Restaurant Review: Dinner at Your Door

It seems strange to call Dinner at Your Door a restaurant, when in fact it is a dinner delivery service. Like many people out there, we participate in Groupon deals when they’re interesting. We heard about the Groupon for Dinner at Your Door from someone we know and went for it because they offer some gluten-free options.

Before I get into this review, I just have to say that when we go places and try things, we take notes when we do. While I’m always rooting for the home team, we have to count things as they fall.

Here is how Dinner at Your Door works. As it sounds, it is a company that delivers a meal to your door. They only deliver meals to each area of Portland once a week. The meals have to be purchased in multiples of two and you must buy meals for two weeks at a time. So really, you’re buying at least four meals. Got it? It’s really quite simple, and I think their site probably does a better job of explaining it, here. The price for a meal for two is currently $28/week. So since you have to get two weeks worth, that’s $56. For this you get two meals that will feed two people each on two consecutive weeks. (whew)

I do have to say that their website is set up really well, and while you’re ordering your meals, things get explained very clearly so that you know what is going on. When I ordered, they had three main entrees to choose from. Two were gluten-free and one of these was also vegetarian. Along with the website, they also have a system of sending emails to notify you about when a meal is coming, and also when to leave the dishes on your porch for them to pick up. I was really impressed with the automation that they have set up, and think that whoever designed and built their website deserves a bonus.

Having been impressed with the website, you can imagine my disappointment when our food didn’t show up the morning that our first delivery was scheduled. I happened to have the day off from work, and when the food didn’t show up by 10:00 AM, I called them. Someone answered the phone immediately, and they were apologetic, but they told me that they had already delivered all the food that morning and couldn’t get us anything. This is going to sound kind of goofy, maybe, but Sienna and I had planned out a whole multi-day meal schedule based on the assumption that we were going to have dinner delivered that night, so it really threw a wrench into our plans. About a half hour later, they called me back and said that they had some meals available, but they weren’t from the two choices we had picked off of the menu. The good news was that they were gluten-free. So I agreed.

Somewhere in all this, she mentioned that they were really busy because of the Groupon.

Dinner at Your Door delivered.

Dinner at Your Door delivery contents

Here’s what we got. A bag with three containers of food, some dressing in a small plastic container, and two pre-packaged cookies. The meal was Mushroom and Wild Rice Pilaf, Broccoli with Garlic, and a mixed-greens salad with a vinaigrette. The meals come in glass containers, so Dinner at Your Door gets green points for not using disposable containers.

Dinner at Your Door Keating Instructions

Twenty minutes later, we had a hot meal:

Mushroom and Wild Rice Pilaf

Neither of us were particularly impressed with the dinner. The salad struck us as being a lot like the kind they sell in bags at Trader Joes with some bell peppers mixed in. The salad dressing was a rather uninspired and generic Italian dressing. The pilaf was mostly tasteless and one-dimensional. It could have used some garlic and seasoning. We liked the broccoli. The broccoli didn’t come with instructions, so we just threw it in the oven with the pilaf and hoped for the best. Luckily, it turned out great and was tasty.

Le Cookie Monkey

As mentioned above, the meal came with cookies, which are made by Le Cookie Monkey. Unfortunately, there were no ingredients listed on the cookie package, and no markings for whether or not it was gluten-free. So I called up Dinner at Your Door to find out if it was OK to eat. It was after hours by then, so I wasn’t too surprised when nobody answered. I left a message and nobody got back to me that night. The next day was a Friday and they didn’t call me that day either. I ended up being kind of busy, so I didn’t call them. The weekend passed, and on Monday I finally got tired of looking at the cookie, so I called them again and got the same person. She informed me that while she had got my message, she hadn’t had a chance to call me yet. I got my answer: the cookies are not gluten-free. So it’s a good thing I didn’t eat mine.

Thursday rolled around again, so it was time for another delivery. On Wednesday, we had got an email confirmation that our meal would be delivered the next day, so I was waiting for them, figuring that they would get there soon and I could put the meal in the fridge. The email said that the delivery would happen between 6:00 AM and 9:00 AM. By 9:15 AM I was imagining that they were going to miss us like last time. At 9:30 AM, I called again. Someone answered the phone. She was helpful and said she would check the status on our meal and call me back. She called back almost immediately, and told me that my meal was being delivered that morning, but wouldn’t be there until much later. She offered to leave extra ice packs, and reassured me that the weather was cold enough that nothing would spoil. Again, she mentioned that they had been really busy because of the Groupon.

