Friday, August 26, 2011

Samovar, August 26th 2011

I have been here a handful of times pre-food-restrictions. I've always enjoyed their menu, particularly their tea services, which run in the 20's but come with a nice assortment of odds and ends plus tea. Their cheese and fruit plate, with honey comb, was always one of my favorite things to order there. For your average diner, this place is a wonderful treat, although a bit expensive. But today I will review it from the perspective of someone dining with food allergies or restrictions.

Today, I already had lunch and mostly came in for the delicious soy Matcha shake. At $8 it's a bit expensive, and you don't get that much. But I was in the mood to spoil myself a little, and cheat from the Paleo diet (soy is a bean, not a caveman food item).

The Gluten-Free Nitty Gritty:

As an Asian cuisine spot, this has a lot of potential to be mostly dairy free and gluten free, but potential gluten traps like soy sauce.

I decided to get a snack too and looked over the food items. To my delight, they had a key on the bottom to indicate which items are vegan and gluten free! Scanning through for item marked with that beautiful g next it, I was sad to see there were only a few. Of those few, some had soy sauce. Great! This must mean they have gluten free soy sauce. As a Celiac, you have to be extra cautious, to the extent where I've read advice on calling and talking to the chef in advance, asking tons of questions, and leaving if you aren't satisfied. Being new to this, I'm taking some baby steps. I pretty much settled on the marinated portabello salad, but in case it was marinated in gluten free soy sauce, I wanted to make sure they had gluten free soy sauce. The waitress, however, did not know. She was nice enough to go ask the kitchen, and I overheard the person she asked, ask another person, who did confirm that they have gluten free soy sauce. I got the portabello salad, thinking that I should have asked specially about that. I did ask the waitress if the salad was already gluten free and she made some show of checking the key. Perhaps this is all very new, and she is learning. Ideally, she would know the answers to most of my gluten and allergy related questions already.

The Dairy-Free Deal

While mostly Asian based, there are some salads, sandwiches etc that come with dairy. They also have a v* marking, that shows that items can be made vegan. This wouldn't mostly be by making without adding cheese. There are plenty of exciting asian style items without dairy on the menu though!

The Paleo Low-Down

There are nice salad options, although most menu items are either sandwiches or grain based meals. Many items come with crackers, and probably wouldn't be too fun wit hot the crackers. Also, soy is of course abundant on the menu. The portabello salad was probably the only purely paleo item on the food menu. Of course, with the teas, you could get almost anything except the Genmaicha, which is a brown rice green tea drink. For a Paleo dieter, I would say mostly come here if you want to have tea. In that regards, they have a wide variety of very high quality teas. I recommend their Earl Grey. It is exquisitely Bergamot flavored.


Normal Dining Rating: 4/5 stars.

Minus a star for being a little pricey and pretentious without have whatever it takes (flavor, pizazz) to make it seem worth the price.

Food Allergy Dining Rating: 3/5 stars.

Minus a star for the waitress not have thorough knowledge of the gluten free options.


3/5 is high for the food allergy dining these days! There is must room for the restaurant industry to learn and grow with respect to the needs to food allergies. Restaurants are picking up on this; the change is happening now.

Monday, August 22, 2011

K&L Bistro, August 20th 2011

At 7pm, this place was busy, but we were offered a seat a lone table by the front windows. A small cozy joint, with friendly wait staff and a titilating menu with lots of meyer lemon, I was excited to try the place for the first time.

The Gluten-Free Nitty Gritty

As someone with many food restrictions, any conversation with the wait staff begins by spelling out my food allergies and asking about particular items I am interested in. This waitress "got it." I wanted the tuna tartar, which came with crackers. she pointed out that it has Ponzu sauce (has soy sauce in it) and would ask to have it made without, and also suggested susbtituting the crackers with lettuce. This is the kind of service that I would like for every dining experience! My partner and I had picked out 3 entrees and asked her which was gluten free. Out of the 3, 2 were already gluten free, so we ordered those. Even though the waitress was very knowledgeable, when delivering our food, she informed that she has let the kitchen know about my food allergies.

The Paleo Low Down

We had a steak with cumin fries and sword fish with caponata, a Sicilian cooked sweet and sour salad. The later was the most delicious thing we ordered, their version being made of eggplant, peppers and zuccini among other, with a nice tang to it. As being new to eating steaks, I requested for it to be cooked medium, which was probably a mistake since it was overcooked. The fries and sword fish were good, but not amazing. We also had a nice house red wine, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet. These items all fir into the Paleo diet...although, does wine really? Did cavemen have wine? Sure they had grapes, but goodness knows we can't go without some form of alcohol while fine dining. It goes hand in hand. Beer is clearly out of the question for gluten-free and paleo dining since the base ingredients were not part of a caveman's diet.

The Dairy-Free Deal

There were plenty of dairy free options. Many of the salads had dairy on them. This is usually disappointing to have without, since they often only have a few other items on them. My partner is fine ordering salads without the dairy, but it seems like a bummer to me. Our entrees were both originally dairy free and very satisfying.


Normal Rating: 4/5 stars

Minus 1 for good but not amazing food. The ambiance and service were good.

Allergy Dining Rating: 4/5 stars

Although it's nice to have the menu clearly marked which items are gluten free, or even to have a gluten free menu, the waitress was so knowledgeable and reassuring that it was ok. Preferably, I would like to be able to talk to kitchen staff in advance, tour kitchens etc. As a novice food critic, I am getting there. As a society we are just becoming aware of the needs of Celiac disease family members, friends, and customers. As this is a learning curve for all of us, I am positive they have room to grow to 5/5 stars.