Uchi’s

Posted: June 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Uchi’s

For her birthday, I bought my wife tickets to see her cousin’s band, Explosions in the Sky, at the new ACL Live venue. For our pre-concert dinner, I made reservations at Uchi’s. My wife wasn’t sure if she would really enjoy either the restaurant or the concert, but she’s always game for new experiences and appreciated the thought and effort behind the planning.

The dinner was simply magnificent. It exceeded our wildest expectations. I’m not sure where to begin, but I think I’ll start with the service. Our waiter listened to my wife’s preferences and made recommendations for her. She tried his recommendations, though for a few of them she was a little hesitant, and loved every one of them. However, my experience was even better. For every single sushi or tasting about which I asked, our waiter instantly knew if it was gluten free or could be modified to be gluten free. He didn’t have to stop and think about it. He didn’t have to go ask the chef. He just knew. Unfortunately, some of my favorite sushis, like tako and unagi, are not gluten free but the food was so wonderful I hardly missed them.

I had a gluten free chef’s selection of sushi. I’ve eaten a lot of sushi over the years, but I honestly can’t recall ever having any better. Everything was perfectly seasoned and the fish practically melted in my mouth. The same thing was true of every tasting I tried, whether raw or lightly cooked. The balance of flavors and texture were always as perfect as anything I could imagine.

I’ve heard people in Austin raving about Uchi’s for a good while. Now I know why.

And the Explosions in the Sky concert? It was one of the best concerts I remember attending. Moreover, my wife loved it. The venue is wonderful. Michael came up to give my wife a hug and say hi before the show, which impressed her. And while I had heard their music, it doesn’t prepare you for the power of a live Explosions concert. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that Michael was their front man, but his stage presence was a joy to behold. He’s a wonderful performer. It all added up to as close to a perfect night as you can get. My wife and I both loved every minute of it.


Kerbey Lane Cafe

Posted: March 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Kerbey Lane Cafe

I’ve waited until I visited Kerbey Lane Cafe a couple of times in different locations before writing this review. My readers have to understand that this was one of my favorite restaurants before my diagnosis. It was hard for me to believe that the restaurant that made the best pancakes I had ever had could also safely prepare gluten free dishes. I wasn’t willing to even risk disappointment until my wife had some health issues that left us greatly relieved right by the original restaurant on Kerbey Lane. After that experience, I risked another visit at a different location with my daughter.

I’m happy to report that despite their well-deserved pancake fame, Kerbey Lane Cafe is able to prepare certain dishes without cross-contamination. The first time I risked a visit, I discovered they have a gluten free menu. On that visit I ordered the migas. They were as good as they’ve ever been and I had no adverse reaction. On the next visit I ordered one of their enchilada options. It was similarly fantastic with no adverse reaction.

If you are a celiac visiting Austin, give Kerbey Lane Cafe a try. You’ll be glad you did.


Jack Allen’s Kitchen

Posted: March 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments »

I’ve realized that I don’t post many restaurant reviews. There’s actually a good reason I don’t. Since being diagnosed with celiac disease, I eat out significantly less than I once did. Moreover, when I do eat out, I tend to return to restaurants where I’ve had a positive experience in the past. Unless my experience changes, it seems rather silly to keep writing posts on restaurants I’ve already reviewed. I also tend to be rather cautious with new restaurants, which is another reason I only have one post about a more negative experience. (Ironically, that post on Red Lobster is one of the most popular I’ve written. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get multiple visits from people who found it via a search.)

This past week was one of our large meetings with our business customers. Our development project team leader planned a dinner out at Jack Allen’s Kitchen after the last day of our meeting. I wasn’t optimistic that a restaurant with a Chicken Fried Anything section on their menu would have anything I could eat, but I dutifully emailed them to ask. I received a really nice response that I want to go ahead and share.

Hello Scott,

Thank you for choosing our restaurant for your office dinner.  We do offer a few Gluten Free items on our menu such as our taco platters, bacon wrapped Texas quail, smashed guacamole, chips and salsa, and our Country Club Fancy Chicken Salad.  We will also gladly grill you any piece of chicken, meat, or fish that we are offering that day.  None of our items are certified gluten free by the Gluten Intolerance Group and there is a chance that cross contamination may occur as we are not a gluten free establishment. I hope this helps you and if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to call or email.