Mexican Cassarole

Mexican Chicken Cassarole

This time we got the Layered Mexican Chicken Casserole, which came with the same broccoli and salad as last time. We enjoyed the casserole a lot more than the pilaf, and we substituted our own dressing for the lackluster Italian.

After the second meal, Dinner at Your Door sends an email where you can arrange to continue to get meals, or cancel. They also send instructions on when to leave the dirty containers out for them to pick up. We opted to cancel. For one thing, we felt that the service was unreliable. While I can relate to being over-worked because of something like a Groupon (we keep hearing restaurant Groupon horror stories), I don’t think it’s a good thing to pass the suffering on to your customers. Maybe a few months from now Dinner at Your Door will have recovered from the Groupon problems. But we still feel kind of burned by it. Last, we tend to feel that when things go awry at restaurants, they will usually make an effort to make things better. We didn’t get that experience with Dinner at Your Door.

I’m betting that our delivery and service problems were not the norm. At the same time, we were left with the feeling that this is a lot of money and trouble for something that we didn’t think was that great. We can think of any number of places to eat in Portland where better fare can be had more cheaply. If we go out to eat, we don’t have to mess with a website, no matter how well it’s put together, and we don’t have to fire up the oven for 20 minutes. We don’t have to dirty our own dishes. We like going out. So for us, it just doesn’t make sense. I could see Dinner at Your Door being a great service if you really hate going out but want to have someone else cook for you one day a week. If that describes you, then Dinner at Your Door is probably a good choice, and I would say give it a try.

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

Dinner at Your Door
www.dinneratyourdoor.com
Portland, OR / 503.701.4531

We want to know: Do you have any opinions about Dinner at Your Door? Do you have a restaurant Groupon horror story? Let us know in the comments!

Restaurant Review: Dick’s Kitchen

When we heard about Dick’s Kitchen we knew that we would need to check it out. They’re another place in town using the excellent Jensen’s Better Buns to serve gluten-free burgers. The Dick in Dick’s Kitchen is the owner of Laughing Planet. Dick’s Kitchen is something of a diner-style burger joint with a twist, the twist being that they serve “paleo” food.

The idea behind paleo food is that you shouldn’t eat food that our ancestors didn’t. So there is an emphasis on avoiding processed foods, dairy, cereal grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, salty foods, soft drinks, and refined sugars. During a conversation we had with him, the owner mentioned that this diet also aligns pretty well with the kind of anti-inflammatory diet that a person with rheumatoid arthritis might want to be on. The restaurant doesn’t completely cut out all the items in the above list, but it does make it easy to avoid them.

The place itself is half New York subway (although it reminds me more of the San Francisco Muni subway) and half diner. It has a kind of stark black and white aesthetic going on. Both times we went, the place was packed. The first time we visited, we were able to sit down immediately. The second time we had a considerable wait. The staff is very friendly and were able to answer our questions about what on the menu was gluten free. On the plus side, they do their best to keep everything very clean and do care about cross-contamination. On the minus side, they use the same toaster and cooking surfaces, so like most restaurants, the very sensitive should probably steer clear of Dick’s Kitchen. As for the fries though, they’re not actually fried, so there isn’t any cross-contamination from the deep fryer.

Dick’s Kitchen has a relationship with a cattle rancher in Eastern Oregon where they get grass-fed, grass-finished beef for their burgers. They also don’t salt things. Instead of serving fries, they serve “not fries.” These are fingerling potatoes that have been air baked instead of having been fried in oil. Besides burgers, they serve various kinds of sausage and hot dogs, a few different salads, some burgers made with other kinds of meat and fish, some alternate sandwiches, some extremely expensive shakes, and some vegetarian and vegan options. All of their sides are vegan. There are two flavors of vegan sausage, and also vegan buns. And vegan milkshakes!

Dick’s Kitchen also makes their own condiments. They have: ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, tomato chutney special sauce, horseradish sauce, Cambodian garlic sauce BBQ, wasabi aioli, and chipotle aioli persillade. Along with not adding salt to their food, they don’t automatically add any of the condiments, so you have to ask for them. They are all pretty good. A friend of ours (hi Dr. B!) told us that she opts to bring her own ketchup because they just don’t give you enough.

