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!

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

Gluten-Free Italy: Venice! Hotel L’Alboro

We spent two weeks in Italy and I took lots of notes about our trip and all the places we ate and stayed. The good news is that I’ve got loads of information on gluten-free eating in Italy! The bad news is that I’ve got loads of information on gluten-free eating in Italy! I’ve got this huge pile of backlogged entries to do so I’m going to power through them. Here goes:

Hotel L’Albroro

The first place we stayed in Italy was Venice. I loved Venice! Our hotel there was the Hotel L’Alboro. It is a three star hotel, which in Europe means that it’s nice, clean, and has some amenities, but isn’t going to be plush or have amazing service or anything. We thought that the L’Alboro was a little run down but clean. Our room was small by American standards. The bed was how we found almost all the beds in Italy: hard with foam pillows.

Hotel L'Alboro in Venice

The staff at L’Alboro is very nice and when they found that I was gluten-free, they got me three (three!) bags of gluten-free biscotti and also told me what I could and couldn’t eat in their breakfast area. This was a huge source of relief to me because I was worried about breakfasts there. It was also very kind of them and made me feel special in a good way instead of the usual “high-maintenance” way. There was some kind of altercation over the coffee that had to do with gluten, and I never found out what the deal was, but some Google searches are making me think I had caffè d’orzo, which is a kind of substitute coffee made with roasted barley. So make sure the serving people know that you’re gluten-free.

The location is awesome! The L’Alboro is in a kind of quiet out-of-the-way spot very near St. Mark’s Square. It is also a just walk to the Rialto Bridge (where all the night-life seems to be) and The Academy and Peggy Guggenheim Museums. There is a vaporetto (water bus) stop about 50 feet away.
View Larger Map

Some other notes: Almost all the staff speaks English. Franco and his wife were very kind and Franco showed us photos of his dog and his house. Sienna was having trouble figuring out whether or not to buy a pair of boots. She asked one of the staff and he reported back what his wife thought the next day. The locks at Hotel L’Alboro are the old fashioned kind that use what look like skeleton keys. Very cool!

Venice - Gluten Free!

About Venice

We had a little trouble getting good food in Venice. I think that tourism is to blame more than anything else. When there are lots of tourists around to support bad restaurants, quality suffers. After a few unsatisfying and overly-expensive meals, we decided to stick with recommendations from the staff at our hotel and from our Rick Steves guide. We also started looking very closely at the people eating at restaurants. If the people at a restaurant are just chewing in stunned silence and/or seem unhappy, steer clear! If the people at a restaurant are eating and talking loudly and look like they’re having a good time, go for it.

Almost every waiter we encountered in Italy knew about gluten. In most cases all you have to say is “Niente glutine” and they’ll start pointing out what you can eat on the menu. In the rare instances that they don’t know what you’re talking about, you’ll need to pull out a list of offending items and then suggest things you can eat, which is basically what you have to do in the United States. I’ll post more about Italy and list some of the restaurants we visited soon.

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

Hotel L’Alboro
http://www.alborohotel.it
Sestiere San Marco, 3894
30124 Venezia, Venezia (Veneto), Italy
+35 041 5229454‎
e-mail: info@alborohotel.it

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.

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Organic Brown Rice Pasta

What we have here is even larger than what is in the title. Let’s all say it together:

Trader Joe’s Sodium Free, Wheat Free, Cholesterol Free, Gluten Free, Organic Brown Rice Penne Pasta

That is quite the mouthful. On the plus side, here are the ingredients: Brown rice, Water. That’s pretty awesome. So we’re guessing that the magic of making brown rice pasta is really in the processing?

Gluten Free Penne Brown Rice Pasta

I wish that there was a lot more to say about these noodles. Like gluten-free brown rice noodles made by other manufacturers, you have to be careful not to overcook them. What we do is watch and test them a lot when the timer says they should be done. Then when they are just on the cusp of al dente, we pour them into a colander and use cold water to stop the cooking process. The Trader Joe’s Gluten Free noodles end up being a little slimy, so the rinsing and draining process helps with that, too. Then, since we don’t like our pasta cold, we put the drained pasta in a non-stick pan and heat them back up, stirring constantly.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Penne Pasta

And here they are, gluten-free and steaming hot. Sienna made an awesome marinara sauce for these and added some mushrooms, spices, and Trader Joe’s ground buffalo burger in there.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Brown Rice Pasta

The Trader Joe’s gluten-free pasta compared well to other brands we have tried, such as the Tinkyada brand gluten-free rice pasta. It’s definitely not as good as “real” pasta made with wheat, and I think we both like the gluten-free quinoa pasta better than any kind of rice pasta we’ve tried yet, but we really liked this pasta.

