Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Paris gluten free - patisserie edition

I confess that for some time, I had been reluctant to plan a trip to Paris (or France) because of concerns that it would be too difficult to eat gluten free fulfillingly there.  Unlike some other destinations, where meals aren't the main attraction, dining had always seemed to be a key element of a French vacation experience, and when Emily was diagnosed  7 years ago, reports from gluten free travelers were not that positive.  However, over the past few years, I started reading reports that things were changing for the better, so when we had the opportunity to attend a family wedding in Strasbourg this summer, we added on a week in Paris.  And, I'm so glad we did, we had a wonderful time in all respects.

I'm breaking this report into several posts, as there are a lot of great places to recommend.  This one focuses on more informal places and patisserie


As with previous trips, I did a lot of research in advance, scouring blogs, websites, and Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews for places that could accommodate gluten free.  However, unlike Italy, London or many cities in the United States, I soon learned that there were very few places with official gluten free menus. Instead, we needed to figure out which restaurants had "naturally" gluten free options -- and were aware of cross contamination.  We did find some suggestions of these types of restaurants from my research, but one of our favorite places turned out to be a local brasserie.  So, I'd suggest having a basic list in advance, but also being open to stopping in at places that look interesting, and seeing if they can accommodate.

We also confronted an additional wrinkle -- we were planning to be in Paris in August, and many places do close for vacation for at least a few weeks during that time.  I emailed/ face book messaged places I was particularly interested in in advance (using Google Translate) to find out whether they would be open during the time of our visit, so we didn't make expeditions to locations only to be disappointed by a "closed for vacation" sign.

Gluten free cafes -- and patisserie

I know of two places (Helmut Newcake and BioSphere Cafe) that serve classic gluten free patisserie (eclairs, cream puffs, tortes, etc.) in Paris -- and luckily for us, both were open! Both also are good places for lunch or a cafe break, or spots to pick up treats for another day.

Helmut Newcake is a charming small gluten free cafe near the trendy Canal St. Martin in the 10th.  We actually stayed at an apartment in this area, so went there twice, once  in the late afternoon to pick up patisserie, and once for lunch (and dessert of course).  To be honest, it is a little out of the way if you aren't staying in the area, although I would definitely recommend the neighborhood as a fun place for a meal or a stroll by the canal, it is a very lively area, particularly at night.  Lunch options were limited  but tasty-- the day we were there there was a choice of two pizzas and one cooked meal (a fish dish).  The select of patisserie differed on both occasions, and I think there is a little bit of luck involved as to what you will find at the time of day you arrive -- but on both visits, we were able to purchase some delicious French gluten free pastries.    I can also assure you that even those who do not need to eat gluten free will enjoy the pastries -- I know that I did. (The photo is of a caramel/ salted butter cream filled delicacy, yum.)
They also have a well regarded brunch on the weekends. As with all restaurants in Paris, make sure to check the hours/ days before you go, they were closed on Mondays and Tuesdays when we were there.

Biosphere Cafe is a little bit larger, and has a more extensive menu, including pizza, sandwiches, quiches, buckwheat crepes, and a few daily specials.
They started as a cafe that also served lunch, but now I see that they are open Friday and Saturday nights as well.  There meals are primarily gluten free (or maybe exclusively at this point, their web site suggests this, but double check if this is a concern for you.)  They also bake gluten free patisserie - they have a very tempting display case - as well as gluten free baguettes. We didn't try the baguettes, but I glimpsed them as they were coming out of the oven and they looked good!  It is located in the 8th, more of a business district, but it is not far from some of the main shopping areas, and only took us about 20 minutes to walk to the Place Concorde from there.  We arrived at the stroke of noon after having made a reservation that morning to find an empty restaurant, but within 20 minutes, the place was filled to capacity, so definitely call in advance if you can.

Thank You My Deer is a relatively new cosy and cheerful gluten free cafe in the 11th, again, not on the main tourist beat if you are only in Paris for a short time, but a good place to try if you are exploring the up and coming Oberkampf neighborhood (and I think there is a well known flea market in the area, although I didn't go there myself).  There menu changes daily, with a small selection of soups, muffins, gluten free sandwiches (served on homemade gluten free bread) and salads.  On some days, they serve waffles.  They also serve brunch on Sundays.  Of course, no cafe would be complete without desserts, and although theirs don't seem to be in the classic French patisserie tradition, they have cookies, pies, cakes, etc.