Thank you,

Shannon

@Jack Allen’s Kitchen

I didn’t actually get to meet Shannon, but I decided to give them a try based on his or her response. (Shannon being one of those names that both genders get to use.) In Austin, when a restaurant is familiar both with the Gluten Intolerance Group and the risk of cross-contamination, I’ve never had a problem despite their disclaimers. I believe such kitchens have good food preparation discipline, at least in Austin. There tends to be a sensitivity here to special dietary needs that I’ve not found in other cities that I’ve visited.

I’m really glad I decided to give them a try. Our waitress, when I described my special needs and the response I had received, told me they had a gluten free menu and brought me a copy of it. Later, when she was describing the special of the day (tostadas with a layer of beans, pork belly, grilled scallops, and a relish of jicama, peppers, and some other things), I realized that it didn’t sound like it contained anything with gluten. I asked her if she could check with the chef and she did. When she came back, she said Jack (Jack Gilmore I presume) confirmed that there were no gluten-containing ingredients. However, the tostadas were fried in a fryer that was also used for dishes that did contain gluten. I was impressed that he immediately recognized the risk of cross-contamination, but the waitress went on to say that he could prepare the dish without the tostadas and substitute corn tortillas instead. The “crunch” would obviously be missing, but everything else would be the same.

So I ordered the special with that modification and I was not disappointed at all. Every element of the dish was exquisite. I loved the beans. The pork belly practically melted in my mouth.The scallops were grilled to perfection. And the “relish” was magnificent. Oh, and the corn tortillas were pretty good as well. It was a fun evening and I heard just how much our customers are going to miss me while I’m working on my new job.

My vegetarian and vegan friends can now be appalled at my dinner selection. 😉 What can I say? I can resist many things, but pork belly and scallops? In one dish? Willpower only takes you so far. Of course, my meal also didn’t conform to Orthodox Lenten fasting rules. So I guess that night it was a good thing I’m not Orthodox! The restaurant is a very long way from our home, otherwise my wife and I might be dining there a lot. I noticed they have shrimp tacos that sound exquisite and are a particular weakness of my wife. We will almost certainly go there sometimes, but not frequently because of the distance.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, though, has definitely made my list of the restaurants at which I will eat. Even if you do not suffer from celiac disease, you will like them. In fact, you will be able to eat a whole lot more off their menu than I can. Everyone enjoyed what they got that night. It was a success all the way around, not just for me.


Business Travel with Celiac

Posted: September 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Week before last marked the first business trip I had to make since I was diagnosed with celiac disease last April. Fortunately, my job doesn’t require that I travel very often. I’ve never been very fond of business travel and it’s even more of a pain now. This trip was to Ogden, UT. Ogden does not exactly have a surfeit of the national restaurant chains with established gluten free menu options. Further, there were a number of coworkers with me on this trip and we were sharing a single suburban. They all know I have celiac, so that’s not a problem. Nevertheless, eating out together would have required both the lengthy conversation with a waiter and/or manager and would have either severely restricted the places they could eat or would have left me sitting at some places that offered little safe for me to eat.

So I decided to skip the whole eating out thing. I stayed at the Comfort Suites, which provided a small refrigerator and microwave in the room. I packed one of the smallest George Foreman grills so I could easily grill some chicken breasts (seasoned with Tabasco) and gluten free sausage — both of which you can find in just about any grocery store. I saw that there was a Super Walmart near the Comfort Suites, so I visited a local Super Walmart to prepare a menu plan and shopping list. Walmart is hardly my first (or even tenth) choice for grocery shopping. However, they do tend to have similar items stocked in every location, so it seemed like a safe bet. I also packed my insulated lunch box, so I could fix and keep cool my own lunch each day in the office in Ogden.

The week went pretty well and mostly according to plan. The first day, by the time we got to Ogden, checked in, and I had gone shopping, unpacked, and put everything away, I had gone some twelve hours with nothing but a Kind bar and a Larabar. I wasn’t in the mood to cook something to eat and clean up. But I did it nonetheless. I didn’t really get involved in any of the socializing, since what there was mostly revolved around lunches and dinners. But that’s OK. I enjoy being around people, but I’m fine being alone as well.

