Gluten-Free Restaurants NYC: ALTA in the West Village

web Gluten Free Restaurants NYC Alta montage
This summer a friend recommended a restaurant in the West Village called Alta.  It’s a Mediterranean tapas restaurant.  It wasn’t noteworthy in the ‘gluten-free community’ – but the menu looked great and seemed pretty ‘gluten-free friendly.’  It tends to be crowded but my friend and I were able to squeeze in to two seats at the bar on my first visit. I started my gluten-free spiel with the bartender and he stopped me mid-sentence and went to retrieve something from the back.  When he returned, he held in his hand a gluten-free menu.  I couldn’t believe it – I had a plethora of options without reviewing every dish with him.  Since that first visit this summer, I’ve been back at least 5 times.

I have a few favorite dishes – going with a group is great because you can try so many more, but a few visits with just 2 people will get you on your way.

The tuna tartare with hearts of palm and macadamia nuts combines a range of textures from soft to chewy to crunchy with subtle flavors in a light small plate.

I’ve introduced avowed Brussels sprouts haters to Alta’s Brussels sprouts with Fuji apples, crème fraiche and pistachios. I always have to fight them for the last spoonfuls.

The mussels with lobster broth are just a little bit spicy.  As a seasoned diner, I’ve learned to ask the server for a spoon so as not to let all that delicious soup to go to waste (you can only scoop up so much with the shells).
web Gluten Free Restaurants NYC Alta
The wok-seared calamari with jalapenos, almonds, garlic chips and haricot vert  dish combines more flavors than most grilled calamari dishes I’ve enjoyed at restaurants.

Bacon wrapped dates and olives stuffed with almonds – I think that dish pretty much speaks for itself and at less than $5, they are worth every penny.

A whole dish of Marcona Almonds for $3 – I think that’s less than they cost at Whole Foods.

If you still have room for sweets after all of your savory indulgences, I’ve had their chocolate fondue with fruit instead of cookies.  It’s rich and delicious and I love having gluten-free dessert options other than sorbet. (Though I’ve also been known to head 2 blocks south to Otto for a cheese plate or olive oil gelato for dessert.  ) If you really need a cookie, cake or other dessert options – Risotteria, Gus’s Place and Sacred Chow are all within walking distance.  The West Village is becoming a gluten-free restaurant haven rivaling the Murray Hill nexus of Bistango, Rice, and Blue Smoke.

Restaurant: ALTA
Address: 64 W. 10th St., New York, NY 10011
nr. Sixth Ave
Phone: 212-505-7777

Reservations are a must for Saturday nights but I’ve been able to get in early on weeknights without much trouble.

Note: they only take cash and American Express.

Gluten-Free Restaurants NYC – Opus Update

Opus Pizza web
Thanks to Allergic Girl for the heads up – Opus Restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan finally has gluten-free bread and pizza to round out the rest of their gluten-free Italian menu.

Food Crush – Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds

Gluten-Free Products - Candy Coated Sunfllower Seeds

Occasionally I find new products or foods that I absolutely adore and develop a massive crush on them – so I’m introducing a new feature called “food crush” to share them with you.  I discovered these candied sunflower seeds at Trader Joe’s – little bites of chocolate and candy wrapped around a sunflower seed.  They are chewy and crispy with a hint of sweet and savory.  I can’t get enough of them. I served them at my crush party this year and when anyone would ask what they were – I said “ooh, just taste them, they will change your life.”  Ok, so I admit my use of hyperbole can be a bit dramatic at times, but that’s how much I love them. 

Well, I’m not the only one – my friend Jared shares the obsession and explained it to me this way: “the reason I find them so addictive is twofold. One, the crunch of the candy coating is a tactile experience that you just want over and over.. it’s just such a pleasant feeling to bite into and feel the texture of the candy shell. Two, there’s only just enough chocolate and nut meat to make you want more.. not enough to be satisfying at all… just enough to make you crave another handful… though it’d be wrong and gross to just chew a mouthful of them. They’re best enjoyed just popping a few at a time in your mouth distractedly until you discover that the container is empty (and you still want more!)”

