Horrible Service at Iorio

Usually I prefer to talk about stuff that I really love, and spread good news about restaurants and cafes that are doing things right. Recently, we had such a bad experience at a restaurant that I feel the need to post it here.

We went to Iorio for New Year’s Eve and had the worst experience at a restaurant since our hair raising Valentines Day at Wild Abandon. We had made reservations and we did notify the restaurant ahead of time that one of our party (me) was gluten free, but all night long the staff kept putting the wrong food in front of me.

When we first reviewed Iorio, we thought it was really great, and definitely want to note that this is one experience on one night. At the same time…

From the very start, our waiter was brief to the point of being rude. When our appetizers came, he basically threw the plates down in front of us without a word and zipped off. I had to wait for him to come back so that I could find out if the dish was gluten free, which it wasn’t. Then I had to wait for several minutes while a dish was made for me. Now I could see this happening once during a meal at a restaurant, but not three times. It happened with almost everything they put in front of me. The one time it didn’t happen, the person who brought us our food wasn’t aware that I was gluten free and didn’t know if the dish was (it turned out that it was, but by this time I was paranoid).

For dessert, a normal piece of cake was placed in front of me, and when I asked, I was amazed to discover that they had forgotten again, and I ended up waiting at least 15 minutes for a substitute dessert to come out. Again, if they had just found out, this would have been OK. Instead, they had my reservation for several weeks, and the waiter knew that I was gluten free pretty soon after he threw the appetizers at us. When they messed up our desserts, Sienna got up, went to the back, and asked to talk to the manager. The manager acted hostile when she complained about the bad service. There’s even more to the story, but we’re choosing not to include it here. Suffice it to say that our dessert was not their last mistake.

Because I’m gluten free, I know that I’m kind of high maintenance. I do my best to express gratitude for the extra trouble that restaurants have to put into serving me. While all out the food we were served was outstanding, the service at Iorio was so bad that I wondered if we had done something by mistake to irk our waiter. Then we noticed that the couple at the table next to us was just as unhappy. We have since then also noticed that the Yelp page on Iorio is starting to fill up with complaints about the service.

I keep reading about how the chef at Iorio is winning awards. So it confuses me that he would turn a blind eye and allow visitors at his restaurant to have such a horrible experience.

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: Chutney’s Indian Cuisine in Vancouver, WA

Thanks to the readers who left comments on Chutney’s comment page linked from our Gluten Free Restaurant List, we’d heard some about their food before we managed to get there. Even without diet restrictions, getting good Indian food has been a real problem for us in Portland, because we’re both used to the really amazing Indian restaurants that were available in Berkeley and San Francisco. We’re both big fans of Vindalho down in SE. Their food is really amazing, but Vindalho is kind of… not the kind of Indian food we’re used to in restaurants. We were excited to try the food at Chutney’s and finally got a chance this weekend. As a bonus, the restaurant is really close to the Regal Cascade 16 Cinema, so we caught the 4 o’clock showing of Inception and then got ourselves some delicious gluten-free Indian food afterward.

The movie Inception was really good by the way. You should check it out! As for the restaurant, we are happy to recommend it. It’s in a quiet little strip mall. The place was about three quarters full of very obviously happy people when we walked in. The decor makes the restaurant look very new, and there is a warm vibe to the place. We had water brought almost instantly, and our waitress was very helpful. She was almost a little too attentive, and made us feel a little rushed. At one point, we got a little worried because she said “gluten-free means no wheat, right?” which is only part right, but otherwise she was able to answer all of our questions. Besides that, were very happy with how attentive and friendly the staff was.

Gluten-free Vegetable Pakoras

We started with the Mixed Vegetable Pakoras, which are described as “Mixed vegetable fritters dipped in mildly seasoned batter and fried.” These tasted a lot like Samosas, so those of you out there who miss Samosas should check this dish out (sadly, their Samosas are not gluten-free). The Pakoras were so delicious that it took an effort for us to not devour them all instantly.

For entrees, we got the South Indian Dal and Chicken Korma. South Indian Dal is described as “Tomato lentil dal in ginger, garlic South Indian spices.” This is a dish made primarily with yellow lentils and chunks of tomatoes. Dal is one of my favorite things to eat, and we were both very happy with this dish. If we had a complaint, it would be that it was a little watery, which is mostly OK, because you’re just going to mix it up with some rice anyway. The Chicken Korma is described simply as “Chicken cooked in coconut sauce.” This dish was also really good. Like the rest of the food we had at Chutney’s the flavors were complex and delicious.

