To blog or not to blog

Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Birthday Dinner 2014 (5) skies

When I first started blogging it felt necessary.  I was providing a service and helping those who felt as frustrated as I did trying to find tasty gluten-free food replacements, safe gluten-free restaurants and delicious gluten-free recipes.  Over the last few years my life got busier (I started a gluten-free ice cream company), and eating gluten-free just became generally easier.  More people know what gluten-free is – no one looks at me like I have two heads anymore when I say that I can’t eat gluten.  The number of great gluten-free products has vastly increased.  Now, as long as you follow some basic guidelines, eating out isn’t nearly as difficult (especially in NYC).  As a result, blogging moved very low on my list of priorities.

I was reminded of how confusing, frustrating, exasperating and defeating it can be to switch from eating “normally” to eating strictly gluten-free this week as my younger sister Alexx was diagnosed with Celiac.  As I’ve been answering questions and giving tips, my original confusion and feelings from my diagnosis have come rushing back to me.  And I started to miss blogging! I can’t make any promises but I hope to feel up for more posts.  With budget constraints and my boyfriend moving in with me I’ve been doing A LOT of cooking at home.  Hopefully I’ll be able to share more of the simple (but awesome) creations I’ve been cooking up recently.

BaconFest Winners and Bacon Cheese Roll Recipe

BaconFest 2011 gluten-free

BaconFest came and went last year without even a post from me. Such delinquency I hope to remedy by providing you with the recipe for one of the winning dishes. People really stepped up their game this time. Dishes like bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese and almonds that had people swooning in years past, barely made any waves because there were so many other amazing and interesting foods on hand.

These cheese puffs tied for first place with some Luca & Bosco Ice Cream creations (a venture I already mentioned here). Since I can’t share our ice cream recipes, these cheese puffs will have to do…

Salt and Pepper Cheese puffs BaconFest 2011 (24)

Gluten-Free Salt-and-Pepper Cheese Puffs Recipe (with Bacon) from Andrea DiCastro

1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour Mix
6 large eggs, beaten to blend
1 1/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (Use very good sharp cheddar)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh-ground pepper
1/2 lb Thick Cut Bacon (Smoked Maple or Pepper flavored)
Coarse sea salt (Maldon is very good)

Fry bacon; crispy. Pap dry to remove bacon grease. Crumble bacon into small/medium pieces.

In a 3- to 4-quart pan over high heat, bring 1 1/2 cups water and the butter to a full rolling boil. Remove from heat, add flour all at once, and stir until mixture is a smooth, thick paste with no lumps. Add a quarter of the beaten eggs at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition until dough is no longer slippery. Stir in cheese, pepper half of the bacon.

Drop dough on sheets in slightly rounded tablespoon-size portions (approximately 50 mounds) on two cooking parchment-lined or buttered 12- by 15-inch baking sheets. (Alternatively, spoon dough into a large pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2-inch round tip. Pipe in 50 equal mounds) Add a small piece of bacon on top of each mound and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Bake in a 400° regular or convection oven until dry and well browned, about 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Cooking Notes:
– When stirring the mixture, use a strong spoon as the dough gets very stiff. (I have broken spoons making this)
– You can make these ahead of time and freeze. For serving, unthaw and then warm up in oven at
350° for 5 minutes
– For larger parties, a double batch is needed but out of experience make 2 single batches as the mixture gets unruly to mix correctly

Gluten-Free Waffle Cone Recipe and an Ask for Help

homemade waffle cones Luca and Bosco Best NYC Ice Cream (1)

Hello dear readers. I haven’t forgotten about you. I have been working on a very exciting ice cream project. My business partner and I are launching a new ice cream brand called “Luca and Bosco” (named after our adorable puppies). Why is that relevant to you? Because everything we make is going to be gluten-free – the ice cream, the cones, the toppings, the cookies and even little ice cream cone shaped dog biscuits will be made completely gluten-free. This weekend I made a chocolate and beer ice cream using Bard’s Tale gluten-free beer for St. Patrick’s Day. My business partner isn’t gluten-free but has been an incredible friend making sure that I can eat everything we make. She even dedicated her waffle cone iron to being gluten-free to make sure it didn’t become ‘contaminated.’
Strawberry and Goat Cheese with balsamic syrup Luca and Bosco Best NYC Ice Cream (6)

We’ve been working on it since October and went to Ice Cream University in January at Penn State to learn all about the science of ice cream (and yes, we were sporting sexy hairnets a good portion of the time). Right now, we’re looking for commercial kitchen space and trying to raise money for a portable freezer cart and blast freezer all while working our demanding day jobs. We can use all the help we can get. If you live in the NYC area you can get ice cream as a reward for donating, but we will also ship cookies and toppings to those of you living outside of NYC. I hate asking for donations, but since neither of us can afford it on our own, we’re hoping that a little bit of help from a lot of people will get us there! Indiegogo is a great way to help dreams get off the ground.