Unfortunately Trader Joe’s is so hit and miss with products – I sometimes get there only to find them sold out.  Luckily, even if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, the Sunflower Food and Spice Co offers them online and the “All Natural” variety is gluten-free! Their shipping is a bit pricey so get a group of friends to order them or you may be able to find them at your Whole Foods (if you are in NYC, the Bowery location carries them).  Trust me, you won’t be sorry!

Gluten Free Recipes – Flourless Chocolate Lust Cake

Best Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe Gluten Free Montage

Last year I escaped the awkward Valentine’s holiday by visiting a friend in Paris. This year I decided to invite a couple friends over to my place for dinner to avoid the romantic couples out and about for their big night out.  When deciding what to make for dessert for my Valentine’s Day dinner I knew chocolate had to be a star ingredient.  I had just made chocolate fondue for the Crush Party the week before so I needed something different.  I considered a molten chocolate cake similar to the warm and gooey creation from Chef Damien at Knife + Fork.  But I needed a recipe that was ‘make-ahead’ – couldn’t miss my favorite yoga teacher’s class…

I found a flourless dark chocolate cake recipe with a chocolate glaze.  It was easy to make and it turned out so well – it has immediately skyrocketed to one of my favorite recipes.  My friend Matt declared it a ‘keeper.’ But what name could possibly express how rich, luscious and decadent the cake is? How the glaze adds almost a crunch to each bite?  How the almond whipped cream highlights the flavor of the chocolate and berries and mint bring a hint of lightness to the substantial dessert?

Here are a few names we came up with:

Chocolate Nut cake
Chocolate Kiss Cake
Dark Chocolate Lust Cake
Dark Chocolate Dream Cake
Creamy Fudge Cake
Heavenly Fudge Cake
Want to Eat the Whole Cake Cake
I Want a Big Slice Cake
Aphrodite’s Sin – Decadence Even the Gods Could Not Deny

UPDATE – and the winner is…..

I couldn’t wait to share the recipe with you but I still haven’t landed on a name – I need your help!
Best Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe Gluten Free slice web

Flourless Chocolate Lust Cake

Gluten-Free Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe with Almond Whipped CreamIngredients
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 3 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract

Almond Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a circle of parchment paper. Spray the paper and edges of the pan with cooking spray, and lightly dust with cocoa powder., then set the pan aside.

Place two-thirds (8 ounces) of the chocolate and 1 cup (2 sticks) of the butter in a double boiler  over medium heat (I ‘made’ a double boiler by using a bowl over a saucepan). Stirring often, melt chocolate with butter until completely blended. Remove from heat add sugar and mix well. Let the mixture cool slightly and add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Sift cocoa into bowl and stir until just blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake has risen and top has formed a thin crust. The cake should be just firm in the center when done. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a plate, removing sides of springform pan. Remove and discard parchment paper and set cake aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the chocolate glaze. Melt remaining 4 ounces chocolate and 3 tablespoons butter in a double boiler over medium low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, then stir in milk, honey and vanilla. Set aside to cool slightly.

When cake has cooled, pour glaze onto the center. Using a spatula very gently smooth glaze along the top and sides of the cake. Chill cake, uncovered, for 30 to 60 minutes before serving to set the glaze and make the cake easier to slice.

For the almond whipped cream.  Add the cream sugar and almond extract to a bowl.  Beat on low speed until the volume begins to grow.  Increase to high speed until peaks begin to form.  Be careful not to overbeat or you will end up with almond flavored butter…

Serve cake with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with fresh berries and mint. 

If you don’t like my choice, what name would you give it?

Winner – Carrabbas $50 Gift Certificate

Cam does Yoga like Cat

Congratulations to Jaime – winner of the $50 Carrabbas gift certificate – Jamie has a blog called Red Hat Man and her husband is gluten-free.

Thanks to everyone for their comments – I promise more giveaways to come.

PS – the photo of my nephew has nothing to do with the giveaway but I didn’t have a ‘winner’ photo so I am being totally self-indulgent here – I think it is ridiculously cute that he now does “yoga” ever since my trip to Texas for our gluten-free Thanksgiving.