Dal and Chicken Korma - Gluten-free Indian Food

Our only other complaint of the night was that we ordered vegetables with our chicken and they forgot them. On the plus side, when we mentioned this to our server, it was taken care of very promptly. Other than this, our food arrived in a reasonable amount of time, and it was all served warm. Later on in our meal the host stopped by and we had a conversation about rice and food. Her name was Usha (if you’re reading this, we hope we’re spelling this right!!) We asked if they had brown rice available and she mentioned that they can do special things if we were to call ahead. That was nice to know.

Chutney’s was awarded the Best of Citysearch- Portland Metro Area for Indian food in 2009 and it’s plain to see why. Chutney’s is also sitting at number 3 on Urban Spoon’s best 100 list for Portland. Chutney’s is open 7 days a week for dinner, and also does catering. They’re locally owned and operated, and also gluten-free friendly. The food is great, so we say check them out!

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-free Friendly but Ask Questions!
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same.

Chutney’s Fine Indian Cuisine
chutneysvancouver.com
3000 SE 164th Ave, Vancouver, WA. / 360.254.7254

We want to know: Do you have a favorite gluten-free friendly place in Vancouver WA? Got a favorite dish at Chutney’s? What is a donut shop doing at #1 on the Urban Spoon 100 Best Restaurants in Portland list? Let us know in the comments!

Restaurant Review: Chez Machin

We discovered Chez Machine Creperie thanks to a great Groupon discount (you could get a $25 coupon for $11). Sienna checked out the restaurant online and found that they offer gluten-free crepes, so it was a done deal. The restaurant is a tiny place a couple of blocks from Powell’s on Hawthorne. It’s really so small that a person could drive right past it. I have to report up front that they cook the gluten-free crepes on the same surface as the normal ones, so if you’re extremely sensitive you should definitely pass on the crepes. On the plus side, our waitress was very friendly and was happy to discuss what was gluten-free and what was not.

Inside, Chez Machin is made up like a cross between a cafe and an Italian restaurant. I think that they were going for French, but the place felt more Italian to me. Maybe it was the checked table cloths. When we went, the place was packed full of happy people and had something of a laid back cafe atmosphere. The crepes here are the more thick kind, rather than the more thin kind that some will be used to. The last time I talked about crepes on this blog, I mentioned that I’m not really a crepe-loving kind of person. To me, especially when they are thick, crepes end up seeming a lot like a “wrap.” Sometimes you might want something like flat bread around your food, and sometimes it’s just a distraction.

Chez Machin Gluten Free French Onion Soup

For an appetizer, at the recommendation of our waitress, we opted to have the French Onion Soup, which can be made gluten-free. We both thought it was very good. Make sure you order it gluten-free, because otherwise it comes with croutons in the soup.

Gluten Free Crepe at Chez Machin

Like most crepe places, Chez Machin has sweet crepes and savory crepes. On the savory side, they have vegetable crepes, meat crepes, and seafood crepes. I got La Percheronne, which is Black Forest ham, brie, avocado, mushrooms, and crème fraîche. Sienna got L’Allemande, which is bacon, pan sauteed potatoes, caramelized onions, scallions, Ementaller Swiss cheese and crème fraîche. (On a side note, their béchamel sauce is not gluten-free. They start it with a rue.) All the ingredients were fresh and the crepes were hot when they came to the table, but neither of us was blown away by our dishes. Once again, that might be in part because we’re just not that into savory crepes. I think the next time we go there, I might try one of their entrees instead of a savory crepe.

Gluten Free Sweet Crepe - Chez Machin Portland Oregon

On to the sweet crepes. I got La Mont Blanc, which has local berries, chocolate, and whipped cream. Sienna tried La Compote, which is made with cooked apples and cinnamon with caramel sauce. As with the savory crepes, all the ingredients were good. They got my order a little wrong, but fixed it very promptly. We both really enjoyed our dessert crepes. I really think that crepes are more suited for desserts. Sienna and I had a short conversation about the nature of crepes and why it would be that they seem to work better with sweets. Sienna’s theory is that sweets are more flavorful and so they don’t get as dulled by the crepe. With savory crepes it does seem that the flavors can get lost.

Gluten Free Leftover Box - Chez Machine Portland OR

Our newest adventure with crepes ended well, and we both agreed that our experience at Chez Machin was favorable enough that we would be interested in going back sometime soon. Some notes:

  • Go to Chez Machin on a night where you want to slow down and relax. We thought that the service was a little slow. But if you’re not in a rush, you can just sit back and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and do some people watching.
  • Plan to split your crepes. We ended up with leftovers, and could very easily have split one savory and one sweet crepe between the two of us.
  • The coffee and tea that we had were both very good.

