just need to talk them into making the meatballs gluten-free!

We didn’t sample the gluten-free Tiramisu, but our waiter told us that it’s a very popular item. I, for one, love and miss Tiramisu, so it’s only a matter of time before we give it a try. But we had other dessert plans that night. For the vegetarians and vegans out there, you’ll be happy to know that there are a lot of vegetarian options, and the menu is also rather vegan-friendly.

We’ll have to go back sometime soon to solidify our feelings about Pastini, but this visit left us with a much more positive feeling about the place.

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-free Friendly but Ask Questions!
Times we have visited: 2 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same.

Pastini Pastaria
www.pastini.com
Multiple Locations

We want to know: Do you have a favorite gluten-free Italian restaurant in town? Have you been to Pastini Pastaria? Let us know in the comments!

Restaurant Review: Around the Table

Reader Chris got our attention by posting a rave review of Around the Table on one of our restaurant comment pages that is linked from our Restaurant List. Around the Table is in Camas, Washington. We liked the look of the menu and also the place itself has an interesting look, being in an older building with unfinished brick walls and high ceilings.

The first hint that we were about to have an unsatisfactory evening came not in the form of food, but in temperature. The place was freezing. I’m kind of a big guy, and I’m the sort of person who is always too warm, so if I think a place is cold, it’s like a walk-in refrigerator. We both had the feeling that we were sitting under an air conditioner. When we complained to our waitress, she said that they would turn the heat up, but added the disclaimer that it would take a little while to come on because it was an old building. To be honest, we never felt any heat. If anything, it got colder. It must have been 50 in there.

Despite the temperature, we decided to press on. I ordered a cocktail, which wasn’t very good. The menu is in “small plate” format. So you can pick a bunch of different items. The menu is almost all gluten-free. They also have gluten-free bread so that you can eat their sandwiches. Appetizers are referred to as “really small plates” and give you a couple bites. We were told by our waitress that we could probably get a “really small plate” and then three or four “small plates” and that would be sufficient to feed two people.

Here’s what we sampled: Chorizo Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Dates, Curried Butternut Squash & Chickpeas, Pear & Gorgonzola Salad, Roasted Broccoli, and Our Famous Smoked Turkey Sandwich. For dessert we had to try the gluten-free Pear Tart.

The Chorizo Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Dates were good, but the Roasted Broccoli was a disaster. By disaster, I mean that someone had taken broccoli, burned it, refrigerated it, microwaved it until it was almost mush, and then left it to get room temperature before serving it. The Curried Butternut Squash & Chickpeas were also basically lukewarm and had also obviously been microwaved recently. The flavor was OK, but the texture was pretty weird. The yogurt on the squash was watery and strange.

The one thing going for the salad was that the greens were fresh. Otherwise, the dressing was uninspired, the pear slices came from a pear that wasn’t ripe and so they were rubbery and tasteless, and the roasted pecans were stale. Stale like stale popcorn.

I don’t know about anybody else, but when I go to a fancy restaurant and order a turkey sandwich, I don’t expect it to come with sliced processed turkey. There was bacon and a slice of apple in the sandwich, so you would expect it to be flavorful, but frankly, the sandwich was dull. The gluten-free bread was good.

At this point, we were expecting Gordon Ramsay to show up and pitch a fit. Since the dessert was unusually gluten-free, we decided to give it a try, even though by this time we were a bit worried about how it would be. What we got was a freezing cold, plated slice of what might have been an OK pear tart, although it would have been fairer to call it a cheese cake with pear slices.

gluten-free pear tart

Ignoring the cold, the atmosphere was kind of strange because they had music playing and something about the acoustics of the place made it sound like we were on top of a disco. Our waitress was kind of inattentive, and was either put off by our complaining about the temperature, or was just naturally frosty to match the temperature of the venue and the food, we couldn’t figure out which. On the plus side, she was helpful when talking to us about what was gluten-free on the menu.