Honey Lavender Ricotta Luca And Bosco Ice Cream (54)

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve figured out in experimenting with gluten-free waffle cone recipes and give you one to play with. I’ve used three different base recipes and many combinations of gluten-free flours and this is the sturdiest with the best flavor yet. Many of them will make a delicious ‘waffle cone topping’ but won’t be sturdy enough to function as a cone or, my favorite, a waffle cone bowl. If you stray from the recipe below, one thing to keep in mind with adapting another recipe is that in general you will need to add a touch more gluten-free flour mix or a little extra egg white to a traditional, “glutenous” recipe, but this is what has worked best for me so far.  I promise to update it if I make any improvements.

homemade waffle cones Luca and Bosco Best NYC Ice Cream

Gluten-Free Waffle Cone Recipe (adapted from Chef’s Choice)
1 whole large egg, room temperature
2 egg whites, room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup gluten-free flour mix – I used Cup4Cup, Pamela’s mix did NOT work for this recipe due to the extra fat content from the nut flour
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

Preheat your waffle cone machine (I’ve been working with this model at home). Beat the egg, egg whites and salt in a small bowl with a fork. Add the sugar and beat until the sugar is incorporated and the egg has lightened in color slightly, about 1 minute. Gradually add flour, ¼ cup at a time and beat until all lumps are gone. Add the melted butter and stir until well blended. Spoon one heaping tablespoon into the center of the iron and gently close the top to bake. Firmly close the top of the iron after baking for a 15-30 seconds. I found if I pressed down firmly to start the cones would become too thin and breakable. Bake for 60-90 seconds according to your color and doneness preference. If you don’t bake long enough they won’t be crispy but if you go too long they will burn or crumble apart too easily. It will take a few tries for you to work it out on your machine and the exact amount of batter will take a couple tries as well.
Quickly remove the cone from the iron and move it onto a clean dishtowel or cloth. Use that to help you roll the cone (your waffle cone iron should come with a mold) or place it over a small upside down bowl to shape it into a waffle cone bowl (my favorite!!!)
Even once you have figured out the recipe/technique, they will still be fragile – but that won’t diminish their flavor and can still be used as an exceedingly excellent ice cream topping.

Let me know if you have any questions and please take a minute to check out our campaign on Indiegogo.

Happy almost spring!

Our last meal (in Chicago) – Alinea

Dinner at Alinea Restaurant July 2011 9in

After interrupting my Chicago write-ups to relate the magical tale of my El Bulli experience, we return to our Midwest eating adventure with the main course – Alinea. Currently ranked the top restaurant in the United States by Restaurant Magazine, Alinea had some high expectations to live up to. Did it? Yes and No.

In ‘preparation’ for our trip to Chicago, I read “Life, on the Line” by Alinea’s Chef Grant Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas. A recommended read that grabs your interest, maintains it throughout and concomitantly creates great expectations about eating at Alinea.

With this history, I entered Alinea, ready to be awed. Well, the food and creativity of the dishes matched the hype, unfortunately the service and ambiance crashed and burned. It was a sweltering hot summer day and the room where we were seated was quite warm even though air conditioning is generally available in Chicago. Because men are required to wear a suit jacket, my friend was sweating throughout the entire meal. His jacket served as a portable sauna in Alinea.

You might ask – well, why didn’t he just take it off? He would have loved to, but when he inquired about removing it, he was told that Alinea preferred he leave it on. They like hot customers apparently.  A couple of the servers were actively condescending, leaving one with the feeling that we were a nuisance to them. Only one Alinea employee possessed the enthusiasm for food and attentive service we so enjoyed at Grant Achatz’s Next Restaurant and The Aviary Cocktail Bar.

On a more positive note, there was the food. Good photos eluded me owing to the interior lighting, so I will paint a word picture of the visually delectable English Peas trifecta. A three level serving plate launched with a warm preparation of peas, transitioning to a room temperature meringue with a cold sorbet and apples as the finale. The variance in texture, flavor and temperature garnered it the award for most memorable dish and the one I continue to yearn for.

The artistic creativity of the food lingers in one’s mind as a continuing reminder of the artist’s touch. My first experience with scissors as a utensil, and cutting the greens for my own garden salad was novel, fun and exciting.