We also wanted to try Cafe Pinson, in the North Marais, which apparently has some gluten free options, but it was closed for vacation.  Next time!

Finally, we had a great lunch at the Cojean in the lower level of the main Printemps Department Store.  Cojean is a chain that serves healthy, self-serve options such as salads, soups, sandwiches, desserts, etc.  Gluten free options are clearly marked right on the items, and they label for other allergens as well.  Their salad options went far beyond a simple green salad, they included options with quinoa, olives, artichokes, etc.  It is a good place for a lunch stop, or pick up some items for a picnic later.


Ah, macarons.  French macarons are nothing like the coconut based macaroon cookies we typically find in America.  Instead, they are dainty, colorful,  almond and egg white confections, with some sort of creamy filling between two delicate cookies. 
Pierre Herme and Laduree are two of the most well known shops selling macarons, and both had many flavors that did not contain gluten.  Both stores have many outlets throughout Paris (and at the airport, for that final fix.)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Italy (Part 2)

My first blog post on our trip to Italy covered general tips, as well as some suggestions of great places to try in Rome. 


Our next stop was Sorrento.  We ate at two places there, which were somewhat similar and both directly on the main square:  Bar Syrenuse and Fauno Bar.  The location of both places was idea for summer dining -- right on the Piazza Tasso with nice outdoor seating.  I personally didn't find the food to be quite as good as the restaurants in Rome, although it was certainly fine and they both had extensive gluten free menus.  They also had huge portions -- around this time, we realized that we weren't required to order multiple courses for each of us, and that sharing appetizers was probably a wiser choice. Of the two, we preferred Bar Syrenuse and ate there twice  I had come across the following possibilities as well during our preparation:  Da Gignio, Villa Rubinaci, Osteria La Stalla, Ristorante Pizzeria La Fenice and Miccio Tratoria Pizzeria:.  If it wasn't the summer, and if the outdoor seating on the square wasn't so pleasant, and if the square wasn't one block from our hotel we might have investigated further, but  . .

Also, we only ate dinners out in Sorrento.  For breakfast and lunch, we got provisions at the local grocery store and Famacia -- the one near the main square had a lot of gluten free food to choose from. 


 After Sorrento, we spent a few nights at an Agriturisimo (Agriturisimo Nobile) in a vineyard right outside the hill town of Montepuliciano.  We rented a small apartment with a kitchen, although we didn't actually cook anything!  However, we eat simple breakfasts and lunches there, relying on food from the markets, the grocery store and the Farmacia.  We found some great places for dinner.  The first night, we had a four course, home cooked meal -- just for us -- prepared by the owners of our Agriturisimo, with Tuscan specialties (and lots of wine).  They bought gluten free pasta for us, and prepared it separately from the regular pasta.  We had alerted the Agriturisimo in advance of our dietary restriction and when we got there made sure that she read the Italian restaurant card o double check that the ingredients were indeed gluten free. 

By the way, on the drive to Tuscanny, we stopped at the standard highway eatery, which was astonishing for us, as Americans used to the typical fast food joints you get on our highways.  The Italian rest stops had 2 course meals, fresh mozzarella cheese and even wine.  We had brought our own food, but I don't think it would have been hard to find something tasty and gluten free.

Another night in Tuscanny we ate at La Locanda de Vino Nobile.  This restaurant was in S.Albino di Montepulciano, the town next to the old town of Montepulciano, but quite close to where we were staying.  Their gluten free menu included home made gluten free pici, a special pasta from that area of Tuscanny, and it was very good.

Our best find in Tuscanny  turned out to be one we hadn't researched in advance -- we found it by using the restaurant listing search on the Italian celiac webiste. ) Ristorante La Taverna Del Barbarossa, is in the town of San Quirico d'orica .  It had an extensive menu, including gluten free pici and lots of other pastas,  and beautiful outside seating overlooking fantastic views.  We liked it so much the first night, we went back again.


We ended our trip with a few nights in Florence.  Unfortunately, our first meal there was the one real culinary disappointment of the trip.  Le Botteghe di Donatello has a gluten free menu and a great location with outdoor seating right next to the Duomo.  However, I thought the food was so-so and the service very indifferent -- quite a contrast from what we had experienced almost every where else. 

