Sunday, May 30, 2010

Restaurant Review: Elliott Bay Pizza

You know, I must say, more and more places are getting the importance of offering gluten-free options to the millions of people affected by the various problems that gluten causes in their bodies. For those of us who this is a necessity, I applaud these places.

And I spend my money.

One such place, Elliott Bay Pizza offers a gluten-free pizza crust that can be substituted for an additional $2.75 underneath any of their 10" pizza offerings. It's quite a nice offering too.

When you first walk in, there is a stack of menus and a sign telling you to seat yourself and order at the counter when you're ready. Very casual. I browsed the extensive menu, then followed the previous instructions.

They have lots of pizza options, as well as the ability to build your own, and all of them can be made gluten-free. I tried them for the first time tonight and really enjoyed myself. I ordered two pizzas so I could take some home (I still haven't been to a grocery store since coming back from San Francisco). I ordered a 10" Maui (Canadian bacon, mozzarella and pineapple) substituting the basic red sauce for their roasted-garlic and olive oil sauce and one 10" Highlander (pepperoni, mushrooms and mozzarella) switching out the red sauce for their homemade basil pesto. A little change is always good.

I sat back down at my table after getting myself a glass of water and my salad came quickly. The lettuce was crisp and cool, with nice pilings of red onions, black olives, shredded mozzarella and a couple of baby carrots. I nixed the tomatoes and croutons and opted for the raspberry vinagrette, which was nice. The salad was a nice starter, but I was eager to try the pizza.

My two pizzas came and the cook (she served it) brought me a plate and some parm and I dug in. The crust was soft and tender, thin and slightly crispy in certain places. The basil pesto was outstanding. As soon as I bit into that pizza, the flavor was almost overwhelming, but in a really delightful way. It began to melt into everything else and it all came nicely together. The Maui with the garlic-olive oil sauce was really nice with just a hint of garlic and I missed nothing about the red sauce that I think overpowers most of the pizzas I try. I prefer them this way. Simple and different. Try it sometime. You might just like it.

After sampling both pizzas and pleased with the texture of the crust and all the options before me, I began to wonder a little something. Something I usually take care of before I even get to this point. The big question: were all the ingredients on these pizzas gluten-free? I wasn't so sure. I felt okay at this point, but it wasn't clear because it wasn't marked anywhere on the menu. In other establishments, there are little stars or asterisks letting you know what was or wasn't gluten-free and what kind of protection they could offer you in the kitchen. Unfortunately, Elliott Bay Pizza didn't really offer this.

When I first planned to go, I called ahead to confirm the existence of a gluten-free crust, just to make sure. Sometimes there is confusion amongst the staff (not always) in some places or you have to order a day or so in advance depending on how they get their gluten-free options. I asked about the crust ingredients and I wanted to know if the alfredo sauce had wheat in it. The guy I talked to didn't know about the alfredo sauce and said he would find out and let the staff know before I got there. That's nice. I did confirm that there is gluten in the alfredo sauce at the counter before ordering. But what about the other things? Was the pepperoni I was eating gluten-free? How about the Canadian bacon?

Now, I don't know. I'll find out soon enough.

And what about the other things on the menu? Do they offer gluten-free pastas or calzones? Not sure. These are questions that are big and important to those of us eating gluten-free. Just offering a crust isn't enough. We will want to know more. Some people have to know more. Some restaurants like P.F. Chang's have gone the extra mile and let their customers know what equipment is dedicated gluten-free and what's not. What food is safe and what food is not. Very helpful when you're sitting down and want to feel good when you get up to leave.

So, I applaud Elliott Bay for getting out there and offering a gluten-free option, but I think they, along with many others, need to go the next step. Get a gluten-free menu printed up or post it on your website. Or they could simply put asterisks or some sort of sign on the menu that states certain items are safe to consume or certain items are not. And most of all, get your staff on-board. Pass the knowledge so as people are ordering they don't just write down whatever they are told, but they make a conscious effort to know what items would be considered safe and what would not be. As the consumer, it is my job to ask, ask, ask, but as the provider, it would make our consuming lives so much easier to have these things set up for us. It would make me want to come back because I know you care.

Something to think about.

Happy eating and safety for everybody!

Restaurant Review: Let Them Eat Cake - San Jose, CA

I had the pleasure of spending my birthday in San Francisco with a dear friend and her family, none of which are gluten-free eaters. Some were curious, but after a long list of what happens to me when I eat gluten, nobody wants to eat anything afterwards, so I try to keep it to a minimum.

However, my friend wanted to surprise me and surprise me she did! She anticipated the birthday celebration and the options before her in regards to some sort of birthday dessert. Apparently, gluten-free cheesecake was discussed, as was making a gluten-free cake on their own.

I must say, my eyes nearly popped when I heard the last option. I have been gluten-free baking for many years now and even still, there are some serious flops and failures. It takes time and patience and a whole lotta know-how - either that or someone who has a serious book of good recipes. Luckily, I do, but my friend does not have the same experience being a gluten-eater. She's an amazing cook, but the gluten-free world can be challenging. And all bakers know that just using a recipe off the internet is not always a wise decision. Plus, the cost of buying lots of random ingredients they will never use again didn't seem like a good idea either. Of course, I'm not sure if she is aware, but there are some pretty good boxed mixes out there now, but it would be hard to know what would be available as we are here (in Seattle) and we were going there (San Francisco).

So, my brilliant friend did what brilliant friends do - she found a gluten-free baker.