Garden Salad at Alinea Chicago

Later in the meal we used pasta (or rice paper) flags to create our own short rib ravioli.

Make your own ravioli at Alinea Restaurant 9 in

One dish made our eyes and mouth dance a jig of joy as its richness and decadence generated visual and sensory fireworks. “Hot Potato, Cold Potato” was its name – just imagine pure deliciousness served with black truffle and butter.

Hot potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter Alinea Restaurant Chicago Gluten-Free (6)

The first iteration of Next Restaurant focused on Paris, 1906. While we didn’t get to experience that menu, they served a course from the cookbook that inspired the menu at Next. A small piece of lamb with asparagus, potato (and a piece of gluten-free toast for me), certainly made early 20th century cuisine appealing.

Paris 1906 agneau sauce choron, pomme de terre noisette Alinea Restaurant Chicago Gluten-Free (8)

We were transported to the turn of the century and it wasn’t even midnight, though we were hardly dressed for the occasion. (Apologies to fans of Midnight in Paris)

The black truffle explosion, one of the most famous and long standing courses on the constantly changing menu, truly was a bite of remarkable flavor.

Black truffle explosion, romaine and parmesan Alinea Restaurant Chicago Gluten-Free (9)

Wild mushrooms with pine, sumac and ramps – yes, please. But I was even more impressed with this course a week after eating it when I started processing the photos. Look at how similar it looks to our chocolate dessert course.

Savory and Sweet at Alinea

Our palate cleanser was a “Yuzu Snow Cone.” We were warned to only use our spoon, as a brush against our tongue could result in something reminiscent of A Christmas Story. (though of course we had to try it…)

Yuzu snow at Alinea Restaurant Chicago Gluten-Free (13)

Our sweet courses started with a strawberry, jasmine, basil, balsamic, burrata, and almond marshmallow dessert. That was just for starters!

Strawberry, jasmine, basil, balsamic, burrata and almond marshmallow dessert

The second sweet course was the fanciest and most scrumptious jello ever to cross my lips. Lemongrass, dragonfruit, cilantro and cucumber were all suspended in a test tube like container adding to the sense of experiment .

lemongrass, dragonfruit, cilantro and cucumber Alinea Restaurant Chicago Gluten-Free (17)

The final course was the chocolate plate which included pickled blueberry, honey, peanuts and crème brulee! Ahh, sweet memories.

Chocolate, pickled blueberry, honey, peanut and creme brulee Alinea Restaurant Chicago Gluten-Free (18)

Chicago proved to be a city of culinary wonder and it certainly is on our list for future explorations.

A magical lunch at El Bulli

Thanksgiving Lunch at El Bulli 9in

Touted as the world’s best restaurant, El Bulli, located in Roses, Spain, shuttered its doors on Sunday. It was indisputably, the toughest reservation to obtain at any restaurant, with over a million requests for tables each year. International renown surrounding El Bulli is such that even the media coverage on it is getting media coverage – see the mocking and derision from the NYTimes, The UK Guardian, and from

Well, I’m afraid I am going to add to the plethora of blog coverage and write ups.

Why write about a shuttered restaurant? It’s about recollections of a dining experience so extraordinary as to be dreamlike in character. Yet, it was real and this is my personal journal entry about one of the most magical dining experience of my life.

My fellow food adventurer, Gareth and I decided to plan a trip to Spain last year – this meant targeting restaurants as a central planning component. We talked (err, IM’d) about El Bulli, though neither of us entertained serious expectations of actually dining there. But we are dreamers, so we entered the reservation lottery (for the third year in a row), but our trip planning proceeded.  Traveling during American Thanksgiving we made reservations to visit wineries and restaurants in Penedes, south of Barcelona, and up in Girona, north of Barcelona.

web Torres Winery Vilafranca del Penedes

Our travel plans incorporated two free days to insure the ability to give us some flexibility in our final itinerary.  Before departure, our respective email inboxes registered with emails from El Bulli confirming that we were in the majority of those who would NOT be granted mythical dining experience. To soften the rejection, the El Bulli email informed us that we could check back in the event of any cancellations they might get, closer to the date. As the month approached, we both sent requests for reservations in the event of cancellations and “Senor No” (as the reservationist is called)  informed us in the nicest possible way that we were not to be among the lucky few.  I even asked my father, who speaks Spanish fluently, to send an email on our behalf requesting a reservation, thinking that perhaps a letter from a Spanish speaking father in California on behalf of a food-loving daughter in New York, planning a trip to Spain would be the trick. Nope, that ploy didn’t work either. Though it was a very nice email, thanks for trying, Dad.