(Winner selected with a random number generator on Feb 15th at 8:44pm EST)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Crush Party 2009
I hope you spend this day with friends and loved ones.  I am working on my first cassoulet and a flourless chocolate cake.  Mmmmm.

Gluten-Free Recipes – Sorghum Cauliflower Curry

Sorghum Cauliflower Potato Curry Recipe
I am a little obsessed with sorghum lately.  I go through phases with food.  I find something that I love and I can’t get enough of it.  Sometimes it lasts for a couple weeks, sometimes a couple months.  This summer it was figs.  The fall and beginning of winter were full of persimmons and delicata squash.  My current fixation is sorghum.  While I have used sorghum flour frequently in the last three years, I just recently discovered the possibilities of cooking with the unprocessed grain.  (Anheuser-Busch’s gluten-free Redbridge beer is made from sorghum and has mainstream distribution, but the grain is still relatively difficult to find outside of specialty health food stores.)

The flavor is slightly nutty but it’s not an overwhelming, making it a good canvas for other seasonings. The nutritional properties are similar to quinoa, with higher protein content than most whole grains. Last week I made sorghum with cooked dried fava beans. I had it with dinner as a savory dish and at breakfast with almond milk as a cereal.

It takes a while to cook – even if you pre-soak it.  So it’s not for a ’10 minute meal’.  But like dried beans, it doesn’t require constant supervision so I can work on other things while it’s cooking away.  It also reheats well so I get a few meals out of one pot.

This Sorghum Cauliflower Curry was the favorite of most of my friends at a recent gluten-free whole grains cooking class.
Vegetarian Sorghum Cauliflower Curry Recipe
Gluten-Free Vegetarian Sorghum Cauliflower Curry Recipe
4-6 Servings

Ingredients
3 cups water
1 cup Sorghum grain
Salt
1 cup chopped scallion
1 head cooked cauliflower florets
3 cups cooked green peas
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup reduced-fat coconut milk
6 Tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup packed chopped fresh cilantro

Directions:

Bring a medium pot of generously salted water to a boil.  Add sorghum, return to a simmer and cook until tender, about 60 minutes.  Drain thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine scallion, cauliflower, and peas.  Add cooked sorghum and mix well.

In a small bowl, whisk together the black pepper, coconut milk, rice wine vinegar, curry powder and cayenne.

Drizzle vinaigrette over sorghum and vegetables.  Mix well.  Stir in cilantro.

Season to taste with additional vinegar, curry powder, salt or pepper as needed.

Serve warm.

So after my week as a vegetarian, I find myself gravitating more towards vegetarian recipes – once I took away the self-imposed meat-restrictions I haven’t been craving it as much.  Besides beans, tofu and grains like quinoa and sorghum, what else do gluten-free vegetarians use for savory proteins?

Gluten-Free Valentines and Giveaways

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
People tend to feel very strongly about Valentine’s day.  I must admit I was not a fan until my friend Karen, introduced me to the ‘Crush Party.’  Rather than focusing on romance (or the lack thereof), it’s a celebration of friendship and love.  I am in full preparation mode as I ready my apartment for the festivities.  I will be serving Chocolate Fondue and my classic gluten-free cupcakes along with rosemary roasted cashews and more snacks than my friends will possibly be able to consume. I also decided to try a new recipe for gluten-free red velvet cupcakes with mixed results (full recipe to follow).

I decided to take it easy on the holiday candies since I had so many left over last year. But if you are looking for options – Necco brand conversation hearts and Hershey’s chocolate kisses are both gluten-free. For a full list of gluten-free candy, download this 32 page file.

And if you are looking for chocolate splurge – I highly recommend the chocolates from Chocolatique.  With flavors like ‘Georgia Pecan and Burnt Caramel’ ‘Tahitian Vanilla Caramel’ ‘Root Beer’ and ‘Grand Marnier Truffle’ you won’t lack in decadence. They were my favorite product at the Fancy Food Show last year and they even have a line of sugar-free chocolates.  While not every flavor is gluten-free, I met owner and chef Ed Engoron at the show and he is VERY gluten-aware. There are so many tempting flavors – I want to place another order soon, but can’t decide which ones will fill my box.