I did pick up a nasty upper respiratory bug (not the flu) that hit me not too long after I got home. That was no fun, and seems to be one of the little joys of traveling. But the trip was productive and I ate safely the whole week. I did put the mixed fruit (mostly melon) and the greek yogurt I bought under the little freezer compartment in the mini-frig after I had some for breakfast the first morning. The next day it was frozen solid. I was sad about that. 🙁 But otherwise the menu worked out perfectly!


Brick Oven on 35th

Posted: July 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Brick Oven on 35th

After an afternoon of rollerskating yesterday, my youngest daughter and I got dinner at the Brick Oven on 35th restaurant. The restaurant is an old house in one of Austin’s older areas near the Seton Medical Center. They have lots of artwork by local artists on display (and for sale) on the walls. The old plaster walls and hardwood floors provide a certain ambience. We enjoyed it.

They have an extensive gluten free menu that includes pizza! I ordered their Hawaiian pizza on a gluten free crust. Even though it was a small personal size, I thought I would only eat part of it and take the rest home. But it was soooo delicious I gobbled the whole thing. My daughter ate all of her pizza (with gluten crust) as well. It’s now the next day and I’ve had nary a sign of any gluten contamination. Of course, if they are going to claim a gluten free menu in the middle of all the medical buildings and practices that surround a major hospital, I suppose they better know what they’re doing!

This is now officially on my list of favorite restaurants! I just wish it was closer to us. Their gluten free pasta dishes are made using brown rice pasta. Their gluten free menu even included gluten free beer! I didn’t have any, but the fact that there’s a place in Austin where celiacs can safely order the classic American combination of pizza and beer is pretty amazing to me.

Definitely two thumbs up!


Outback

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Outback

Tonight after watching Harry Potter 6, my family and I decided to try the Outback Steakhouse for dinner. They are one of the chains that have a gluten free menu. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I needn’t have worried. The words, “I can’t eat wheat. I have celiac” were barely out of my mouth when the waiter interrupted, “You need the gluten free menu.” I said yes. Exactly. It’s always a relief when I get better than a blank stare. When I ordered, our waiter made a point of telling me he would double-check with the manager to make certain that what I had ordered was safe for me to eat and that he would make sure to let the kitchen know so nothing got accidentally contaminated.

Wow!

That’s the level of service, knowledge, and concern I had previously only associated with premium restaurants like Flemings and locally owned non-chain restaurants. I liked Outback somewhat before my diagnosis with celiac. My opinion of them just went up several notches. Needless to say, we will be going back. Definitely impressed.


Shady Grove

Posted: July 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Shady Grove is a wonderful and very “Austinish” local restaurant. It’s located on Barton Springs in south Austin and is one of the places the people with whom I work like to go for lunch. I haven’t been to Shady Grove (or many restaurants really) since I was diagnosed with celiac.

Last week, my coworkers were planning a lunch and were also planning to meet a friend of ours who is now retired. I really wanted to go, so I called the restaurant the night before and went through my normal spiel and discovered they had a gluten free menu! (I suspected they might. It’s that sort of restaurant.)

We went to lunch on Thursday and I explained my need to the waitress and she came back with a gluten free menu. Actually, it wasn’t just a gluten free menu. They had sections for dairy free, vegetarian, and vegan selections as well. I had the brisket tacos which were great. There weren’t a huge number of gluten free options, but there were enough for some range of choice. And mostly I was just happy to be able to go out and have lunch with friends safely somewhere.

Two thumbs up and a shout out to Shady Grove!


Taste of Ethiopia Take Two

Posted: June 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Tonight, after our new roof was installed, we had made plans to go back to Taste of Ethiopia for dinner. My wife had called the owner, Woinee, several days in advance so that she could make her gluten free injera (Ethiopian flat bread made primarily from teff). Unfortunately, she had a catering engagement when we got there. Her husband is very nice, but we missed her personality and conversation at dinner. However, before she left, she had left the special injera for me!

I ordered the vegetarian sampler so I would could share and still have plenty of leftovers tomorrow. My younger son got a ground beef dish. I believe it was called kifto or something like that. My wife had the doro wat this time. My wife and son shared one family style dinner plate on the normal injera. I had a separate plate on top of my injera. We both had rolls of injera on the side. I also splurged with two cups of their coffee. I love it.

