My sister-in-law and I are scheduled for a birthday lunch, and she wants to go out. It’s kind of a rare event these days, because she discovered a year ago that she’s gluten intolerant. “Going to restaurants is just a gauntlet of self-denial,” she lamented. “It starts with the bread and runs through the chocolate lava cake.” I resolved to find her some interesting possibilities.
My first call was to Terry Meihaus, owner of La Farfalla Café in Escondido (760-741-0835; lafarfallacafe.com). “My original plan was just to offer gluten-free brownies,” began Meihaus. “But I got such a response that I decided to offer gluten-free items all the time. Now almost anything on our menu can be ordered gluten-free. All our salad dressings are naturally gluten-free — things such as fig vinegar with caramelized shallots. Also desserts, such as our chocolate chip cookies or chocolate-zucchini cupcakes topped with buttercream frosting [$1.50]. Entrées can be made gluten-free for a $1 charge, things such as our shallot and warm chicken salad with goat cheese, Asian pears, blueberries, and candied walnuts [$9.95]. And we have a quinoa tabouleh, which is both vegan and gluten-free [$8.95]. Those are really popular.”
Meihaus also offers gluten-free cooking classes ($30 for roughly three and a half hours). “So many prepared foods have gluten in them — things you wouldn’t expect, such as ice cream and salad dressing. I’ve been cooking gluten-free for about 25 years, and while it isn’t easy, my goal is to make a gluten-free diet livable. I offer a Beginners’ Basics class where I go over ideas for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner.
“A lot of the store-bought mixes aren’t that good, or they’re really expensive. I give recipes for cornbread, poppyseed muffins, and pancakes using things such as rice flour, almond flour, and sorghum flour, plus tapioca starch and potato starch. I’ll have people cook in teams, and along the way, I’ll give them tips — how to correct texture problems or how the age of your flour affects your outcome. For instance, older flour tends to absorb liquid.
“Later this year I’ll offer a holiday class on how to make a gluten-free traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I will also offer a baking class where people can make a tray full of different kinds of holiday cookies.”
Filiberto, manager at Casa Guadalajara in Old Town (619-295-5111; casaguadalajara.com), has an extensive gluten-free menu. Once again, demand was the catalyst. “We researched our products and found that things like our bases — beef, chicken, and vegetable — were not gluten-free. They had wheat product in them. We went out and found bases without wheat product. Also, when we make our corn tortillas and corn chips every day, we do it first thing in the morning, before any other flour products go into the fryer. That way we avoid cross-contamination, and our corn tortillas stay gluten-free.”
Gluten-free items at Casa Guadalajara include “chicken, beef, or shrimp fajitas [$14.95]. We have shrimp salad [$11.95] or ceviche [$11.95] as a starter, and also chicken tortilla soup [$5.75] and fish tacos [$11.95].”
Fabrizio, chef at Bencotto in Little Italy (619-450-4786; lovebencotto.com), told me that he offered a gluten-free pasta option ($13). “You choose the sauce — maybe bencotto, which is a pink pancetta sauce, or a traditional meat sauce like Bolognese — and we serve it over gluten-free pasta. We use a good-quality pasta; it’s made from quinoa. It gives you a better consistency than pasta made from cornmeal or rice flour. It’s a bit different from regular pasta — it’s a little softer in consistency.” They offer numerous other gluten-free options.
In North Park, Morgan at Urban Solace (619-295-6464; urbansolace.net) has a gluten-free menu. “A good starter is the diced watermelon, cucumber, and tomato salad garnished with pine nuts, feta cheese, and a pomegranate vinaigrette [$9.50]. Or maybe the goat cheese and butternut squash dip — it’s usually served with chips, but you can order it with cucumber slices instead.”