Luckily, things improved after the first night.  Our favorite place in Florence was Coquinarious, a small encota near the Duomo -- make reservations, as they do fill up.  They don't have a specific gluten free menu, but do usually keep gluten free pasta on hand and seemed very knowledgeable about what was gluten free.  The staff was also very friendly and accommodating.  We liked it so much we went there twice.

We also had a very enjoyable lunch at Obika Mozzarella Bar, set in a beautiful palazzo.  They don't have a specific gluten free menu either, but they have lots of salad options -- and specialize in serving various varieties of mozzarella.  The restaurant is actually part of a chain (although it certainly didn't look like one!) and has locations elsewhere in Italy, including Rome, and in London and New York.

We stayed at Hotel Perseo, which offered a hearty continental breakfast -- including gluten free cereal, cookies, crackers and breads. 

Florence is known for its gelato, and there were lots of artisinal places, such as Grom, with gluten free options.  I had read about a gluten free bakery, which we never got to:  Il Fresca Senza Glutine.  Other restaurants on our list which we never got to try include:  Hostaria il Desco, Ciro and Sons (known for its gluten free pizza, but this must be ordered a day in advance), i 'Toscano, Risorante Giglio Rosso, Cammillo Trattoria, Florence-, The Clubhouse and Il Portale.  Just make sure to double check hours and closing days -- a lot of restaurants are closed on Sunday and/ or Monday.


Sunday, December 16, 2012


This is a long delayed post -- we spent about two weeks in Italy this past summer and had a great trip.  


I found it helpful to identify a few options in whatever neighborhood we were going to be touring in around the various meal times.  Although it is probably possible to get a plain salad or plain meat in many places if stuck, there are so many restaurants with extensive gluten free options that it seems a shame to waste a meal time opportunity!  Many restaurants are not open 7 days a week, and will often close between lunch and dinner, so check times and days in advance.  If a restaurant has an email address, I sometimes found it easier to make the reservation by email rather than phone.  This way, I could use Google translate to compose the message (and use it to interpret the response as well!)  Also, download some Italian language restaurant cards. 

Some supermarkets had some gluten free foods, but most gluten free provisions are found in the Farmacies.  Every Farmacie had a slightly different supply, but most had crackers, cookies, breads, pastas, and even muffins.  I think we stopped into almost every Farmacie we passed, just to see what was available.

Finally, make sure to check out the Italian Celiac Society website, http://www.celiachiaitalia.com/locali-senza-glutine.html  There are sections which list (among other types of places) restaurants, pizzarias, hotels, and bars which have approved gluten free menus.  The site is in Italian, but you can use google translate to read it.  The listings are organized by province, and are particularly helpful if you are going to be in an area that doesn't get a lot of tourist traffic.  When I found likely places, I tried to look them up in Trip Advisor or other web searches, to get general reviews -- after all, we didn't only want places with good gluten free menus, we wanted places with excellent food, for both gluten free and non gluten free diners alike.


We rented an apartment near the Pantheon, which was an ideal location for us.  We walked almost everywhere, and it was a charming, lively area.  Every morning, there was a fruit market in the Piazze delle Coppelle right in front of our apartment, where we could stock up on fruit.  There was also a supermarket a couple of blocks away, where we purchased drinks and snacks, but we didn't really use the kitchen for much else!

Where we ate (favorites are starred):

* Caffe Universalle, http://www.universalecaffe.it/ -- between the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon -- the most elegant restaurant we went to, with fabulous, personalized service!  Great value if you get one of the 30 or 35 euro prix fixe menus -- four courses, all of which can be adapted to be gluten free.  Gluten free pasta and pastries also available.  No outside seating.  This was a definite highlight for us.

* La Soffitta Renovatio, http://ristoranterenovatio.it/  -- not too far from the Vatican/ St. Peters.  Another highlight.  Full gluten free menu, with excellent pizza, lots of pasta choices, and gluten free desserts.  A traditional atmosphere, but no outdoor seating.

* Ristorante Il Tulipano, http://tulipanonero.biz/ -- in Trastevere.  Another great experience.  An extensive gluten free menu, with many options.