Our experience at Around the Table was so singularly dissatisfying that we are still scratching our heads over it. I can think of only two other comparable experiences we’ve had: Dinner at Francis (which is now closed) and our Horrifying Valentines dinner at Wild Abandon. Sienna went on an Internet search to see what other reviewers were saying about it, and found strangely mixed reviews. People seem to either love the place or complain about how their entire meal had been murdered in a microwave. Maybe it depends on what night you go there? The bad news is that the place is expensive and thus not worth the gamble, at least in our book. Sorry Around the Table.

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-free Friendly but Ask Questions!
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same.

Around the Table
aroundthetable.net
316 NE Dallas Street, Camas WA / 360.834.0171

We want to know: Do you have a favorite gluten-free friendly sandwich in town? Have you been to Around the Table? Let us know in the comments!

Restaurant Review: Beaches Restaurant

Beaches Restaurant is in Vancouver WA. We went there after taking a day trip over to Beacon Rock in Washington. Beacon Rock is far enough to make it a “trip” but close enough for people who didn’t manage to get an early start on the day. If you ever find yourself there, be sure to climb to the top. It’s got a great view! On our way back, we debated where to grab some dinner, and decided to consult our own Restaurant List. Because we were going West on the Washington side, we decided to dine in Vancouver. Beaches Restaurant came up.

We used to have Beaches on our gluten-free pizza list but they stopped carrying gluten-free pizza. This ended up being a disappointment because we were in the mood for some. Although they do not have a gluten-free menu, Beaches does make points with us for having a kind of informal printed-out guide to things you can get there. They are a bar and grill, and have a number of dishes that are easy to modify and make gluten-free. I decided to get a grilled chicken sandwich without the bun. Sienna got the Mandarin Chicken Rice Bowl (and I don’t think the sauce for this was gluten-free).

Beaches Mandarin Chicken Rice Bowl

Beaches Restaurant Grilled Chicken and Fries

The staff at Beaches was friendly, and they were happy to answer my questions about how things were prepared. The place was packed and everyone there seemed happy to be there. We got seated pretty quickly. Our food came out in a reasonable amount of time and was a good temperature. It became apparent, though, that I got the safe dish. Grilled chicken at a grill. How can you go wrong? The grilled chicken was indeed rather good. Sadly, Sienna thought that her rice bowl was lackluster. My fries were a little disappointing, being a little soft and less than fresh.

If we had gone to a small grill in town and spent under ten bucks for an entree, we would have felt pretty good about the meal, but entrees at Beaches start at around ten and go higher than that. For that many clams, we tend to look for a little better quality. For the same price, a person would do much better to hit Deschutes Brewery here in town (see our review). Sorry Beaches. They do seem to be rather popular with the locals, so maybe there’s something more to it that we missed, or maybe we went on an off night.

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-free Friendly but Ask Questions!
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same.

Beaches Restaurant & Bar
beachesrestaurantandbar.com
1919 SE Columbia River Dr., Vancouver, Washington 98661 / 360.699.1592

We want to know: Do you have a favorite gluten-free friendly place in Vancouver WA? Have you eaten at Beaches and disagree with our opinion? Let us know in the comments!

Restaurant Review: The Radio Room on Alberta

Reader Allyson notified us of gluten-free options at the Radio Room on Alberta, so we went to check it out. Their dinner menu has a number of gluten free items, but their brunch menu does not, so make sure you go there for dinner. Besides a regular dining area, the Radio Room also has a lounge and an upper deck.

The radio room itself has more of an upscale bar atmosphere, sort of like Echo on MLK. The decor is half ’50s diner and half Interview Magazine. When we visited, they had various old school punk and post-punk playing at a comfortable volume. So, the Sex Pistols, Ramones, and other such bands. They have a very long cocktail list, and quite a long menu. The gluten-free offerings can be listed rather quickly. They are: Bacon Wrapped Prawns, Cab Calamari, Radio Wings, Baby Artichoke Salad, English Beet Salad, Mashed Potatoes Side with Gravy, Ahi Tuna Tacos, Stuffed Chayote Squash, and for dessert, a chocolate mousse dubbed “Chocolate City.” After some discussion, we learned that the Caesar Salad could be made gluten-free by omitting the croutons.