web Jamon Iberico

Disappointed that El Bulli was not part of our itinerary, we maintained much excitement about the variety of plans we did have for our trip to Spain that week in November, and the amount of Spanish jamon we planned on eating.  Our general enthusiasm hit a little snag when we checked into our less than desirable hotel in Penedes. We usually look for deals on hotels to conserve money for food, but this was bad even for us – our room over looked a trash heap and there were stains on our sheets and towels ewww.  We decided to leave after only one night and head to Girona a day early.

web Agusti Torello Mata Cava (4)

The wineries offered very appealing tours and general excitement and appreciative manner resulted in the owner of one of the wineries giving us a private tour. This was totally cool, fascinating and unexpectedly fortuitous!

Our new best friend was chatting with us about various restaurants when we shared our “losing attempts” to snare a seat at El Bulli. A devilish smile alighted on our friend’s face as he suggested that he would share with us an email of his friend who is well-connected at El Bulli. Incredulous, we scooped up the email. The next day, our new contact not only got us a seating at El Bulli, but he even apologized that he could only get us into lunch! To add to this amazing turn of events, he asked if we had any allergies, which was music to my gluten-free ears.

Gareth at El Bulli Restaurant Roses Spain

At the appointed hour, we arrived at the restaurant and Gareth forced me to take a photo in front of the El Bulli sign, which I initially resisted, but now I thank Gareth for his foresight. We were not alone, and soon a line began to form behind us of people ready for their own photo op. As we crossed the threshold into this oft-dreamed-of food heaven, the maitre d’ greeted us and immediately sent us on a tour of the most impressive kitchen I have ever seen.

The Kitchen at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (5)

The Kitchen at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (4)

Then we were afforded the ultimate photo op as the maitre d’ introduced us to Chef Ferran Adria himself. Life can be wonderful.

Catherine and Gareth with Ferran Adria at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (6)

We were then seated at our table, giggling with awe that we were actually there. We quickly regained our composure as the server approached and immediately showered us with a level of service and attentiveness that escapes my ability to describe in words. Sometimes hype is just that – hype, and reality can never match the unrealistic expectations generated by the hype.

A Reservation at El Bulli Restaurant (86)

At El Bulli, Gareth and I both found the atmosphere and exquisite experience of this culinary palace unmatchable. So what about the food? What did we actually eat?

They started service with three cocktails. A frozen strawberry bellini:

Frozen Strawberry Bellini at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (10)

Then a warm capi-mojito:

Warm Caipi-mojito cocktail

Followed by an almond-fizz with amarena-LYO:

Almond-fizz with amarena-LYO at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (15)

The cocktails were followed by an individual grapefruit and seaweed “ravioli”

Grapefruit and Seaweed ravioli at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (16)

It was then we were served the dish I most wish I could experience again. A frozen gorgonzola cheese dome, topped with fresh nutmeg. The way the dome quickly transformed from cold and solid to warm and melting in our hands and on our tongues with layers of flavor coating our mouths, I would fly back to Spain just for that.

Frozen Gorgonzola Cheese Dome

This was followed with a completely different texture, in the form of an olive oil crisp:

Olive Oil Crisp at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (21)

And a sweeter bite of hazelnut raspberries:

Hazelnut Raspberries at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (22)

Back to olive oil with a “bread stick” (made without a speck of flour):

Parmesan "breadstick" at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (23)

Then a coconut sponge:

Coconut Sponge at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (24)

I was given beetroot and yogurt “profiteroles” (a type of meringue):

Beetroot and yoghurt meringue at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (25)

While Gareth was served a gluten-ous shrimp tortilla:

Shrimps Tortilla at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (26)

We both received the ham and ginger canapes:

ham and ginger canapee at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (28)

And one of Gareth’s favorites, soy matches with yuzu and miso (the flavor in the matches so concentrated in such a small delivery device)

Yuzu and miso (with soy matches) at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (31)

Soy matches with yuzu and miso at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (30)

The only bite that fell flat for us, boiled shrimp, really that’s all it was, a boiled shrimp:

Boiled Shrimp at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (32)

Quails with carrot escabeche (we considered this our Thanksgiving “turkey”):

Quails with carrot escabeche at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (35)

And pumpkin “sea urchin” to round out the Thanksgiving offerings:

pumpkin sea urchin at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (37)