* Voglia di Pizza, http://www.italybedbreakfast.it/ristorante/index.html -- between the Jewish quarter and the Campo di Fiori (the website is of a bed and breakfast that I think runs the pizzaria  Excellent gluten free pizza, also has other gluten free pasta and meal options.  More of a lunch place.  Has a few outside tables and some inside seating.

La Scaletta, http://www.lascalettaroma.it/Home.aspx -- near the Pantheon.  Gluten free pasta available.  The food here was good, but not outstanding.  However, the location is excellent, with very nice outdoor seating. 

Fa Bio, no website -- near the Vatican.  Not a typical Italian restaurant.  A small, hole in the wall type place with sandwiches (not gluten free), salads and smoothies.  A good option for take out (no seating), the staff is accommodating and salads and smoothes can be gluten free.

Mia Market, http://miamarket.blogspot.com/  -- Monti  Another atypical place if you are looking for a change from pizza/ pasta.  A small market/ deli with seating available.  Sandwiches (not gluten free) and salads.

Gelato   Gelato can have gluten in it.  In general, however, we found that the "artisinal" places had gluten free options.   Grom identifies its gluten free flavors right on the menu so you don't need to ask.  At Fatamorgana, in Monti, all flavors were gluten free and all cones were gluten free as well.  Il Gelato di San Crispino also had gluten free options.

Other places  We never got to try these places, but here are a few other places that were on our list of possibilities: 
Obika' Roma Campo Dei Fiori, http://www.obika.it/english/restaurant-in-rome.html (a few locations), aka the Mozzarella bar, no gf menu, but salads and cheese are available
Taverna Barberini, http://www.romaristoranti.info/ -- near Trevi fountain, has a gluten free menu
Marco G, http://www.marcog.it/ -- Trastevere.  Has gf pasta.
Ad Hoc, http://www.ristoranteadhoc.com/inglese/home.htm
Casa Coppelle, http://www.casacoppelle.it/dove-siamo.html -- near Pantheon, outdoor seating.

Sorrento and Florence report to come in a later post

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Grand Palladium in Mexico -- an all inclusive that does gluten free well

For the past few years, we had avoided all inclusives, choosing instead to rent condos where we could have more control over our meals.  However, we had heard good things about the gluten free provisions at the Grand Palladium (between Akumal and Playa del Carmen in the Riviera May, Mexico) and, I am glad to report, overall we had a very good experience.

The Grand Palladium is a very large property that includes 5 different areas.  We stayed at the Riviera, but since you can eat at any of the restaurants (about 8) , bars or buffets in the property, the particular area that you stay in doesn't much matter.   We were there during February school break, but even so, it didn't feel too crowded to us.  I thought that the beach area and the pools were really lovely.

At the time that we visited (February 2012), the hotel had a system in place to assist guests with food allergies and celiac.  Once we checked in, we met with one of the higher level managers in charge of dining services. He gave us a special color coded restaurant card (in English and Spanish) setting forth the gluten free requirements. (There are other cards for other food allergies.)  The text of this card was quite similar to other restaurant cards -- however, the magic of the card is that everyone in the property's restaurants and buffets has been trained to follow certain procedures once a guest shows them this particular card.  In the buffet, they made sure that we were brought to a table with a fresh tablecloth, and a manger came over to take my daughter's order. In the beach bar, they offered to make up fresh batches of french fries and tortilla chips, that had been fried in clean, fresh oil.  There is also a basic gluten free menu at each of the restaurants offering items such as grilled chicken, grilled fresh, etc. -- however, at La Adelita (Mexican restaurant), Porta Emilia (fish restaurant by the beach) and Portofino (Italian), they were able to adopt menu items from the regular menu to make them gluten free.  (The hotel does have gluten free pasta and pizza listed on the gluten free menu as well; however, it is best to let the restaurant know in advance that you want to order one of those items, so they have it in stock.  My daughter was able to enjoy a very nice gluten free pasta dish at the Italian restaurant.)

In general, one cannot make reservations in advance at the restaurants.  However, because we had a gluten free person in our group, we were allowed to make reservations, and this was also very helpful in ensuring that things went smoothly.  Our gluten free needs were noted on the reservation, so the restaurant knew to expect someone with celiac and could arrange to have some gf breads and other products on hand.