Our waitress was very nice and knowledgeable. She answered all of our questions about the menu and in the case of the Caesar Salad, came out with a ingredient list, which was very reassuring. She also informed us that they have a dedicated fryer for their gluten-free fried items, which is really awesome.

Although our tipster, Allyson, recommended the Ahi Tacos and English Beet Salad, we decided to eschew convention and get a Caesar salad and two openers instead of any of the entrees. This is in part because we both love bacon and also because I’m a man on a mission to find some good gluten-free calamari.

The Caesar salad, as you can see, had a heck of a lot of cheese on it. While the lettuce was fresh and the olives were tasty, we felt that the salad was a little too dry and were wishing that they put more lemon juice and some anchovies in it. The Bacon Wrapped Prawns were interesting. They came with a raspberry-chipotle dipping sauce. I thought that this was a very novel combination, but we both agreed that the sauce didn’t go very well with the bacon for some reason. Maybe it was just us, though. I could see someone really getting into the combo. Sienna felt that the prawns were undercooked, because the texture was a little gristly and springy. The Calamari was good. It was way better than the Calamari at the Hawthorne Fish House and came with a very nice tartar sauce. At the same time, like other gluten-free Calamari we’ve had, it was a little tasteless. Sienna commented that someone should try making a gluten-free beer battered Calamari.

As you can probably tell by the above, we ended up feeling like the Radio Room’s gluten-free offerings were good but not awesome. We did end up feeling like it would be a great venue if you wanted to go out drinking with a bunch of friends and get some bar food. For that purpose we would definitely recommend it.

We want to know: Do you know of any other bars with gluten-free menu items? Have you eaten at the Radio Room? What did you think? Let us know!

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free Friendly But Ask Questions
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Radio Room
http://www.radioroompdx.com/
1101 NE Alberta Street / 503.287.2346

Restaurant Review: Seres Restaurant & Bar

Many of you probably know Seres as Sungari Pearl. It is in the same place. I’m not sure what motivated the name change. Their “About Us” page says that they are still under the same owners, and our waiter for the night was one who had waited on us back when it was Sungari Pearl. Although Sienna isn’t exactly mad about the place, I had always liked Sungari Pearl. So you can imagine my excitement when they announced that they had a gluten-free menu.

You can check out their gluten-free menu here. There’s a little bit of something for everyone. From Prawns with Snow Peas and Bamboo Shoots, to a Curry Claypot, to Fried Rice. We were a little disappointed that two out of three of their appetizers involved tofu. I was interested to see that they had Buddha’s Delight, because that was like comfort food to me back in San Francisco (back before “comfort food” meant Southern Food). In fact, when people ask me what ethnic food I would choose if I could only eat one on a desert island, my answer is Chinese. I love Chinese food!

Hot Tea

I also love sitting down at an Asian restaurant and getting hot tea, even in the summer. We decided to go “family style” and share our orders. So we ordered the Curry Claypot with Chicken, and the Vegetable Fried Rice.

gluten-free fried rice

gluten-free curry claypot with shrimp

The food was well-prepared, the vegetables seemed fresh, and everything was done just right. We ended up with a bunch of complaints, however. Here’s the list: One of our plates was dirty when we sat down. The Curry Claypot was rather spicy. This wouldn’t normally be a problem except that the menu has little stars next to the spicy items, and the Curry Claypot wasn’t marked as spicy, so it was kind of unexpected. It wasn’t too spicy for me, but it wasn’t to Sienna’s liking, so we ended up not being able to share, which was a bummer. The Vegetable Fried Rice was impressively good, but would probably have been better with some gluten-free soy sauce in it (I hope the restaurant owners know that you can get gluten-free soy sauce). Finally, our waiter did not seem to know what we were talking about when we asked him if any of the desserts were gluten-free. This made us a little nervous. If a waiter doesn’t know what gluten-free means, then we start wondering if the chef does.