The texture and flavor of the soy tiramisu inspires a sense memory so vivid, I can almost experience the mouthfeel when I think about it today:

Soy Tiramisu at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (38)

Then came a dish of caviar cream and hazelnut caviar – sweet, savory, smooth and briny:

caviar cream and hazelnut caviar at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (41)

The cheese blini that accompanied Gareth’s “truffle drap” were one of two times during the evening, I was thoroughly envious of his ability to conquer gluten:

Truffle "drap" with cheese blini

While the truffles were delicious, the tomato carpaccio that came with mine, didn’t exactly seem on par with blini oozing with melting cheese:

Truffles with tomato carpaccio at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (51)

Luckily I was distracted by the parmesan porra – a spongey, cheese-flavored dish that looked like a meringue but tasted far from it. The expression on Gareth’s face will tell you more than I could possibly explain with words:

Parmesan "porra"

Cold sea anemone with bernacles (I ate them and am still unsure what they are):

Cold sea anemone with bernacles El Bulli Restaurant Menu (54)

The sea anemones were then heated for a scallop with anemone risotto:

Scallop with anemone risotto at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (55)

Oysters Gillardeau with black sand and bone marrow – this may be the closest to “food porn” we’ll get here…

Oysters Gillardeau with black sand and bone marrow at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (58)

My envy was green once again, when Gareth was served a Oaxaca taco with a side of flavors including cilantro:

Oaxaca "taco" at El Bulli

And I received roses artichoke – I mean I love artichokes, but the simple artichoke petals didn’t shine compared to Gareth’s taco…

roses artichoke at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (60)

But I quickly forgot my envy as we witnessed the presentation of endive en papillote with walnuts and ‘slow motion caviar’ (our waiter, coined that term, did I mention how much we loved him?)

Endive in Papillote with slow motion caviar and walnuts 9in

Then a gazpacho and ajo blanco – I could eat 4 of those in a sitting if given another opportunity….

"gazpacho" and "ajo blanco" at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (69)

Next we received a satchel of cardamom to accompany our turtledove with blackberry risotto:

Turtledove with blackberries risotto and toasted cardamom

Hare bolognese with ‘blood’

Hare with bolognese and "blood" 9in

(don’t worry, it wasn’t actually a glass of blood, just a sauce that bore a striking resemblance)

The hare continued with a wild strawberry and hare soup:

Wild Strawberries with Hare Soup at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (79)

And with that the savory course came to a close. A final mimetic chestnut to begin our transition to a sweeter spectrum:

Mimetic Chestnuts at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (80)

A sweet cube topped with a sauce of black tea and lime:

Sugar Cube with Black Tea and Lime

And a final palate cleanser – a frozen “pond” with brown sugar and mint

"The Pond" frozen with brown sugar and mint

The sweets began in earnest with mini donuts, which were actually ice cream ensconced in chocolate:

Mini "donuts" at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (87)

Another texture shift with Catalan pine nut candies:

Catalan Pine Nut Candies at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (90)

And finally, floating profiteroles with gin-soup, frozen raspberries and the return of the cardamom satchel:

Floating profiteroles with gin-soup and frozen raspberries and cardamom at El Bulli

There wasn’t a set wine pairing option at El Bulli, as the seemingly unlimited dishes defy a simple pairing. But at El Bulli, the superb wine takes a back seat to the celestial food. El Bulli’s sommelier proffered periodic recommendations for particular wines over the course of the evening. To start, Gareth selected the cava, the classic Spanish sparking wine while I sampled sherry, having already reached my cava threshold after 5 days in Spain. The sommelier assisted our selections of a bottle of white, followed by a bottle of red and two glasses of dessert wine.

wine at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (67)

Red wine at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (74)

At the close of the meal, an exceptionally large box of exquisite chocolates and confections was presented to us, adding yet another chapter to this incredible real-life fairy tale. Four hours of dining, yes, the experience consumed that much time, resulted in a sense of camaraderie with our server and our sommelier, who, pointing to the box of chocolates, informed us that the only time they had ever seen anyone finish the entire box was a table of SIX German men.

The end of the best Thanksgiving Ever

Gareth doesn’t speak German but he knows how to eat and I was his wingman on this chocolate trip, though he deserves the real credit for this final feat of chocolate consumption. The box of chocolates was empty when we left! Six German men were tied by Gareth and one New York girl.

I had to write about my lunch because the memory will stay with me as a reminder of the rich tapestry of life and what the world has to offer when you go for it and get a little lucky.

