Restaurant Review: Cafe Rio

Cafe Rio from outside

Editor’s note: We all went to Cafe Rio together, and our friend Lorna Nakell spontaneously wrote this review about our experience. (P.S. We try to mark when restaurants are vegan/vegetarian friendly, and this one very clearly is. Also, the espresso drinks that we had were awesome!) Thanks Lorna!

Café Rio is a hip enough sounding name for a Portland eatery—but don’t be deceived. Immediately upon entering this small establishment, friends and I were disappointed. It seemed that the owner couldn’t decide between having a sit-down or take-out restaurant, so they went for something in-between—not a cart, but also not a full dining establishment either—a “cartaurant.” Although there were five in our party, there was only one table—in the whole place (okay, it was actually two smaller tables that we had to fit together), and that table would only accommodate four of us. My son was left to make himself comfortable in an upholstered chair (complete with attached swivel table) that looked like it was teleported in from an 80’s style hotel lobby.

The menu appeared simple enough for their small kitchen set-up and featured many variations of their specialty dish, GF waffles. In addition, they offered scrambled eggs with your choice of toppings. At first we were afraid that they would be microwaving the eggs, but were pleased to find out that they actually had two small sauté pans at the ready.

Dishes we ordered included two different egg scrambles, three different kinds of waffles, a scone (brought in from an outside baking co.), coffees and a fresh squeezed orange juice. This is what happened: Orders for our table came a little too staggered. We were surprised and saddened when our food was served on paper plates looking like it was prepared by my seven-year-old son (no offense, Calder).

Scrambled Eggs

Sorry for the image quality - but...

The egg dishes came without sides of toast or garnishes of any kind. Although the sausage in mine was tasty, the eggs were crumbly and they skimped on the spinach leaves. The waffles, on their own, ended up being pretty tasty and a good consistency. But, initially, we had a rough go at it because in addition to having to navigate waffle cutting with plastic utensils, we were informed that they didn’t have any butter or jam, but would we like some coconut oil instead (Ummm, why would I want that? Do YOU use that?).

Waffles with Banana and Nuts

Bottom line: Friendly and accommodating service, airport style presentation and atmosphere. Although I want to be encouraging to any dining establishment that is trying to incorporate GF food into their menu, sometimes all the pieces of a restaurant just don’t fit together the way they should. So, in regards to Café Rio, I have to say that unless you live in their hood and are too tired from partying the night before to drag out ye ol’ waffle iron and whip up some Bob’s Redmill pancake mix (which, by the way, is what they use), by all means give them a try. If not, there are so many other great restaurants that serve GF goods these days, you shouldn’t go out of your way to visit Café Rio.

Grab a Gluten Free Pie: Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts Baking Company emailed us recently to invite us to try their gluten-free pies. The owner, Molly Thurston Parker, recently launched a wholesale bakery to sell her pies, which are individual-sized. She sells the pies at the Buckman Farmers Market (SE 20th and SE Salmon, Thursdays, 3-7pm), at Salt Fire and Time Community Grocery on NW 24th Ave, at Pacific Pie Company on SE 7th, and at Flying Cat Coffee Shop on SE Division. When you go to the Buckman Farmers Market, it’s usually Molly who is there working the booth.

Gluten Free Pies in Portland - Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts makes both savory and sweet pies. We stopped by the stand a couple of weeks ago and picked up some pies (which, in the interest of full disclosure, she gave us for free). On the savory side, Queen of Hearts makes a Black Bean & Pepper Jack Cheese pie and a Curried Lentil and Veggie pie. On the sweet side, Queen of Hearts makes a Hazelnut & Apricot pie, a Mixed Berry pie, and a Nutella pie. We tried everything but the Nutella pie.

Queen of Hearts Gluten Free Pies

The pies come packaged in twos. Each pie is an individual meal, and all of them are basically vegetarian. The instructions for cooking are quite simple. You can start from frozen or thawed, but basically you bake them in an oven at 375 degrees F until the crust is golden brown. We ate both the savory pies with some sauteed veggies, but they would also probably be great with a side salad.