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Unsafe Depending on Your Level of Sensitivity.
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: $1 more for gluten-free crepe.

Chez Machin Creperie
www.chezmachincreperie.com
3553 SE Hawthorne Blvd / 503-736-9381

We want to know: Do you know of any other crepe places in town that do gluten-free crepes? What is up with the person who writes the descriptions for everything on Groupon? Are they crazy or what? Do you have any opinion about sweet -vs- savory crepes? Let us know!

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: Jade Tea House

We were contacted by the Jade Tea House a couple of weeks ago. We’ve eaten there twice now and really enjoyed it both times. The Jade Tea House is on SE 13th in Sellwood (a few blocks from Picazzo’s), so it’s a little bit of a drive from our neighborhood.

Sienna and I both thought that the Jade Tea House would make for a great place to take a first date. The food is good, the menu is interesting, the restaurant has a bright and energetic vibe, and the people watching is excellent. Almost everything on the menu is gluten free or can be made gluten free. The food is a mixture of Vietnamese and Thai with some other Asian cuisines thrown in and baguette sandwiches. Before you get excited, I have to warn you that the baguettes are one of the things on their menu that aren’t gluten free. The other items with gluten are their wonton soup and steamed Hum Bao appetizer. Pretty much everything else is gluten-free, however.

Both times we went, the place was packed, and they seem to have a thriving take-out business going, too. For appetizers, they have items like Salad Rolls (Spring Rolls), Chicken Satay, Fried Coconut Encrusted Shrimp, and Fried Salt & Pepper Squid. For entrees, dishes like Sesame Beef, Yellow Chicken Curry, Garlic Lemongrass Chicken, and Stir Fried Green Beans. For desserts they have Black Rice Pudding, Sweet Rice & Mango, Frozen Yogurt, and Assorted Pastries.

Gluten Free Coconut Crusted Prawns

The first time we went, we got the Fried Coconut Shrimp. These were served with a delicious Thai-style fish sauce.

Gluten-Free Salt and Pepper Squid

Then the next time, we got some of the Fried Salt and Pepper Squid. When asked about their fryer, we were told that they don’t fry anything with gluten in it, so that’s good news. The Salt and Pepper Squid are the best gluten-free fried squid I’ve ever had. Our only complaint was that they were a little salty for our tastes. The Coconut Shrimp was really awesome, and perfectly done.

For entries, we tried the Yellow Curry Chicken and two specials which aren’t on the normal menu. We got a Fried Glass Noodle dish and a Mango Chicken dish. I’m used to Vietnamese cooking being very simple and wholesome, and that was the way these dishes were. The Yellow Curry Chicken was like a Thai Yellow Curry with chicken drumsticks, carrots, and chunks of potato in it. We both really enjoyed it. The glass noodles had a light garlic sauce with chicken, shrimp and vegetables. We enjoyed the dish, but ended up feeling like the noodles were overdone. The Mango Chicken comes with a savory brown sauce and vegetables. The slices of mango were perfectly ripe, and this ended up being my favorite dish from both nights. I hope they put it on the regular menu!

Chinese Donuts

Chinese Donuts and…

If you ever find yourself wondering how much Sienna and I sacrifice to bring you the best restaurant reviews, look no further than this example. Since desserts are one of those things that can be kind of hard to get gluten free, we take notice when a restaurant has gluten free desserts, and for the sake of our readers, we often find ourselves with no choice but to eat dessert. Yes. We do this all for you. I’m a real fan of black rice pudding. In its most basic form, this is a pudding made from black rice, which is naturally sweet. Although it’s called “black rice” it’s actually more of a very dark purple. The black rice pudding was good, but we found the coconut milk sauce to be too sweet. The Chinese Donuts are hollow globes made of rice gluten. Inside each doughnut is a mixture of sweet bean paste and grated coconut. These were really wonderful. I found myself hoping that they start making lotus seed paste ones too!

We had very few complaints about our dining experience both nights. Our food came out promptly, and the people there were able to answer all our questions about gluten and their food. We wished that their wait staff was a little easier to get a hold of, and on one night our entrees made it to the table before the appetizer did. We barely noticed, however, because we were happy with our food and enjoying the atmosphere.