Here is a video from Chef Rene Redzepi, showing Chef Adria serving the last dish of the last service, bringing the era of El Bulli to an end:

Bacon and Caviar Dreams – brunch at The Publican restaurant Chicago

Brunch at The Publican

Brunch is not a meal that I like to spend $$$ on or rack up calories at, but in order to make the most of our short time in Chicago last week, I made a reservation for brunch at The Publican. Famous for its beer and pork, my focus was on the food leaving to others to opine on the brew.

Bottomless Intelligentsia Coffee Brunch at The Publican Restaurant Chicago (2)

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and the place was humming. While that sort of chaos at a restaurant might give me pause, our waiter put me immediately at ease. He knew the menu well and helped me navigate the gluten-free options. I had to avoid the breakfast sausage, but the hanger steak and omelette were both A-OK. (Note: the mortadella sandwich is not gluten-free, but it was such a good photo of one of my friend’s meal that I had to share it). I started with the bottomless Intelligentsia coffee as we examined the menu; it was one of the best cups of coffee I have had in recent memory.

Maple Glazed Bacon Brunch at The Publican Restaurant Chicago (5)

Before the ‘real food’ arrived, our table shared two orders of the maple-glazed bacon. Yes, I am a tad obsessed with bacon, and this lived up to my high standards.

Hanger Steak at Brunch at The Publican Restaurant Chicago (1)

I ordered the hanger steak with cippolini onions and a cucumber salad. It was cooked perfectly and the sides were refreshing on that hot summer day.

Creme Fraiche Omelet with Caviar Brunch at The Publican Restaurant Chicago (6)

Not content to sample just one or two items on the menu, we decided to share the creme fraiche omelette topped with caviar. This is one of those dishes I will remember for months and years to come. So decadent and delicious, it may have been enough to sway me towards future brunch outings.

The Publican
Address: 837 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607
Phone: 312-733-9555

It’s just a few blocks away from Grant Achatz’s Next Restaurant and The Aviary cocktail lounge.

The Aviary and The Office – I {heart} Chicago

Aviary Cocktails Chicago 9 in

Fate continued to smile on us after our dinner at Next Restaurant, as Gareth and I went to The Aviary, the new cocktail bar from Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. Visiting Chicago just to experience their creative cocktails would not be a bad idea. Where else might you find an “ice chef?” Peychaud’s bitters ice cubes are soft and crunchy in the Rhubarb, made with lemon balm, tonic, cocchi and gin.

Rhubarb cocktail

A beautiful view of the kitchen at work unfolded before us in our first few minutes. They brought us two watermelon shooters as an amuse. My only prior experience with this delight was in photos so I was super excited to experience it in the flesh. Though it was a bit of a tease as there was a dash of soy sauce in the ingredients which put it off limits for me.

watermelon shooter amuse at The Aviary Chicago

Gareth was there to rescue mine and insure that it was enjoyed by one immune to gluten. We spent time pouring over the menu unsure how we would make the seemingly impossible decision of actually deciding what to order. Then our server surprised us with a new shooter that they made especially for me without the soy sauce. The service that evening, at Next and The Aviary, was nonpareil. All our servers seemed as excited to be there as we were, which is especially amazing since we were on vacation and they were at work.

Dark and Stormy bottled, ginger, black seal rum The Aviary Cocktails Chicago (2)

After the amuse, they found a space for us in the comfy lounge area. We were then finally forced to choose from the many options on the menu. We both opted for the “Tasting Menu” consisting of three different drinks – Gareth selected the Sorrell – made with raspberry and champagne, the Dark & Stormy – made with black seal rum and house-made ginger beer and served in a brown paper bag, and a Root Beer – made with vanilla, sassafrass and kirsch.  (aside: they also offer a much more extensive Chef’s Tasting Menu if you reserve in advance)

bitter cocktail at The Aviary Chicago tasting menu

I chose the Rhubarb (after seeing the beautiful ice on a neighboring table), the Bitter – made with amaro, bonal, apple brandy and cognac, served from a smoky glass, and the Cold Chocolate – made with Ecuadorian chocolate, fernet, bourbon and ice cream ice cubes – remember, they have an “ice chef!”

Cocktail Menu at The Aviary

Making the most of our short time in Chicago, we then directed our attention to the a la carte menu. After witnessing the creative heating of a cocktail nearby, we had to order the Rooibos, which was made with lavender, almond, vanilla and gin. Our eyes always prowling other table’s selections (a common happening at the Aviary according to Chef Craig Schoettler), we spotted the 2 in 1 – a carbonated negroni combined with a white lady and made with gin.