My injera? Wonderful. It was flexible and spongy, not the slightest bit crumbly. It had the texture of a real bread. And I loved being able to tear off pieces of it to use as my utensil picking up bites of food. I’m looking forward to my leftovers tomorrow. If you live in Pflugerville or the Austin area, you have to try out the restaurant. If you can’t eat gluten, call Woinee at least three days in advance and explain your special need. Otherwise, show up any time and indulge. If you can make a lunch visit and try their vegetarian buffet, I recommend that as your intro to the cuisine. If you have younger kids who tend not to be adventurous, they do have very American options like chicken nuggets for them.

My wife does recommend the doro wat with rice the way I had it last visit rather than eating it with injera. The rice mixes with the sauce and makes it easier for you to get more of the full flavor of the dish in every bite. My wife loves Woinee and missed her tonight but does not love the food as much as I do. Still, she likes it and will be happy to go there with me any time I crave another dose of Woinee’s food.


Taste of Ethiopia

Posted: June 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

My wife, our law school son, and I headed to Taste of Ethiopia for lunch. None of us had had any prior experience with Ethiopian food, but the reviews were enticing. This restaurant is truly a dining jewel hidden away in a corner of a strip mall here in our own town of Pflugerville. If you live here and have not yet eaten here, you need to correct that omission as soon as possible.

We were met by the owner, Woinee Mariam, as we entered. My wife and I got the coffee while our son got the spiced iced tea. Since this was lunch, Woinee explained, it was not the full coffee service, but the coffee was still amazing. As a big poster declares, coffee truly is Ethiopia’s gift to the world. Apparently, in the full evening coffee service, Woinee will roast, grind, and brew the coffee in the traditional way. (Actually, I’m not sure if she does that at the restaurant or not, since it would certainly take time. But I’m anxious to find out!)

I then explained to Woinee that I had celiac and couldn’t eat wheat, barley, or rye. While not exactly an allergy, for practical purposes it can be treated that way. She said that her daughter can’t eat gluten or dairy, so she understands the diet. And she makes everything herself, so she knows exactly what is in it. Unfortunately, the injera (ethiopian flat bread) they typically make does contain wheat, so I couldn’t have any. However, Woinee said that if I call three days in advance, she can ferment the teff and make traditional gluten free injera for me! Wow! Obviously, that’s now high on my list of dining plans. I can’t wait!

I had the Doro Wat with rice (since I couldn’t have the injera). The chicken fell off the bone. The hardboiled egg was delicious. And the sauce was absolutely wonderful. I thought I would start with what is considered the national dish of Ethiopia for my first visit and it lived up to the reviews in every way.

My wife and son got the vegetarian lunch buffet. Woinee wouldn’t let them get forks! She came over and walked them through how to unroll and tear of pieces of injera and pick up and eat the food using the injera as their only utensil in the traditional Ethiopian manner. They tried some of everything and cleaned their plates – picking up all the food with their fingers.

At one point an older gentleman who was eating when we arrived left and Woinee ran out the door to ask him if he wanted some water to go. She came back in to get it for him and told us he was working outside and it was too hot not to have water. That sort of individual care and attention characterizes her approach to everyone. It’s as though we were guests in her home. When Woinee found out that our son was in law school, she gave him a big hug and told him that he must be very smart and a hard worker to be doing that.

If you live here and you’ve never eaten at Taste of Ethiopia, 1466 Grand Avenue Parkway, Pflugerville, TX, then go. You won’t regret it.


Gluten Free at NXNW

Posted: June 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Gluten Free at NXNW

As part of my wife’s birthday celebration, we decided to try North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery. Their menu looked pretty good and they had developed gluten free options. My wife had a flounder special which wasn’t on the menu. My son had a chicken pasta dish. And I tried out the fresh vegetable grille from the gluten free menu. Service was good. The grilled vegetables in my dish were wonderful and I loved the bell peppers and lentils under them. The others said their food was good as well. Obviously, I couldn’t sample everyone’s dish the way we once did.

In short, this seems like an excellent gluten free dining option here in Austin based on my first experience.