On a final note, as could be expected from a place that calls itself a tea house, they have fancy teas. We tried a pot of Oolong tea and were very pleased. The thing we liked most about the Jade Tea House is that it is a little different and fun. We really enjoyed the place and plan to go back very soon.

We want to know: Do you know of anywhere in Portland to get Chinese Donuts? Have you eaten at the Jade tea House? What did you think? Let us know!

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

Jade Tea House
http://www.jadeteahouse.com
7912 SE 13th Avenue / 503.477.8985

Gluten-Free Italy: Levanto – Hotel Garden

While we were planning our trip to Italy, one place that everyone said we absolutely, positively, had to go was Cinque Terre. We had a hard time finding lodging there when we were doing our reservations, so we ended up staying in Levanto, which is just a bit north of Cinque Terre.

Gluten Free Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is actually five small towns in the Liguria region of Italy. They are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. When you see pictures of quaint villages with colorful buildings right on the coast of Italy, it’s pretty likely that the photos are of one of these towns. (That’s Riomaggiore pictured above.) There are trails connecting all five of them, and there is also a train line that you can take to travel in between them. Both the trails and train extend to Levanto as well, which was a good thing.

Liguria is famous for its food—for example, Pesto originated in Liguria. The place we stayed in Levanto was the Hotel Garden—two newly-remodeled floors in a building. I don’t know for sure, but would expect that the building is four floors? Hotel Garden occupies two floors. One is the second floor, and the other is the top floor. Apparently, the top floor gets booked up pretty early and is more expensive.

The hotel is clean and the staff is friendly. They serve breakfast, which is the usual Italian fare: yogurt, salami, croissants, and espresso drinks. They do have high-speed internet, but unfortunately the Wi-Fi only worked in one spot in our room (coincidentally, Sienna’s side of the bed). Hopefully they have that fixed by now. (I was surprised at how inaccessible the Internet is in Italy.) The rooms that face the sea have balconies. They don’t really have a view because there’s a building between the hotel and the beach. The balconies aren’t private.

I don’t have a lot to say about Cinque Terre. It could be that our expectations were set too high by all the raving we heard about how amazing it is. We found the five towns to be overrun with tourists, and the locals not as friendly as other places in Italy. We did find some great food, though. Here are some highlights:

Farinata

Farinata! This like a very thin pizza made out of chickpea flour. It is super-greasy but gluten-free and delicious. I don’t know if all farinata is gluten-free, so you should probably ask to make sure if you find yourself ordering some.

Sardines and Potatoes with Tomato Sauce

Sardines! You may think that I’ve gone off my rocker, but fresh sardines are awesome! One of my favorite things to eat in Italy was fresh sardines and I was introduced to them in Levanto. This dish was sardines, slices of potato, bell pepper, and olives in a light tomato sauce with lots of rosemary. I had this dish at a place called Pizzeria Bar L’Igea Di Nicora Fabio in Levanto, which we very strongly recommend.

Next to the Hotel Garden in Levanto is a restaurant named Da Tapulin. I had their “Spiedino di Calamari Seppe Gamberi e Pesce Spada,” which is skewered calamari, prawns, swordfish, and cuttlefish. The seafood comes out encrusted with finely grated cheese. Amazing. This is another place we recommend checking out.

Also in Levanto is Da Rina. They had the best minestrone soup I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was minestrone with pesto and Parmesan cheese. We also had their smoked tuna and grilled king shrimp. The food there is light and fresh and really amazing. We recommend going elsewhere for your after-dinner coffee, though.

One final place in Levanto is Ristorante la Loggia. They have a quaint notice about gluten on their menu. It reads, “We serve without gluten-free.” While most of the waitresses and waiters we had in Levanto were friendly and seemed knowledgeable about gluten, our waitress at Ristorante la Loggia was downright enthusiastic. We had salad and dried beef (like Prosciutto but with beef) with mushrooms and cheese. These two were delicious. My entrée was saffron gnocchi with prawns. This tasted like mac and cheese and was only OK. For dessert, our waitress insisted on bringing me a delicious flourless chocolate torte with ice cream. That was awesome. Despite the pluses of la Loggia, we didn’t end up being that fond of it. It was extremely noisy, and we almost had to get rude to get our check.

In Riomaggiore, there is a small place that serves bacon and eggs. They fry it up with rosemary and lots of olive oil. I wish I had written down the name, but it’s one of the meals I think about occasionally and wish I could go back to Italy today and have it again.