Considering we’re talking about pies here, the most important consideration is going to be the crust. The Queen of Hearts crust is really excellent and amazing! It’s the exact kind of crisp and flavor a person wants from a pie crust. We were both really enamored of them, especially because so many gluten-free crusts are so disappointing.

We both also agreed that we liked the savory pies more than the dessert pies. The Curried Lentil and Veggie pie is filled with sweet potatoes, onion, coconut milk, lentils, kale, ginger and spices. Like most curries, we found that the flavor and experience was better with some yogurt on the side to offset the curry. It would probably also be really nice with a chutney. If you’re a curry fan, then these are a real treat.

Gluten-Free Savory Pie

Our favorite pie was the Black Bean & Pepper Jack Cheese pie. Besides the two ingredients in the name, these pies have tomatoes, green chiles, onion, spices, and pepper flakes. Besides broccoli, we added some yogurt here, too (instead of sour cream), and some avocado. These pies have a great flavor and are the perfect level of spicy.

Gluten-Free Mixed Berry Pie

As mentioned earlier, we thought that the dessert pies were just OK. Pictured above is the Mixed Berry pie paired with vanilla ice cream from Portland’s own Fifty Licks. This pie is made with blueberries and marionberries. The Hazelnut & Apricot pies are filled with hazelnut frangipane and apricot preserves, which incidentally contained corn syrup, which we found a little confusing, considering that Queen of Hearts obviously tries to use healthy ingredients in their pies. The dessert pies were a bit bland. This might be one of those cases where the crust is kind of taking the edge off of the ingredients. We both found ourselves wishing that the pies were more tart, or maybe more sweet.

Our final verdict: We really enjoyed the savory pies and think that if you’re looking for something new, interesting, and gluten-free to take home and bake one night, you should give Queen of Hearts a try. Sweet pies are really subjective, so I’d be really interested to hear from any of our readers who have tried Queen of Hearts. Let us know in the comments!

Gluten-Free Safety Rating: Gluten-Free
Times we have visited: 2 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: not certain

Queen of Hearts Baking Company
See locations above / 503.421.6842

Portland Places We’ve Been Recently

Sometimes we find ourselves going back to places we reviewed months or years ago, and we’re often gratified to find that we were right the first time! Here’s a quick run-down on places we’ve been recently. Some new, most not.

Seven Virtues Cafe

Seven Virtues Cafe

If you’re in the NE and want something good for lunch any day of the week, you should check out Seven Virtues on NE Glisan at 60th. They have great espresso drinks, delicious gluten-free and vegan goodies by Petunia’s (our review here), and gluten-free bread available for their sandwiches. I am especially partial to the Frazer Park sandwich, pictured above. They also make a mean iced mocha.

PSU Farmer's Market

Portland Farmers Markets

We recently saw the documentary Food, Inc and decided to see what would happen if we started going to our local Farmer’s Markets. Besides fresh veggies, cheese, eggs, and flowers from local farms, there are a lot of local gluten-free businesses which sell their goods at your local farmer’s market. The PSU farmers market on Saturday morning is host to Petunia’s and New Cascadia Traditional Bakery (our info and review here). I saw Paobread (our review here) at the Montavilla Farmers Market the last time we went there. At the Buckman Farmers Market a person can pick up gluten-free hand pies made by Queen of Hearts (review coming soon). Although we haven’t gone yet, we’ve been told that Happy Camper Bread can be bought fresh at Hollywood Farmer’s Market.

Chez Machin

We’ve stopped by Chez Machin (our review here) on SE Hawthorne now and again. Although we wish their savory crepes had more options, they keep blowing our minds with their specials and their dessert crepes. We really recommend getting whatever the special entree of the day is, as long as it can be had gluten-free.

Dessert Crepe at Suzette - Yow!

Suzette Creperie

Speaking of crepes, we went to Suzette Creperie (our review) on NE Alberta for Bastille Day, dined on delicious crepes, and listened to AnnaPaul and the Bearded Lady.