We want to know: Do you have a favorite gluten-free pasta? For some reason we were surprised that the gluten-free Trader Joe’s pasta compared well to the more expensive brands. Did you notice any difference? Let us know in the comments.

Times we have visited: once (but we feel confident about our score.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: We think more expensive

Gluten-Free Travel: Two Gluten-Free Restaurants on the Road

It’s been quite a while since our trip to Los Angeles, but we still have some information that we haven’t posted. To tell the truth I don’t think I posted anything yet because we didn’t exactly gather enough information to be able to put together a full review. So today I decided to just put up what we had in a quick post.

Gluten-Free Travel Item 1: Cafe Yumm in Springfield, Oregon

Although we’re both Yumm Sauce fans, we were underwhelmed with Cafe Yumm. For those of you outside of Oregon, Yumm Sauce is a yellow curry sauce which is kind of garlicky and tastes good on just about anything. For a while Trader Joe’s was carrying it. It also happens to be gluten-free and vegan.

Gluten Free Lunch at Cafe Yum

A stop in their Springfield, Oregon branch made us feel like we were in a fast food franchise like Chipotle (evil) or Noodles & Company (maybe not so evil but still a fast food chain). That and the lackluster fare left us flat. Sorry Cafe Yumm, we used to like you better.

Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Cafe Yumm
www.cafeyumm.com
Multiple Locations

Gluten-Free Travel Item 2: GreenGo’s in Redding, California

Editor’s Note – April 2011 – GreenGo’s in Redding has Closed. This (was) is a great option for anybody traveling between Portland and the Bay Area, because Redding is about halfway between the two. GreenGo’s “Natural & Organic Food to Go!” is something of a health food stop and also has gluten-free items. They have gluten-free bread for sandwiches, gluten-free pasta, and also vegan options. It’s kind of a friendly little place. We both had salads. All the ingredients were fresh and the food was delicious. There were a lot of people coming in and out while we were there, so it’s obviously popular with the locals. We’re definitely going to stop there again the next time we go through.

Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

GreenGo’s
Now Closed

Bakery: Mariposa Review Redux

During our recent road trip to Los Angeles we went a little out of our way to visit the Mariposa Gluten Free Bakery. Those of you who read our review on Mariposa Bakery in Oakland, California in February will remember that we liked their brownies quite a bit. In February it was only Sienna who visited so this was my first time at Mariposa.

On our visit, we talked to the person at the counter for a while. She was very friendly and was able to to discuss food allergy information about any of their products. So here comes the eye candy. They are very well stocked. There are gluten free cookies, biscotti, bagels, muffins, coffee cake, more cookies, muffins, cheesecake, chocolate cake, carrot cake. Everything gluten free!

mariposa-gluten-free-goodies-1-dscn3814

mariposa-gluten-free-goodies-2-dscn3813

They also now have a freezer stocked with various gluten-free goodies. They have a couple different kinds of gluten free ravioli, several different kinds of premade take-and-bake pizza, pizza dough, and breads.

mariposa-gluten-free-freezer-2-dscn3811

mariposa-gluten-free-freezer-dscn3812

I had one of their chocolate muffins. I’d like to be able to say that I took a picture of it but I was too busy devouring the thing. Their muffins are moist, light, fluffy, and flavorful. I also got a gluten free sour cream coffee cake. They describe this cake as “Layered with a sweet and crunchy walnut and cinnamon brown sugar streusel, this tender 4 1/2″ diameter cake melts in your mouth” and they are completely correct. Here are the ingredients: sour cream, organic unrefined cane sugar, GF flour mix (organic brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour), butter, dark brown cane sugar, walnuts, eggs, vanilla extract, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

mariposa-gluten-free-coffee-cake-dscn3903

mariposa-gluten-free-coffee-cake-3-dscn3906

This coffee cake was INSANE and you would never guess that it was gluten free. It had the perfect amount of cinnamon, was the perfect sweetness, and had this amazing crumb. It’s a good thing we don’t live in Oakland or Berkeley, because I would be eating this as often as possible, and I’m sure it’s not the healthiest breakfast in the world.

We’re on Mariposa’s mailing list and coincidentally we just got an email announcement from them today. They are celebrating Earth Day on April 22, 2009 and were also just certified as a “Bay Area Green Business.” Here’s their blurb on Earth Day.

This Wednesday, April 22, is Earth Day. To celebrate, we are offering 10% off your entire purchase to anyone who bikes, walks or brings their own shopping bags to Mariposa on Wednesday. So go green on Earth Day and drop by to save some green when you check out! (discount does not apply to other discounted items.)

Among other things, they also have food-allergy information on their products, and also donate 2% of their profits to community and world organizations.