I don’t think we felt like the Hotel Garden was special, but I think you could do a lot worse, and according to the TripAdvisor website, Hotel Garden is the number one hotel in Levanto. We both agreed that we were glad that we ended up staying in Levanto. It seemed much friendlier and much less crowded with tourists.

Gluten-Free Italy: Hotel Gallo in Tignale

Hotel Gallo is in Tignale, which is right on the west side of Lake Garda in Northern Italy. Lake Garda is about an hour drive from Germany, so there are a lot of German tourists and the multilingual menus there are in Italian first, then German, and then English. The popular travel writer, Rick Steves, says to avoid any restaurant with their menu in three languages, but we found a couple of restaurants where that wasn’t solid advice. As for the Hotel Gallo, we enjoyed our stay there.

Hotel Gallo Tignale Italy

I’m going to get our complaints out of the way first. Though the place had a newer feel than most of the hotels we stayed in, it didn’t seem as clean somehow. And the beds and pillows were hard (maybe it’s an Italian thing?). We also had some trouble with TV noise from neighboring rooms on our first night. Luckily, the hotel agreed to move us to a different (and in our opinion, nicer) room. Last, the hotel was definitely not fragrance free. The rooms smelled strongly of perfumed soap. It didn’t bother us much because we didn’t spend a lot of time in our room, but I could see it being an issue with someone who is very sensitive to fragrances.

Other than that, I can definitely recommend the Hotel Gallo. It is a three star hotel, which means that it’s mostly about providing a pleasant roof over your head. The nicer rooms in the hotel have a really stunning view over the lake and a balcony. They cost a little more, but from our experiences with European hotels, it is worth it to pay a little extra for a nicer room. Most of the staff spoke enough English that there weren’t any language problems, and they were very friendly, especially Fulvia, who was there during the morning and afternoons. We were really happy that our complaint about the noise was handled so kindly. I keep having the experience here in the US that, when you complain, a hotel will immediately start treating you like a burden—or worse.

Gluten-free pasta in Italy!

The greatest thing about Hotel Gallo is that they are very accommodating for gluten-free dining! Hotel Gallo has a restaurant on the first floor. For an extra fifteen Euros per person, you can get dinner there. This proved to be very economical AND had the added advantage of being able to eat gluten-free pasta dishes, which I did not once, but twice.

Gluten Free Breadfast at Hotel Gallo

Also, they had a separate breakfast table specially set up for gluten-free guests. This is pictured above, and as you can see, they have quite a selection of gluten-free goodies. Packaged rice crackers, some cookies, two kinds of cereal (yes, that’s a bowl of gluten-free cocoa puffs), and coffee cake. The rice crackers were by Schar and called “Fette croccanti.” The gluten-free coffee cake was gluten-free coffee cake!

Gluten-free Coffee Cake

For our two dinners, I had mixed seafood pasta and curried chicken one night, and then penne pasta with zucchini and seafood in an Alfredo sauce followed by some kind of pork steak the next night. The food was very good and all the vegetables seemed very fresh. The house wine was great, and as everywhere else we went in Italy, the espresso was delightful.

Lake Garda Italy

Although we can’t say our stay there was perfect, it was among the best places we stayed in Italy and we would go back again. I think it would be a great place to go and spend a lot of time exploring the beautiful surrounding countryside, going on hikes, and getting a massage. The Hotel Gallo has a fitness center, a hot tub, a hamam (which is like a sauna), and if you’re there in late September, you can catch the Tignale Truffle Week. For the gluten-free traveler, Hotel Gallo is a great place to stay in Italy.

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free Friendly But Ask Questions.
Times we have visited: 1 (One stay, four meals. So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Hotel Gallo
http://www.hotelgallo.com/
Hotel Gallo
via Roma, 30 – 25080 Tignale (Bs)
Lake Garda Italy
tel. +39 0365 73010
info@hotelgallo.com

Restaurant Review: Abby’s Table

One of the challenges we face when covering gluten-free eating is that different people have different tolerances for gluten. Making it even worse is that there are only a few dedicated gluten-free facilities in Portland. People who are very seriously gluten-intolerant probably shouldn’t eat at a lot of the places we review. So it’s a good day when we get to review a place that is dedicated gluten-free. Abby’s table is one such place.

Abby’s table is sort of more informal, family-style eating. It is hosted at a kitchen at SE 6th and Ankeny. Dinner is served by chef Abby Fammartino and her team on a bunch of large stainless steel tables. It’s the sort of place where you show up, pay a flat price ($18 a head at this writing), and they serve everyone what happens to be on the menu that night. The meal is vegan-friendly, gluten-free, soy-free, and casein-free. Multiple courses are served and everyone starts eating at the same time, which is 7:00 PM every Wednesday. Check their calendar for nights and events.