Blackwood Cafe

Blackwood Cafe

A recent Groupon or Living Social deal informed us that the Blackwood Cafe on NE 70th has gluten-free bread available. I went there by myself recently and got their special of the day, which was an intriguing sandwich with gruyere cheese, apple slices, and (if my memory serves) Prosciutto. The sandwich was really good, but the bread was like Udi’s, which isn’t really my favorite. The iced mocha was really chocolatey. They have a fun menu, but their atmosphere is kind of uncomfortable for some reason.

Favorite Things from the Farmers Markets

Things we expected to be better from the Farmers Markets: tomatoes.
Things we might not have: celery, cherries, cucumbers, cheeses, and sausages.
Celery? We found thin, kind of sickly-looking celery at the Montavilla Market recently and what a surprise! It’s got a surprising, delightful flavor. Almost herbal or floral. Mmmmm. At the PSU Market look for my favorite cucumber of all time – the lemon cucumber. Also at the PSU Market, we found Rogue Creamery’s Raw Milk Sharp Cheddar Cheese and wow is it amazing, especially with a little of your favorite jam. Finally, we’ve tried some items from Olympic Provisions and have yet to be disappointed.

Summer is Finally Here

Thanks to everyone who emailed us about Subway stores getting gluten-free bread and brownies. We kind of ignored the news because we’re more into supporting our local businesses. We do really appreciate it when people email us, even though sometimes it can take a long time for us to get back to them.

Got any recommendations for shopping at the Farmers Markets? We’re still really new at it and learning. Let us know in the comments!

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

1314 NW Glisan St., Portland OR 97209 / 503.228.9535

New Gluten-Free Resource in Portland: Dessert Labs

We’ve featured pieces of news about Dessert Labs once or twice on Gluten Free Portland. I met with them last week and talked to them about their kitchen, gluten-free food, and what they’ve been up to lately.

Dessert Labs is Joe Kalal and Karen Goetsch. Joe is the chef, and Karen handles the business side of it. Joe found out that he had celiac while living in New York, and inspired by the horrible gluten-free food he found there, decided that he could do better. He enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City to learn how to be a pastry chef. Since he couldn’t eat a lot of the wheat-based treats that they learned to cook there, he found that he had to concentrate on using his sense of smell instead. To gauge flakiness, crumb, or moistness in baked goods, he would break them open.

Joe and Karen are relatively new to Portland. They came here from New York City by way of the San Francisco Bay Area. They had meant to start Dessert Labs in the Bay Area, but visited Portland in the summer of 2010 and were delighted when everything just kind of magically fell in place. Within days, they fell in love with the city, found a place to live, and found a kitchen space to work out of.

In late spring of this year, they created a Kickstarter project that raised over $2500. If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a website that is a place for creative people to find funding for their own projects. In a nutshell, a person can come up with an idea for a project, describe it on Kickstarter, and then other people can fund the project (see here for more details on how Kickstarter works). The people who fund a project generally get something out of it. In this case, Dessert Labs funders got care packages and subscriptions of gluten-free goodies. Karen and Joe set their project goal at $1000 and it didn’t take long before they passed it. When the funding doubled, they knew that they were really on to something.

What they are doing now is providing gluten-free baked goods to local cafes and restaurants. As we mentioned before, they are supplying Food Front on NW Thurman with gluten-free pies for the holidays. They also take orders for gluten-free cookies, cupcakes, bread, cakes, and pies on their website or by phone. They also told me that they are interested in taking special orders for people who would like to get a particular baked good in gluten-free form, including people who may have family recipes that need to be converted. They are vegetarian/vegan friendly.

Fortunately, they had some gluten-free treats for me to sample when I stopped by.

What we have here are some shortbread cookies, some cupcakes, and a ball of flourless chocolate cake. These were all really good and none of them had the funny aftertaste that you sometimes get with gluten-free baked goods. The flourless chocolate cake was my favorite item. Sienna and I both thought their cupcakes were really impressive. We’re both dying to know how their pies are. We’ll let you know when we have more information!