Vegan Chocolate Shake

Did we mention that they have vegan milkshakes? We tried the vegan chocolate shake. It’s made with Coconut Bliss ice cream and oat milk and is awesome. Obviously, people who should stay away from oats should probably get the regular shake. I always just risk oats because they don’t seem to ever make me sick. We also tried the papaya drink, which is advertised as a “healthful aid to digestion.” I wasn’t particularly hot about it, but Sienna liked it.

gluten-free dinner at Dick's Kitchen

We both got the burgers. This is a burger, coleslaw, gluten-free bun, the trimmings, and a side of yam “not-fries.” The burgers are great. The coleslaw is good. The gluten-free buns are, as mentioned, made by Jensen’s and so they are awesome. We also really liked the “not-fries.” I got a chance to sample the regular “not-fries” and definitely enjoyed the yam variety better. Sienna preferred the regular ones, which I have to admit are a little bit more crispy.

Vegan Gluten-Free Dessert

The second time we visited, the owner stopped by, and after talking to us about food and gluten, encouraged us to try one of the desserts. He called it a cobbler, but I seem to recall that it was called something else on the dessert menu. It’s basically nuts over cooked fruit, and it’s really delicious.

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

Dick’s Kitchen
www.dkportland.com
3312 SE Belmont St / 503.235.0146

We want to know: Do you have an opinion about Paleo food? Have you been to Dick’s Kitchen? Let us know in the comments!

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 – thedessertlabs.typepad.com – 347-513-5461

Restaurant Review: Pastini Pastaria Redux

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

Gluten Free Flag at Pastini Pastaria

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

Pastini Pastaria cocktail

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

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

Pastini Gluten Free Ziti

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

Pastini Gluten-free spagetti

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

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

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

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

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

Pastini Pastaria
www.pastini.com
Multiple Locations

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

Restaurant Review: Meat Cheese Bread

We love the block where Meat Cheese Bread is located. It’s a tiny island of hip art, fun buildings, a Thai restaurant that lights up a night, and now it has gluten-free bread. We heard that they had gluten-free bread at Meat Cheese Bread, and of course we had to go check it out. It turns out that they are making their own bread using the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Whole Grain Bread Mix and adding honey.

Meat Cheese Bread Menu

Here was the sandwich menu when we went. It bears noting that they: A) Have a plentiful salad menu in addition to the sandwich menu, and B) Will make any sandwich into a salad for a little extra cash. So, it’s not like we couldn’t enjoy a meal there before (and we had). At the same time, it’s a sandwich! Who doesn’t love sandwiches? I love sandwiches, and I especially love steak sandwiches. So I was happy when we were quizzing the guy behind the counter about which sandwiches are best with the gluten-free bread, and he said that the Park Kitchen is really good on it.

Gluten-free steak sandwich

The Park Kitchen is a cold sandwich with flank steak, pickled onions, blue cheese aoili, lettuce, and vinaigrette. My sandwich was really amazing. Good steak. Good cheese. Perfect amount of dressing. Fresh greens. The bread is tasty, although it doesn’t hold together as well as wheat bread probably would, that was OK with me.

The not-so-good news is that they don’t have a dedicated toaster. When grilled further about their cross-contamination policies, they said that while they keep things as clean as possible, they do have wheat around and so people who are terribly sensitive may want to steer clear.

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.

Meat Cheese Bread
www.meatcheesebread.com
1406 SE Stark St. / 503.234.1700

We want to know: Do you have a favorite gluten-free friendly sandwich in town? Had any experience with the Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Bread Mix? Let us know in the comments!

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: Asaase Ital Palace

Ah food carts. I love the food carts in Portland. They provide a nice, home-grown and informal food culture to Portland, which is very enriching. Them are big words, but I mean them! Food carts are the places where a lot of us grab a quick lunch. Asaase Ital Palace is located next to PSU in a little food cart lot down there. They offer African-Caribbean vegan-vegetarian cuisine. The menu is not long, but there’s a little something for everyone. The first time we visited, they were closed, even though we showed up during their posted business hours, which was a little strange. I’m thinking that may be part of the food cart experience?

I’m unclear on whether or not everything on the menu is gluten-free, but at the very least it looks like the majority of their offerings are. On the plus side, the person who was working when we visited was familiar with gluten and able to answer all my questions about our order. Everything they prepare is vegan.

Asaase Ital Palace Food Cart

They serve a tofu scramble, smoothies, a salad, and fried plantains. For entrees, they have more interesting offerings. #1 Ofie ne ife – “Steam ground spinach in a savory red oil sauce with boiled plantain or rice.” # 2 Red-Red – “Black eyed peas in a savory tomato sauce and palm oil with fried plantain and Gari” #3 Ites Gold & Green Plate – “Red beans stewed in tomato & coconut milk over yellow rice with greens. #4 Waakye – “Cook-up rice and peas with traditional spices.” They also have a Jerk Veggie Chick-un, which is vegan chick-un marinated in sofrito grilled with spicy sauce. Last, they have some soups.