Gluten Free Roasted pears

Our meal started with baked pears, and…

Curious Salad

continued with a curious but amazingly delicious salad, progressed to fried zucchini with Abby’s own “Nude Ranch” sauce, then moved on over to shrimp and/or beans with marinara over polenta, and…

Raw chocolate treats

ended with raw chocolate truffles with Abby’s “Dream Date” sauce.

The food was great, and everyone in our party had a fun time. Click here for awesome photos of the event by Portland photographer Shawn Linehan. Abby gave us a free sample of one of her sauces. (In the interest of full disclosure here, I have to state that although we paid for our meals, Abby was aware that we were coming. Normally our policy is to show up anonymously. See our disclosure policy. At the same time, since it’s family style, we ate the same food everyone else did.) The zucchini and salad were among the best we’ve had in Portland. While it was good, the quality of the rest of the food made us expect more from the polenta. It would have been better if the polenta had been more crisp. For vegans, the marinara could be had with beans instead of shrimp, and I was amazed at how good the beans went with it. Sienna liked the raw chocolate treats, but I thought they were only OK. Of course, I’m not a fan of raw chocolate.

The menu changes week by week. With our meal, we liked some things more than others. We got the feeling that Abby’s Table likes to experiment and is working to improve their dishes. The food is adventurous and well-prepared by people who obviously love food and care about health. The service was great. If you’re looking for a dedicated gluten-free restaurant in Portland to have dinner, Abby’s Table is one of the few options I currently know of, and we’re lucky to have such a good place to eat.

We want to know: Do you know of any other places to eat dinner that serve only gluten-free food? Have you tried any of Abby’s sauces? Let us know!

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free Mostly Safe (as far as we know it’s safe.)
Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Abby’s table
http://www.abbys-table.com/
609 SE Ankeny St Portland, OR 97214 / 503.828.7662

Restaurant Review: Portobello Vegan Trattoria – Gluten Free Items

Portobello Vegan Trattoria is a cute little Italian restaurant and cafe in Southeast Portland. When possible, their food is organic and locally sourced. They also have many gluten-free options and mark them on their menu. Their website has information about what farms they get their food from, and their menu changes frequently depending on what’s available in the market and from the farms.

Portobello Vegan Trattoria

It’s hard to dislike any restaurant that has Edward Gorey books in their waiting area. The atmosphere is charming, relaxed, and a little upscale. When we arrived, about three quarters of the tables in the house had “Reserved” signs on them. We were able to get a table immediately, but if you’re going at a popular dinner hour on a weekend, you might want to call ahead. By the time we left, the place was almost full.

Their menu is marked for gluten-free and soy-free items, which is very cool. They also made their menu so that you can get half orders of every entree and salad. That way you can get more variety and share. When we went, about half of the menu was marked gluten-free. Under their appetizers, they had a marinated olive plate and a polenta dish with marinara. All of their sides are gluten-free, including pan roasted summer squashes, melon with olive oil & basil, roasted fingerling potatoes, and garlicky broccolini. While they did have two salads on the menu which were gluten-free (the Chilled Beet & Plum Salad and Heirloom Tomato & Cucumber Salad), there was only one gluten-free entree, which was OK under the circumstances. For dessert, they make a vegan tiramisu, but alas, it is not gluten-free.

You can also add this to your list of places that serve gluten-free beer! They have Bard’s Gluten-Free Sorghum Malt Beer.

gluten-free side dishes

gluten-free tomato and cucumber salad

The gluten-free entree was Portobello Steak with Crisp Polenta & Swiss Chard. As the name would suggest, this was a grilled portobello mushroom with rosemary on a layer of swiss chard, all on a bed of perfectly crisp caramelized onion polenta.

gluten-free vegan entree

Everything was perfectly done and very tasty. Our waitress was very friendly and was able to answer all our questions. The food came out promptly. The broccolini was excellent. We were especially enamored of the Heirloom Tomato & Cucumber Salad. The tomatoes were fresh and delicious. They were served cut up into huge chunks with pieces of cucumber, basil, and olive oil. I found myself wishing for more.

We want to know: Have you eaten at the Portobello Vegan Trattoria? Have you had any different entrees? 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: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Portobello Vegan Trattoria
http://portobellopdx.com
2001 SE 11th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97214 / 503.754.5993