Now to the FREE stuff! 

Carraba’s Italian Grill is offering one lucky “A Gluten-Free Guide” reader a $50 gift certificate.  They are also hosting an event on February 10th and 11th called Dal Cuore Nights where you can select from their gluten-free menu and be entered to win an even bigger prize – an Italian Cruise.

To win the $50 gift certificate anyone who leaves a comment with a tip or advice anywhere on the site from now until February 14th will be automatically be entered. It doesn’t have to be witty or profound – let us know what you thought of a recipe or restaurant – just be sure to include your email address or web site info in the comment log-in.  The winner will be selected randomly and announced on February 15th.

If you’d prefer to cook at home, you can enter this contest for $1,000 in chef’s knives. (contest ends February 28, 2009) I was never a believer in entering contests until my friend Farrah started winning more things than I could count.  I followed her example and actually won a trip to Scotland 3 years ago (which is a gluten-free wonderland).  Granted I’ve had a bit of a dry spell since then, but still – it does happen.

Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day!

Gluten-Free Restaurant NYC: Prune

Prune Restaurant NYC Gluten-Free
I love picking out restaurants. I love researching and reading about them – looking at menus and imagining how the best dishes will taste. I love the problem solving aspect of selecting just the right place. How many people are coming? Are there any vegetarians? Any other diet restrictions? What’s the budget? Day of week? Time of day? Where is everyone coming from? Where are they going afterwards? Is dessert essential? Is a wine pairing important? What kind of ambiance would be best?

I consider all of these factors and more when giving a list of places to family and friends who ask for recommendations. When selecting ‘gluten-free friendly’ places, I start with the menu – does it look like there are enough dishes that I could create some amalgamation of a pleasurable meal? Prune had been on my list of ‘places to try’ for quite some time. [note: I literally keep a list divided by neighborhood, lunch, wine bars, 'potentially good Mexican food,' etc.]

Before the end of the year, I was able to visit Prune, this long-standing East Village institution (in the NYC restaurant world, it seems like 5+ years is long enough to merit that designation). I met my friend Erika for an early dinner, trudging through sleet and rain to arrive in the warm arms of this snug and inviting restaurant tucked away on East 1st Street.

I had looked at the menu and seen enough dishes that piqued my interest to know I would not leave hungry. But imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ‘bread’ that Prune serves at every table is gluten-free! How could I have missed this in the gluten-free blogosphere? So it’s not bread exactly, it’s a papadum, which is an Indian-style cracker made with a mix of lentil, rice, gram flour and spices.
Gluten-Free Pappadums Prune Restaurant NYC
Another shock? By far the best things we ate that night was a cabbage side dish. The lamb sausages were savory, rich and a fine-example of homemade sausage, but the cabbage was absolutely magical. We were so impressed with the cabbage we implored the table next to us to order it as well. They concurred with our evaluation and thanked us for guiding them down the right path.
Prune Restaurant NYC Gluten-Free Lamb Sausage
The other veggie side dishes were a little lackluster, the turnips and sweet cream butter were as odd a pair as it sounds. The cheese plate came through and ended the meal on a high note.
Prune Restaurant NYC Gluten-free Side Dishes
I never thought I would dream of cabbage, but I must get back to Prune before the weather thaws and a hearty dish of warm cabbage sounds too heavy.

Prune Restaurant
Address: 54 E 1st St #1
New York, NY 10003
Phone: 212-677-6221

A Part-Time Vegan – Learning from Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman Food Matters
(Mark Bittman photos by: Gordon Ho)

I have a massive food crush on Mark Bittman.  I love his simplistic approach to food and his acerbic wit.  It was an episode of his show on PBS that inspired me to order the Florentine Steak during my visit to Montepulciano in Tuscany.  So the irony is not lost on me that his new book, Food Matters moved me to try Vegetarianism for a week.
As a yoga instructor, I have been surrounded by vegetarians. I love restaurants like Candle 79, Candle Café and Sacred Chow. I even dated a vegetarian briefly, but I never felt like I could give up meat.  Well, last week I went to a reading/cooking demo/book signing with Mark Bittman.  He outlined shocking figures about the source of calories our nation is consuming as a whole –12% from sweets/desserts, 8% from bread, rolls, crackers and 7% from soda alone.  He also spoke of the horrific environmental and health impacts of U.S. meat production.