We want to know: Any other awesome gluten free or gluten free friendly places in the San Francisco Bay Area you can recommend? Have you sampled any of the treats at Mariposa? Let us know in the comments!

Times we have visited: 2 (So we feel pretty good about our rating.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Around twice as expensive.

Mariposa Bakery
5427 Telegraph Ave, Unit D3
Oakland, California 94609
http://www.mariposabaking.com/

Recipe: Gluten Free Zuchini Pasta

Saying this zucchini pasta is “gluten-free” is cheating a little bit. Sometimes Sienna and I get a little exasperated by packaging or stores where they will say something ridiculous like “100% GLUTEN FREE mandarin oranges!!!!” as if there are any sort of oranges in the world that contain gluten. On packages of processed foods where gluten-content might be uncertain, a gluten-free label is a great thing. Also, in cases where it’s an item like a pancake or some bread where it would normally be made with wheat, we think it’s a wonderful idea.

One of the things that becomes bothersome living gluten-free is that there are a lot of products out there which are replacements for wheat products that don’t really taste very good or don’t stack up very well. In such cases it’s almost better to just get a “real” thing and use that to substitute. So for example, despite the fact that there are pretty good gluten-free cookies out there, a person who can’t get their hands on a good cookie might just want to switch to eating macaroons (which are supposed to be gluten-free.) Or a person who can’t get good gluten-free pasta might want to serve their marinara sauce on polenta instead. I don’t know if I’m making any sense here, but hopefully I am.

Anyhow, here’s a way to substitute for pasta with something “real,” and that is julienned zucchini. To make this you’ll need a mandoline with a julienne blade (or a sharp knife and A LOT of patience.) You’ll want to use two smallish or one medium zucchini per serving. Wash the zucchini and then put them through the mandoline lengthwise, so you are getting the longest “noodles” you can get. As you cut them, put the finished julienned zucchini in a colander with a little salt. For each medium zucchini you julienne, add 1/2 tsp of salt to the colander. That sounds like a lot of salt, but the purpose is to draw the moisture out of the zucchini and then rinse the salt off and towel dry the zucchini when its ready to go. It is possible to use too much salt, however, and you might find that you have to make adjustments to suit how salty you like your pasta.

Gluten-Free Zucchini Pasta

Once you’ve got your zucchinis julienned and they’re sitting in your colander, give them a stir and let them drain for a half hour. While they drain you should start your pasta sauce. Also, a few times during the half hour, stir them up and gently press on them to help them drain.

Liquid from the julienned zucchini

You can let them sit longer if you like. After the half hour, give them a quick rinse and then dry them gently with a towel to remove most of the salt.

Did I mention that most people agree that zucchini pasta is really only good with red sauces? At this point, hopefully your red sauce should pretty much be ready to go. Next you’ll want to fry the zucchini up in a pan. You’re only going to want to fry the zucchini up enough to heat it through and make it bend a little more like pasta. You definitely do not want to cook it to the point where it becomes transparent. If it gets that far then you’ve overcooked it.

Frying the zucchini pasta

We used a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. If you’re using a regular pan, you want the heat higher. One the pan is hot, throw the julienned zucchini in there and toss it until it is barely tender. You probably won’t want to cook it more than five minutes.

Once the zucchini pasta is done, put it on some plates and add your pasta sauce of choice. Here we used some delicious tomato sauce (made by our friend Mike – Hi Mike and Sonia!) with lots of garlic. We added mushrooms, ground beef, and some of our homemade pesto to the tomato sauce to give it an extra kick. We topped the sauce with cheese and BAM! It’s time to eat.

We love zucchini pasta and not just because it’s gluten free.

Zucchini Pasta for a Gluten Free Diet

Besides being naturally gluten-free, the zucchini pasta is crunchy, which is really nice. You’d never really think of pasta being crunchy but in this case it’s quite delicious. It’s also a good way to eat zucchini for people who don’t really like zucchini. In addition to being great for a gluten free diet, zucchini is also a healthy low-carb alternative to wheat pasta. You’re getting your vegetables and your gluten-free pasta!

Restaurant Review: Iorio Italian

Iorio is an upscale Southern Italian Restaurant on the 900 block of SE Hawthorne. In addition to winning the Portland CitySearch Best Italian Restaurant award for 2008, they are “committed to providing sustainable local and organic” food and will accommodate any dietary restrictions. For gluten-free folks and people with celiac disease, they have a number of nice options, and can modify some of the items on their menu to suit. In the case of the pastas and gnocchi, they ask that you call one day ahead.

Lots of atmosphere at Iorio

Lots of atmosphere at Iorio

We were a little nervous when we arrived at the restaurant, because it was basically empty. However, by the time we got our entrees the restaurant had begun to fill up. The restaurant is upscale and a larger than usual number of people were dressed up (for Portland, that is.) Our waiter was knowledgeable and also asked the chef some questions for us.