Ites Gold and Green Plate

Red-Red

This is a cuisine that I have no experience with, and so I end up having to judge it with no context other than whether it tastes good or not. The top picture here is the #3 Ites Gold & Green Plate. The bottom is the #2 Red-Red. Everything about the Ites Gold 7 Green Plate was good. I am a real sucker for rice and beans. The rice was delicious, and so were the beans. The flavors were unique and interesting. The #2 Red-Red wasn’t quite as good. Except for the plantains, the dish was a little monochromatic and dry. On the plus side, the plantains were freshly fried, and delicious! The food took a little longer than I am used to with food carts, but everything was well put together. The food had a very wholesome feel. As mentioned above, the friendly person working the cart answered all my questions.

They have two sizes of most of their dishes, a large and a small. The small is definitely enough to feed one person. You might get a large if you’re going to pick up a few dishes to share between a group of people, which would be an ideal way to get this food. It is very interesting food, so it’s fun to sample more than one dish.

If you’re looking for a small adventure with some take-out food then it’s fun to check out the food carts in town, and you could do much worse than checking out the Asaase Ital Palace. We enjoyed our dishes and if we lived down near PSU and/or were vegan, we would probably visit them regularly.

We want to know: Do you have any favorite food carts in Portland? Have you eaten at Asaase Ital Palace? 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: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Asaase Ital Palace
Asaase Ital Palace Facebook Page
1600 SW 5th and College / 503.851.2511

Restaurant Review: Seres Restaurant & Bar

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

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

Hot Tea

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

gluten-free fried rice

gluten-free curry claypot with shrimp

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

Chocolate Mousse

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

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

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

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

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

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Channa Masala

I’ve been slowly working my way through the Trader Joe’s gluten free offerings. I know that I should review the bad with the good, but some of the Trader Joe’s pre-packaged indian food is pretty hard to get excited about. Having eaten Indian food in San Francisco and Berkeley, I’m a total Indian food snob. Luckily, I’ve got a couple gluten-free items that I’ve found recently that I think are worth sharing. The first is their Channa Masala. It’s Indian food, so it’s got a lot of spices. My main theory about Indian food tends to be that the worse it looks, the better it’s going to taste. My other theory about Indian food is that these people have been vegetarian for so long, they really know how to do it right.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Channa Masala

The ingredients: Onions, Tomatoes (Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid), Chickpeas, Water, Canola Oil, Spices, Ghee (Clarified Butter [Milk]), Garlic, Salt, Cilantro, Mango Powder, Turmeric, Bay Leaves.

The box includes instructions on how to heat up and also the usual disclaimer about how the food is manufactured on shared equipment. One thing that’s nice about the disclaimer on this box is that they say “Our vendors follow good manufacturing practices to segregate ingredients to avoid cross contact with allergens.” I don’t know anybody else feels about it, but this eases my mind a little. I don’t have to picture equipment encrusted with flour and malt. The box has two servings. Each is 180 calories and 450 mg of salt.

The picture on the box shows it in a bowl, like it’s soup or something, but here’s how you’re really going to want to eat your gluten-free Channa Masala: Over some jasmine rice and something on the side to take the heat off. Good examples of items that will take the heat off are: yogurt, golden raisins, dried cranberries, or a good chutney. I like a good mango chutney. At Indian Oven on Fillmore in San Francisco, they had a chutney that was the hottest thing on the table, but most chutneys are sweet and flavorful. When you’re eating Channa Masala with yogurt or a chutney, you grab a bite of one or the other, or both at the same time, but you generally keep them separate. With the raisins or dried cranberries, you should mix them in. If you like cilantro, you can tear a little up with your fingers and mix that in too.

I really liked this Chana Masala. It’s got a lot of flavor, but doesn’t feel the need to make your mouth burn. It’s vegetarian, gluten-free, and makes for something that’s easy to pack for work lunches.

We want to know: Do you have a favorite Indian restaurant in Portland? We still haven’t found one! Have you tried other Trader Joe’s Indian dishes? Do you get upset (like we do) that most of the Trader Joe’s asian cooking sauces aren’t gluten-free? Let us know in the comments!

Times we have visited: 2 (So your mileage may vary.)
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

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