Dessert Labs – – 347-513-5461

50 Plates, Gluten Free Classes, and Halloween

50 Plates Reader Review

Jenn from Grain Damaged sent us this great email about a place in town called 50 Plates:

Just thought I’d direct your attention to 50 Plates. I had a great dining experience there last night. While their GF menu is a regular menu with handmade notations on it (as to what’s safe), they were most accommodating.  I was very nervous eating out somewhere new.  I’m both very sensitive to gluten as well as having a list of other food allergies including dairy and eggs, I don’t think I’m very easy to cook for. We got there early in the evening and the chef came out to take the time to talk to me about what I might have off their menu.  He was even willing to “frankenstein” something together for me if I didn’t see any one menu item I could have.  He was knowledgeable and could recommend a few things that I could safely eat.  I went for the “fish and chips” which had to be the most sophisticated version of this meal I’ve ever had.  The light white fish was wrapped in a single strand of never ending potato “shoelace” and browned to perfection, it was laid over a bed of bok choy and accompanied by steamed asparagus.  The whole delightful meal was drizzled with an amazing sauce that he’d come up with just for me.  (Normally this dish is served with a sauce that uses malt vinegar as the base), instead he replaced it with a sauce of lemon, sweet wine and magic. It was delicious and above all I felt full and happy and quite gluten free when I left the table.

Wow! Doesn’t that sound awesome??? Speaking of Grain Damaged, they are a really great Portland-based gluten-free information site, so you should check them out.

50 Plates is located at 333 NW 13th Ave. in Portland. Phone: 503-228-5050

Gluten Free Classes at Sprout Health

Next Up, this is late and I’m sorry about that, but there are still dates available. Here is the email from Skylor at Sprout Health.

Sprout Health has just opened on 44th and Hawthorne. We are a health coaching and donation based yoga studio. We guide people through cleanses and have cooking classes. We have a gluten free, dairy free cooking class series starting on October 3rd–4 classes, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Here is our site.

Gluten-free Candy List

Thanks to Heather for sending us this list of gluten-free Halloween candies.

More News: Good News and Bad News

Sorry for the lack of reviews this week. I caught the cold that’s been making the rounds of Portland, and have been recovering. We’ve got a backlog of products and restaurants to post and I’ll get those out soon. I’ve got good news and bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

Bad News: Restaurant Closings

Over the weekend we decided to go get some delicious gluten-free pizza at Virgo and Pisces, and discovered that they have closed their doors. We had mentioned in our review that they seemed kind of empty the times we visited, so it looks like our fears were justified. I don’t know how much most people pay attention to restaurant closings, but there have been quite a few in the Pearl area in the past few weeks. Speaking of the Pearl, the Pearl branch of Blossoming Lotus closed. They still have a restaurant at 1713 NE 15th St. next door to Pete’s Coffee.

Good News: Restaurant List

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it lately, but our restaurant list is always growing. If you haven’t looked at it recently, you should check it out. Thanks to all the readers and restaurant owners who have contacted us with listings!

Maybe News: Amazon Sale on Bread Machines

I don’t know if this is really justified as news, but I’m always interested in bread machines. So I thought that I would pass it on that Amazon has announced discounts on bread makers. Among the sale items on their list are ones we have listed on our gluten free bread machine page. So they have: The Breadman TR875, which has a gluten-free setting. The Zojirushi BBCCX20, which doesn’t have a gluten-free setting, but is fully programmable (see our review here) and is dual-paddle. The West Bend 41300 Hi-Rise, which like the Zojirushi is programmable and dual-paddle. There are others, but those are probably the best three for being fully programmable or having a gluten-free setting. We’ve had both a Breadman and a Zojirushi and can vouch that they’re both excellent.

We Want to Know

Do you have any restaurants or cafes to add to our list? Let us know at the email address on the top right. Also, if you have any bread machine experiences or recommendations, let us know in the comments.

In the interest of full disclosure: Zojirushi sent us a breadmaker to test (and we like it!). See our disclosure policy here.