Horay! Calamari!

Horay! Calamari!

One thing that we got excited about immediately is that their award-winning calamari can be prepared gluten-free, so we ordered that, and it was delicious! Calamari was one of the things that I had recently figured I wouldn’t be eating again any time soon, so it was a nice treat.

We also got the Caesar Salad, which they serve with whole leaves. This turned out to be disappointing. It needed pepper, lemon juice, anchovies, and croutons. The calamari was so good we found ourselves surprised at the Caesar Salad.

Next came the gluten-free gnocchi and fresine pasta. The fresine is made with fresh pasta and a red sauce and can be ordered with either meatballs or sausage. The gnocchi is served with pesto. The best item from either dish was the meatballs. They were outstanding. Next, I would say the fresh pasta was good. It was a little inconsistent somehow, but ended up being way better than the standard rice noodles you can get at the store. The tomato sauce, however, was disappointing. It was sweet and sort of flavorless. Even worse were the gnocchi. They were so salty that we couldn’t taste the pesto. It was like eating the dead sea salty. I can only imagine that it was that bad by some fluke.

Iorio Fresine

Last, they had a gluten-free chocolate flourless cake with a scoop of vanilla gelato and raspberry sauce. The presentation was delightful and the cake was warm like it had been cooked especially for us. It was really amazing. Like really really mindblowingly amazing.

Wow wow wow

Wow wow wow

All of which left us scratching our heads that a restaurant could be so good and yet so bad at the same time. On the plus side, they have gluten-free versions of some exciting dishes. Here’s how we scored everything:

Calamari – 5 out of 5
Gnocchi – 1 out of 5
Meatballs – 5 out of 5
Gluten-free pasta – 3 out of 5
Red Sauce – 2 out of 5
Caesar Salad – 1 out of 5
Chocolate cake – 5 out of 5

Later note: It seems like the service there is spotty, so we’ve downgraded their rating.

Times we have visited: 4 (So we feel pretty good about this rating.)
Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same price. Most dishes are around $18.

Iorio
912 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Oregon 97214

Restaurant Review: Pastini Pastaria

It seems like some of the chain restaurants are recognizing a need to adjust their menus for people on a celiac disease diet. Pastini Pastaria is one of them. Unfortunately, it looks like they need to work on their quality control. (Later Note: We checked them out again much later and had a better experience, which we detail here.)

We went to the Pastini Pastaria on NE Broadway at 14th in Portland Oregon. We’ve been to this place before. It’s a decent Italian restaurant and as the name would imply, they specialize in pasta. Every time I’ve been there, there’s been a wait to be seated, so you know it’s a popular place to go. The place is busy and warm and noisy, which fits a family spaghetti joint well but it also features some more upscale dishes.

Front Door of Pastini Pastaria

Of interest to the gluten free diner are a long list of salads, which I’ve had in the past and which are definitely good. Also, they have introduced rice pasta, which they can substitute in any dish that isn’t pre-made (like they can’t do it for lasagna, for example.) I don’t know if it’s always like this, but the only rice pasta they had available the night we visited was ziti. Our waiter mentioned that it takes a few minutes more to get a dish made with the rice pasta because they have to boil the water up fresh.

I got the spaghetti and meatballs with the rice ziti. Sienna opted for a vegetable pesto dish with the rice ziti (she can eat wheat fine but wanted to try the rice pasta too.) Our friend Lorna got a gorgonzola chicken salad. While Lorna’s salad was great, Sienna’s pasta was lackluster. My dish tasted good. The marinara was thick and satisfying, and I enjoyed the meatballs, but the rice ziti had been overcooked. When rice pasta is overcooked it starts to crack into pieces and is mushy. Those of you who have cooked rice pasta are probably shaking your heads, because that’s the main problem with cooking rice pasta. It is really easy to overcook.

Rice pasta with meatballs and marinara

Unfortunately, we all got served incorrectly. They brought my dish with two pieces of wheat bread on top, which by itself wouldn’t be a big deal, but they also brought our friend the wrong salad entree, and they brought Sienna a dish made with wheat ziti instead of rice ziti. We didn’t even notice until halfway through the meal when I took a taste of Sienna’s dish and noticed the pasta was a little different. We ended up asking the host about the difference and it turned out they had brought us the wrong pasta by mistake. He apologized profusely and told us all the meal was on the house. Luckily I won’t get seriously sick from a little bite of pasta, and they were very courteous about it, but I have to give them a bad review.

Overall rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: equal but watch out.

Pastini Pastaria
Pasta/Italian – Can substitute rice pasta for any pasta dish.
www.pastini.net
Multiple Locations