In order to lower his consumption of animal products he became a ‘part-time vegan’ two years ago. As he uttered the words I gasped!  Mark Bittman, my food hero, was advocating a vegan diet of sorts?  How could this be?  I had been known to mock veganism as a socially acceptable version of anorexia…

Well, it turns out he only follows a vegan diet from dawn ‘til dusk and then eats whatever he wants at dinner, including meat, dairy, eggs etc.  He isn’t advocating a vegan diet per se, but rather shifting our current consumption to “eat fewer animal products and more plants.”  What works for him is to follow a vegan diet during the day and eat what he wants at night.  I was intrigued.  I took the book home with me and proceeded to devour it on a few extended subway rides.

While gradual changes to my diet and food choices have come from reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, this was my first foray into vegetarianism.  I decided to give it a try for a week.  (I contemplated veganism for about 2 seconds, but the siren call of eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt was too strong for me to resist.)  I already subscribed to two of the basic tenets of the Food Matters diet – heavy on vegetables, low on processed foods.  I just needed to get the ‘light on animal products’ part down.

It was an interesting experiment.  I maintained my workout schedule and felt sustained until the end of the week.  By Friday I was really craving protein though in theory I was getting enough from the beans, veggies and dairy I was consuming. One of the aspects of yoga I most appreciate is learning to listen to your body. I went out on Saturday and bought a big piece of fish to end my ‘meat fast.’ All in all – it was a valuable week.  I learned that a savory breakfast of whole grains is delightful – sorghum and black beans with cumin, cilantro and a splash of almond milk was my favorite.  I also discovered how ridiculously easy it is to make a homemade bean soup.

How will I take this into the future?  I am going to make higher- quality protein choices when I can. I will buy wild fish rather than farm-raised and cut out meat on other nights. Ranch Gordo beans will be an even bigger part of my diet.  Sorghum and quinoa will be appearing more often. Meat becomes a condiment – something to be savored and truly enjoyed when I do consume it but not the focus of my day-to-day meals. I am trying to be more conscious of the food choices I make. That may sound a little crazy since as I person with diabetes and celiac disease I am constantly aware of what I am eating, but I haven’t been truly conscientious of the broader environmental impact. For every person and family, the situation is different. .  My friends and family all have different ways of approaching it. It’s important to find the balance that works for you.  What works for me is different than what works for Mark Bittman, though I thank him for moving me to make changes, however small the impact.

Here is the bean soup I made with so little effort I can hardly believe it.  I made it twice this week, and the first time was accidental.
Gluten-Free bean and hominy soup recipe
Gluten-Free Bean and Hominy Soup Recipe

Ingredients (approx):
3/4 cup dried beans
1/2 cup dried hominy
1/2 small red onion cut in wedges
salt and pepper to taste
optional – cumin, avocado, cilantro

Rinse and soak beans and hominy in water at room temperature 6-12 hours
In a medium saucepan, boil hominy and onion in water for 20-30 minutes.  Add beans and continue to boil over medium heat for 60-90 minutes, adding water as it starts to evaporate.  Test the beans and hominy for texture and add water whenever it begins to boil off (I had to add water 2-3 times, I didn’t want to add too much since I wanted a soup that wasn’t too watery at the end).  Add salt, pepper and cumin to taste.  Garnish with slices of avocado and chopped cilantro. 

Gluten-Free Bean and Hominy Soup
While it sounds like a lot of time, I was busy doing other things as it cooked down – the ‘hands on’ time is very low and requires very little chopping or preparation (I have an irrational hatred of chopping for weeknight meals).  The level of satisfaction and extremely flavorful results were shocking even to me.  After my first ‘accidental’ soup early in the week, I was craving it for dinner later in the week.  This will definitely be a new staple in my ‘meat-lite’ diet.