The only night things didn't go so smoothly was the very first night.  This was because we hadn't received the magic card yet as the manager we needed to speak with had the day off on the day of our arrival.  As a result, we couldn't make an advance reservation, and there was some confusion about what kind of gluten free food was available at the restaurant (the steak house.).  So, if you do arrive on a day that the manager can't meet with you, I'd encourage you to insist that you nonetheless be allowed to make a dinner reservation in advance anyway, with a notation about needing to eat gluten free.

The hotel also stocks some gluten free specialty products, including breads, muffins, pancake mix, brownies and some other desserts.  I give full credit to the hotel for ordering these products -- however, some were clearly better than others!  Luckily, the brownies and pasta were both quite tasty.  There were also plenty of naturally gluten free foods available.  Also, when it comes to "processed" foods, the hotel is quite conservative in what they consider to be gluten free, and I think only considers such a food to be gluten free if it is labeled so by the manufacturer. The ubiquitous soft serve ice cream did not have a gluten free label, so they originally told us my daughter could not eat it.  When I pressed a bit, the manager very willingly tracked down the ingredient label for me, and the ingredients were indeed gluten free. Since Mexico does have good labeling policies when it comes to gluten, we were comfortable with her eating the ice cream -- however, I did appreciate that others might feel differently and I think that the hotel's conservative approach (in combination with their willingness to let me see the ingredient label) is the best way to accommodate the range of guest needs.

One of the best things about the all inclusive was that we did not have to explain what gluten free was time and time again -- we just showed our card, and then the existing procedures were implemented.  The waitstaff and servers were incredibly kind and accommodating.  We generally ate breakfast at the Riviera buffet, and lunch at the Riviera pool bar.  At each of these places, they quite readily made up fresh orders of items such as eggs and fresh fruits for breakfast, and grilled chicken, fresh french fries, and fresh tortilla chips for lunch (the guacamole was naturally gluten free, and was amazing!) 

I've heard that the hotel is continuing to develop their food allergy and celiac friendly approaches, and that they might be developing a gluten free section of the buffet.  However, even without this, we found it quite easy to have an enjoyable, relaxing stay, and we would definitely return!

Grand Palladium Riviera May http://www.fiestahotelgroup.com/en/hotels/destination/america/mexico /riviera-maya/  (We booked through Expedia, but it is definitely worth it to check around to different tour packages, as prices to this hotel (and, indeed, most all inclusives) can vary widely.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gluten free matzah now available in my local supermarket

For the past few years, I have been baking matzah for our seders, using an almond meal based recipe. The matzah tasted delicious, but couldn't really be used as an ingredient for matzah based recipes, such as matzah brei, matzah stuffing, matzah caramel. Today, my mother discovered that our local supermarket in the Greater Boston area is carrying Yehuda brand "matzah crackers." These look just like regular matzah. We're stocking up!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Friendly Toast in Cambridge is Friendly Indeed

We were at The Friendly Toast in Kendall Square (Cambridge) last night and were really happy to see that they offer gluten free pancakes -- all kinds of decadent, gluten free pancakes, including chocolate chips, M and Ms (and blueberry too). You can get breakfast all day here too (including eggs). There are salads on the menu too, and apparently they have corn tortillas, so it is possible to get some sandwich fixings on a tortilla. The ambiance is a lot of fun -- take a look at the menu on their website for a preview.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

GF Dougnuts -- October Daring Bakers Challenge

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

I've rejoined Daring Bakers, and this month's challenge, hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up, was called Lets Go Nuts for Doughnuts. I'd been tempted by a mini doughnut pan a week before, so this was a perfect opportunity to indulge! A number of recipes were suggested, but I ended up a basic cake doughnut recipe from the Wilton Mini Doughnut pan (the recipe was very similar to the Buttermilk Cake Doughnut recipe provided.) I used Better Batter gluten free flour mix instead of the cake flour called for in the recipe, and they turned out great. I kept it simple -- glazed them with chocolate and sprinkled them with colorful sprinkles. Many doughnuts were consumed that night, but I froze the rest -- they defrost easily, but I confess I later discovered that they are quite tasty frozen as well!

Thanks for a fun challenge!

Gluten-Free Discoveries!

A teen and her family's experiences living gluten-free.