When we were invited down to The Office, the smaller bar downstairs, we couldn’t believe our luck. When I read about the invitation-only speakeasy before vacation, it never even crossed my mind that I could be so fortunate. The drinks are all stirred or shaken, rather than some of the more wild presentations upstairs, with cocktail and food choices that are all unique from The Aviary’s menu.

Cocktail at The Office at The Aviary Chicago (2)

The magic of the evening continued with another incredible experience at the hands of Grant Achatz’s team. Undeterred by our earlier consumption at Next, duty compelled us to explore the food offerings while we were at The Office. Carpe diem.

The Office speakeasy at The Aviary Chicago 9 in

Three cocktails, six oysters, an ice cream sundae for two, foie gras with black truffles and creamed morels. Carpe diem indeed.

Only the 2 a.m. closing could get us out of there. The best description of the Office I’ve seen is on Time Out Chicago’s site: “In every part of the experience – the exclusivity, the perfection, the nostalgia – lies the genius of the Office, where to spend lavish amounts of money on fleeting pleasures feels not like a sacrifice but rather a distinct privilege.”

I hope to have the opportunity to return one day soon.

Address: The Aviary, N Morgan St & W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

Next Restaurant – a new food adventure begins in Chicago

Taste of Thailand at Grant Achatz's Next Restaurant 9 in

Sometimes the fates conspire to create a perfect evening. Sometimes you are the beneficiary of the fates. This is the story of the fates smiling on me. Planning a trip to Chicago a few months ago, the highlight seemed to be a dinner scheduled at Alinea – only the top restaurant in the U.S.! Of course, I also got tickets to a comedy show at Second City, made some other restaurant reservations and had plans to take a couple of architecture tours, but the salivary glands were insisting that Alinea would be the star. A mere three-day trip, with plans to fit as much deliciousness into the extended weekend as our time, stomachs and budgets would allow.

Alinea’s noted Chef, Grant Achatz, recently opened a second restaurant, called “Next.” Next revises its menu and theme every three months. The first theme was Paris, 1906-Escoffier at the Ritz. The tickets sold out quickly and they couldn’t accommodate gluten-free diners, so I didn’t give it much thought after first reading about it. Though I did enjoy living vicariously through the pictures various friends and web sites posted of the menu. What I didn’t realize though was that the new Thai menu/theme for Next was gluten-free friendly and would launch the week of our Chicago trip. Ahh, the fates.

Three days before departure to Chicago, I read that tickets were going on sale for the new Tour of Thailand at Next Restaurant. (aside: tickets you ask? Yes. Check out this brilliant move by Grant Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas – they sell “seats” for dinner that includes tax and gratuity upfront, it eliminates a lot of the economic risks associated with running a restaurant – they have cash in hand, three months before some diners arrive) I was lucky enough to get tickets for a table for four on our first night in Chicago. My foodie travel friend, Gareth, and I would dine with my Mom and my Stepdad, Victor. I was on cloud nine, the food gods were smiling down upon us.

Now, on to the food the fates favored us with! (There was only one small item they couldn’t make gluten-free and only one substitution.) There I was, eating at Next, and enjoying the same meal as the rest of the table, a rare treat! The fates were gluten-free that night!

The meal commenced with a tray of traditional Thai “street food,” served on top of  a Thai newspaper and paired with a guava, mango, papaya juice. (aside: Next’s Tour of Thailand iteration offers fruit juice pairings that are as creative and interesting as the food and truly highlight the cuisine)

Thai Streetfood Grant Achatz Next Restaurant Chicago 9 in

My personal favorite was the roasted banana with fried garlic, pickled shallot and cilantro blooms:

roasted banana Next Restaurant Tour Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (4)

Though the sheer joy of eating of a gluten-free steamed bun with beech mushroom and green curry can’t be discounted.

steamed buns Next Restaurant Tour Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (3)

Rounding out the first bites were: fermented sausage with peanut, galangal, grilled scallion; sweet shrimp with raw garlic, mint and bird chilis; and a prawn cake (the only thing I couldn’t eat) with white pepper, coriander and lime zest.

fermented sausage Next Restaurant Tour Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (6)

After the street food, our table was transformed for the restaurant-style Thai experience.