Chocolate Mousse

Here were the good things: As we mentioned above, the menu has a large selection, which is awesome. All the desserts were gluten-free! We had a chocolate mousse, which was really excellent. The food came out promptly and was hot. The service was great. Also, the hostess seemed to be in-the-know about gluten and was able to give us information about the desserts. Also as mentioned above, all the ingredients were fresh and cooked just right.

So to sum it up, despite the problems, we are curious to know how the other dishes at Seres are, and will probably go back to find out. I’m hoping they’re good. It’s nice to have a local Chinese place that has a gluten-free menu. I say give it a try!

We want to know: Are there other gluten-free friendly Chinese restaurants in town? Have you tried any of the gluten-free dishes at Seres? Let us know!

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free Friendly But Ask Questions
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Seres Restaurant & Bar
http://seresrestaurant.com/
971 222 7327
1105 NW Lovejoy Street, Portland, OR 97209 / 971.222.7327

Restaurant Review: Virgo and Pisces Gluten-Free Pizza

Before we go any further, it needs to be noted that:

  1. We have heard from several sources that the pizza at Virgo and Pisces is great.
  2. Virgo and Pisces serves gluten-free pizza only – so they don’t do wheat crusts.
  3. The pizza is way cheaper than you’ll find elsewhere.

Those are all important facts. As with our past visit to Virgo and Pisces, the staff was helpful and friendly. The food arrived promptly and the pizza was piping hot. The place is clean but seems a little empty for a bar on NW 21st Street in Portland Oregon.

Virgo and Pisces make their own crusts. Unlike basically every other pizza place in Portland, the pizzas are available in several different sizes, including a single-serving size. As noted above, the pizzas are far cheaper than equivalent gluten-free pizzas to be had anywhere else we’ve been. The pizzas are prepared in a separate area to avoid cross-contamination, and they do not make wheat pizzas there. Here are the available flavors:

Classic Caprese – Mozzarella cheese with sliced tomato and fresh basil.

Pepperoni – Mozzarella cheese and crisp pepperoni with fresh marinara.

Buffalo Chicken – Buffalo sauce, chicken, celery, mozzarella, and topped with blue cheese crumbles.

Chicken Apple – House made chicken apple sausage and mushrooms with mozzarella cheese.

Spinach Alfredo – Light alfredo-pesto sauce, mozzarella, spinach, and mushrooms.

After some debate, we got the pepperoni. Mostly because we never get pepperoni. So… How was the pizza?

Gluten-free pizza at Virgo and Pisces

I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but there is a lot of sauce on that pizza. So if you’re into lots of sauce then this is the pizza for you. The crust was perfectly done. It wasn’t too hard, but it definitely had some crunch to it. The cheese was good and so was the pepperoni. Unfortunately, the sauce was a little tasteless. It almost tasted like standard pizza sauce out of a can. We’re thinking that the next time we visit, we’ll ask for garlic on the pizza.

Slice of Virgo and Pisces Gluten-Free Pizza

This picture gives a better view of the amount of sauce. I don’t think I would have complained if there had been more cheese on the pizza. Sienna and I ended up thinking that in the future with pizza ratings, maybe we should rate the overall pizza, and then also have a rating for the gluten-free crust. We were more impressed with the crust than we were with the overall pizza, but would be curious to see how the other pizzas are. We also had a pear salad which was OK.

We want to know: Have you had the pizza at Virgo and Pisces? What’s your favorite flavor? Let us know in the comments!

Times we have visited: 2 (So your mileage may vary.)
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars for the pizza
Crust Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same (but cheap compared to most other.)

Virgo & Pisces
500 NW 21st Ave, Portland, Oregon 97209 / 503.517.8855
www.virgoandpisces.com

Gluten-Free Pizza on the Brain

Our list of pizza reviews is growing. Don’t miss our Portland gluten-free pizza restaurant list. Our current champ is still the Oasis Cafe despite our worries about cross-contamination and the fact that a pizza order takes forever there. We are also still fond of Picazzo’s, although Sienna doesn’t like their crust. We also recently reviewed the lackluster Glutino brand frozen pizza.