With the help of the internet and a whole lotta trust, she ordered me a beautiful birthday cake that was beyond fantastic! It was a monstrosity of chocolate layers with a filling of raspberry jam and the most beautiful piping job of dairy-free (that was the option) "buttercream" basketweave and a bushel of beautiful, ripe berries on top. It was glorious!

I mean, look at that! How amazing, right?

Now, again, as all gluten and gluten-free bakers and eaters know, things can be beautiful to the eye, but the actual product may be less than...well, it would be hard to say what's inside that beautiful package. We've all seen the Food Network Cake Challenges - not all things are as they seem!

Well, this was just as beautiful inside as it was on the outside. This is one allergy-friendly patisserie that knows what it is doing. The cake was moist and flavorful with just the right amount of filling and the "buttercream" was soft and pliable, sweet and yummy. And those berries! I do not know where on Earth this bakery gets their berries, but if I could find them, I would drive down there just to get them. In fact, as we all waited for my friend to put her little one to bed, we couldn't stop ourselves from picking berry after berry off the top. We tried to hide the end result, but I'm sure the gaping holes gave us away.

It really was a magnificent birthday surprise.

For more information, you can contact Let Them Eat Cake at . They make all kinds of stuff: breads, rolls, pastries, cupcakes, wedding cakes, etc., but they only deliver in and around the Bay area. Not sure about shipping. But they would be more than worth it. And apparently, as I raved to them in an email and sent them a picture of their creation pre-plate-licking episode, they mentioned back to me that they now sell their flour mix online. Another good option.

Happy eating!
Michelle - the birthday girl

Restaurant Review: Mariposa Bakery - San Francisco Ferry Building

The smell of freshly baked bread. The allure of wafting cinnamon rolls calling to you. And, oh, yes...the delight of a fresh cookie or brownie or muffin. What more can one ask for when walking through the Ferry Building open marketplace in downtown San Francisco?

I know.


Yes. For those of us in need of something delicious, sort of nutritious, and really, happy, healthy, body-friendly food...Mariposa Baking Company has come to our rescue.

I had heard about Mariposa on several websites and how great their products are. A friend and I headed to San Francisco for a little R&R and found ourselves walking around the Ferry Building - after a mind-blowing three-hour chocolate tour, if that is even imaginable! - and I had to find this little store. It's more of a kiosk, really, because in that building, they can only cram so much. And luckily for me and so many others, they had room for some gluten-less goodies.

When I found the kiosk (which is down towards Sur La Table - also a fav), I had to control myself. They had so many options and they all looked so good. Everything is pre-packaged, which is great for those of us traveling, and they even had a freezer case full of tempting treats. Everything from frozen pizza crusts, bagels, cinnamon rolls and even pasta! I really wanted to grab a bag of their homemade ravioli to take home, but I wasn't sure how well it would travel. I kind of figured that the other stuff I would buy would either not make it all the way home to Seattle (having been devoured before we even hit the road) or it would make it home in a bag with or without ice.

I poured over my options on the counter and in the stand, drooling over the muffins and cookies, brownies and tea cakes. I settled on a sour cream coffeecake, which was excitedly squishy, a peace cake with unsulphured apples, two chocolate chip bagels (out of the freezer), and one bag of crostini with a hint of garlic. I could even smell the garlic through the bag. It was all I could do to not tear it open right there.

I decided not to.

I know. Sad.

I was hopped up on three hours of chocolate samples, so I really didn't need anything else. But I wanted to.

But I didn't.

I bought my goodies and the checker gave me a free cookie telling me it was to celebrate their anniversary. That was exciting. Free is always nice.

I took my stuff and found my group and finished the rest of my vacation. Finally, at the end of it all and days of thinking about the sour cream coffeecake, I had to have some. See picture above. I cut into it and found that it was so soft and moist and delicious, I didn't want to stop.


I did. I do have some self-control. :)

I shared a little and saved the rest for breakfast and took rest home to Seattle to be devoured here.

The peace cake was a nice change of pace. Not what I was expecting. It was firm and drier than expected after eating the exceptionally moist sour cream coffeecake. That's when I read the package. The cake was meant to be reminiscent of war times when eggs, dairy, and sugar were rationed. The cake was gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegan and really quite good. A little crumbly, but I liked the concept.

Soon after, I tried one of the bagels. Now, I have made gluten-free bagels once or twice before and it is so nice to have a pre-made option as bagel-making is a bit intensive with all the rising and water boiling involved. These bagels were soft and slightly chewy, but not as chewy as I had hoped. Not sure if it was the freezing or just the type of bagel they were, but I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed. They tasted good, but they fell apart more than I anticipated and it made them more challenging to eat. Nothing a little (or a lot) of Neufchatel cheese won't fix! I did enjoy them though. Very much.

Now, onto the crostini. Hands-down my favorite thing in my purchase in a close race to the sour cream coffeecake. The crostini were crisp and firm, crunchy and garlicky in all the right ways. They didn't fall apart more than expected and I do believe any gluten-eaters out there would have no idea these were anything but gluteny goodness. But they are so not! They were amazing. And if I hadn't eaten them all with some turkey slices and cheese, I would have loved to save some and make something Giada De Laurentiis would be proud of.

But, alas, they are gone.

Lucky for me, Mariposa ships.

Their price is pretty good for a gluten-free goodie, considering they are in San Francisco and everything is elevated there except the altitude. To find more on what they offer, you can visit them in Oakland at their main bakery, at the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco or go to for more information.

Oh. The free anniversary celebration cookie! I almost forgot. It was delicious. Chocolate chip, I believe. Not sure. I have to say I ate it during the chocolate fever, so all I remember are the few crumbs left behind. It must have been good.

Happy eating everybody!