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
971 222 7327
1105 NW Lovejoy Street, Portland, OR 97209 / 971.222.7327

Restaurant Review: Deschutes Brewery

We got an email from one of our readers on Saturday about the Deschutes Brewery and some gluten-free options they have there. We had already heard that they have gluten-free beer, but there was some new interesting information:

Hey, we went to Deschutes Brewery today and found that not only do they have a fantastic gluten-free beer on tap all the time, and it’s not always the same, but they have gluten-free items marked on their menu, and the head chef even hired a baker to make gluten-free buns for their burgers! They have dedicated fryers, and the bartender even knew to tell us that even if we are ordering something that would normally be gluten-free, to let them know we needed it to be gluten-free and they prepare it in a safe area. these folks really seem to know what they’re doing. I haven’t had the burger + gluten-free bun yet, (was full when I went in today!) but we’re going back soon to try it. Just thought you might want to know and put it on your list!

This looked to us like something that called for immediate attention on our part, so we sprang into action. I can’t tell you the last time I had a burger at a restaurant. I’ve been to the Deschutes Brewery before. It’s a nice place in the Pearl, a block away from Powell’s Books. The atmosphere is relaxed. Like many other Portland brew pubs, people take their kids to eat. It’s amazingly clean, and has a Northwest brew pub kind of menu. It’s the kind of place that’s almost always 98% full, so the place is hopping but there’s still somewhere to sit.

The menu has helpful markings for vegetarian options and gluten-free items. The gluten-free goods are not on the menus that can be found on their website unfortunately. Hopefully they fix that soon. What I remember is:

  • Appetizers: Chicken Wings and Oysters
  • Salads: One or two
  • Burgers: Most of them
  • Pizzas: Nope, sorry.
  • Brewery Specialties: One or two items
  • Sandwiches: A couple, including the Chicken BLT
  • Desserts: Some kind of chocolate pudding with cookies?

Gluten Free Beer - Hefeweizen
The beer they had available was the Gluten-Free Krystal Weiss. Here is their description:

100% Gluten-Free Ale! This beer is made with Sorghum and brown rice syrup for a smooth gluten-free experience. We used German noble hops, Perle for bittering and Spalter and Hersbruckens hops for aroma. IBU’s: 63 Alcohol by Vol. 4.8%

Our waitress described it as a “Hefeweizen, but filtered.” I’m used to drinking this kind of beer with a generous slice of lemon. Mmmmm. It was good, and it passed the Sienna taste test as well.

Gluten-free Burger with Sesame Bun

There was no question that I had to sample the burger and it was awesome! Our waitress told us that they had been working hard on the gluten-free bun. She said this was the fourth variety they’ve come up with. It wasn’t exactly like a regular hamburger bun, but it was the closest thing to a real hamburger bun that I’ve had yet. They’ve even got New Cascadia Traditional Bakery beat (sorry guys). One really nice thing was that it wasn’t too thick. It was literally like having a normal burger. Woo Hoo!

Sienna had the Falafel Salad, which we were told could be made to be gluten-free by omitting the flat bread. The salad was good, and the falafel were very flavorful and not greasy.

We questioned the waitress a bit about cross contamination and how they prepare food. She said that although most of their dishes are prepared in the same area as the gluten-free ones, they were careful to not get wheat or gluten into the gluten-free items. She also said that they keep the gluten-free brewing area extremely clean to make sure there’s no chance of cross-contamination. That was very reassuring.

This is a later note. We have eaten here a number of times now and with one exception were very happy with the quality of the bun. They now have their gluten-free items on a separate menu and the food is good.

The food came out hot in a reasonable amount of time and our waitress was very helpful and seemed hip to the gluten-free thing. It was very cool and we were very happy. Thanks to Gaile (and all the other helpful folks who send us tips too) for the head’s up!

We want to know: Have you had the gluten-free beer at Deschutes Brewery? Have you had something other than the Krystal Weiss? What did you think? Have you had a perfect gluten-free hamburger bun? Let us know in the comments!

Times we have visited: 5+ (So we feel pretty good about our scores.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Gluten-free Bun Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Deschutes Brewery
210 NW 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97209 / 503.296.4906

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

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.