Fancy plates Next Restaurant Tour Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (9)

The next course was a hot and sour broth with pork belly, tomato and kaffir lime, paired with a chrysanthemum, lemongrass and lychee juice. The juice brought out the spiciness of the soup. And pork belly? ‘nuff said.

hot and sour broth, pork belly, tomato ginger at Grant Achatz's Next Restaurant

Not a single drop of the soup escaped our palates and then we were served rice and a set of traditional Thai “condiments” that we will use for the rest of the meal. Salted duck egg relish with green mango and white radish, a sauce made with chili, shallots and garlic, and a mixture of pickled fruits and vegetables with basil.

chili, shallot, garlic - salted duck egg, green mango, white radish - pickles Next Restaurant Tour Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (14)

They left us alone to experience these flavors on their own before bringing the next course. While they are traditionally used as condiments, we savored them with just rice. Our servers brought two sets of these treats and replenished them throughout the rest of the meal.

Pickles Next Restaurant Taste Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (13)

Our first main course was wild catfish braised in caramel sauce with celery and coriander root. This was the dish I was least excited about when I saw it on the menu before dinner because I didn’t think I liked catfish and I couldn’t get my mind around caramel sauce on fish. Well, I soon discovered that catfish is delicious, at least in the hands of chefs Achatz and Beran. The caramel sauce wasn’t at all cloying and was even more delightful with the carrot, ginger and orange juice pairing. At our table, we finished every piece and were clashing spoons in an effort to grab the last drops of the sauce.

catfish with caramel sauce, celery, coriander root Next Restaurant Tour Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (18)

Braised beef cheek with a curry of peanut, nutmeg, coconut and lemongrass, made my Mom nervous. She is decidedly uninterested in food, an unadventurous eater, and doesn’t really understand my obsession. However, even she loved the rich final savory course. In fact, the meal overall might have converted her, though at a minimum she is more sympathetic to my food appreciation.

Beef Cheek curry, peanut, nutmeg, kaffir lime Next Restaurant Taste Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (19)

The hibiscus, mangosteen and thai pepper juice that accompanied the beef cheek made Gareth almost regret opting for the alcohol pairings. We all had a shooter of watermelon and lemongrass before moving to dessert.

Then a plate of coconuts arrived at our table. Huh?

coconuts! Next Restaurant Tour Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (22)

It turned out to be a playful, creative and in the end functional presentation of a complex dessert. A magical mixture of coconut, corn, egg noodles, licorice and tapioca were in the bottom half of the shell. Then a serving of coconut sorbet was spooned into the top half of the shell. Our last juice pairing was a corn and pineapple juice.

Coconut dessert at Grant Achatz Next Restaurant Chicago 9 in

The simple dessert that followed was half of a dragon fruit adorned with only a simple sweet rose water and served with an actual rose for us to sniff to enhance the flavor.

Rose, dragonfruit with rosewater and gareth

To close the meal, we were given a rooibos iced tea “to-go.” The bag and straw facilitates easy consumption in Thailand where people need a way to drink their tea while riding scooters and motor bikes.

Rooibos tea to-go Next Restaurant Tour Of Thailand Menu Gluten-Free (33)

After dinner, we were given a fascinating tour of the kitchen. We were standing next to the expediter, the person in charge of making sure every table gets each course without waiting for too long.  We were able to see our table’s ticket that documented when we received each course and noted when any of us got up from the table!  This sort of precision and attention to detail appealed especially to my math-teacher Mom.

Every person we interacted with at Next was an absolute delight. We so thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, even my Mom asked if she could join us for another food adventure in the future!

The miracle of the evening though didn’t end at Next. Gareth and I continued on to The Aviary, the new cocktail bar from Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. More to come…

Address: Next Restaurant, 953 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

Gluten-Free NYC Restaurants – Taim Falafel

Taim NYC Gluten-Free Falafel9in

I first heard about Taim Falafel when interviewing the lovely Tully about her (about to be launched at the time) gluten-free bakery. As much research as I do on gluten-free foods and eating, I hadn’t realized that such a gluten-free haven existed. Taim offers three types of gluten-free falafel daily and perhaps the most delicious gluten-free hummus that will ever cross your lips. (Taim is the Hebrew word for delicious)

NYC Restaurants Gluten-Free Falafel Taim (3)web

Now add to the joy of the gluten-free falafel discovery, the excitement of hearing about a Taim mobile truck. Now even the gluten-free can participate in the food truck mania! Lucky for me, Taim mobile is near my office at lunch at least 2 times per week. Now if only the lines weren’t so long…..

Address: 222 Waverly Place, NY, NY 10014
Phone: 212-691-6101

Taim Mobile: but confirm location on twitter:!/TaimMobile

I’m back!

Almond-fizz with amarena-LYO at El Bulli Restaurant Menu (15)

After a few tough months, and a much needed blog break, I’m back to blogging. I hope you all didn’t forget me. Much deliciousness to come.