Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
An El Cajon reader (and doctor) wrote in: He and a number of his patients have developed gluten sensitivity. (What the hell is happening to our bodies lately? First the shrimp allergy. Then the horrible peanut allergy that's taken delicious peanut oil -- not to mention chopped peanuts -- out of the kitchens of Asian restaurants. And now, wheat gluten, a part of the civilized diet since, oh, 10,000 BC and ancient Egypt. What could be causing this? Aside from the shrimp thing, could it be a result of new varieties that yield more... something like that? If I don't watch out I could turn into a gluten "birther.")
After doing a search for "gluten" in my files for the last couple of years, here's all I turned up:
Proper Gastropub, 795 J Street (on pedestrian alley near 8th), 619-255-7520; propergastropub.com. Gluten-free food by request. Widely varied menu. I think there are a lot of items in which gluten would just be irrelevant, if you don't get something with bread.
Many top restaurants will extend themselves to meet their patrons' health needs. One that comes instantly to mind is 910 in La Jolla because pastry-chef Jack Fisher has always worked a lot with uncrusted fruit sweets and makes SD's best panna cotta (delicate "custard" made with cream, gelatin, sugar -- no flour at all. It's basically cream Jell-O for the gods).
I'd advise staying away from "old fashioned" French restaurants (e.g., Bleu Boheme) where the chef is likely to use flour to thicken sauces. Modern French chefs (and chefs trained in French disciplines) nowadays make cream sauce by straight reduction, not with a roux. You're generally safe with sauces called "reduction" or "gastrique."
Mexican food: Cornflour has little or no gluten. (When you make cornbread, you have to add baking powder &/or baking soda and a liquid to make it rise.)
Venture out of the ordinary. Ethiopian food is one example: The huge pancakes called injera (serving as your plate and your spoon) are made with tef — ground seeds of a wild grass, totally gluten-free. Injera gets its bit of a "rise" through soda water and light, overnight fermentation. You can satisfy your "bread jones" without gluten-forming bread there.
Most Asian foods come with rice, which is low- or no-gluten. (To make a rice pastry rise, you typically have to add beaten egg white.) Even dim sum at Jasmine Bistro can work for you -- you'll sadly have to skip a lot of delish dishes, but when you look at the wrappers on the wrapped dishes, choose the translucent white wrappers, made with rice flour or tapioca flour. Shrimp har gow, si! Pork siu mai, no!
If you live in El Cajon, land of the flying carpets of Chaldean restaurants, it's a matter of restraint — e.g., eating hummus and baba ganouj with a fork, not pita, and forgoing the pita wrap around the grilled meats. If you should happen to find couscous on a menu, they'll probably be okay for you (no promises here).
More ideas, folks? Speak up.