Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Taking a bite out of the Big Apple

Times Square, NYC

New York City… It’s a city that never sleeps, bustling with yellow cabs and people on sidewalks. It’s full of bright lights, high-rise buildings and souvenir shops on every corner.

It was night when we arrived in the Big Apple – our hotel in the heart of Times Square. Walking around in awe… lights blazing, sirens blaring and horns honking… we looked at each other and smiled. We were finally here! Although our stomachs weren’t as happy and demanded food! Not knowing where everything was situated, we walked around and hoped for the best, finally deciding on a traditional American diner, TGI Fridays. Our waiter was lovely, telling us places to go and shows to watch. So I decided to take a stab in the dark and ask the big question… “Do you know if anything on the menu is gluten free?” Instead of the blank look I was expecting he replied, “Sure, let me get you the allergy menu.” I instantly fell in love with New York!

A whole rack of ribs at TGI Fridays... and yes I ate them all!

We kept ourselves busy and jam-packed our 10 days with loads of outings! Unfortunately it rained 8 out of the 10 days we were there. Yes we got caught in the rain multiple times. Yes we bought dodgy umbrellas on the side of the street that broke by the time you got to the next corner. Yes we still had an amazing time! We went to China Town, Little Italy and Soho. We braved the Subway and got on the wrong train many times. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, saw the Statue of Liberty, and watched a Broadway show. We climbed the 'Top Of The Rock', took a horse and carriage ride through Central Park, and spent some wonderful time catching up with family. And in between all of this we shopped up a storm!

Central Park, NYC

NYC is full of places to eat… There’s street food, diners, pizzerias, fast food chains, takeaway stores and 1000’s of restaurants to choose from! So where does one begin on their search for the best gluten free food?

Well, first of all let’s start with breakfast. Most hotels offered daily Continental breakfast. Unfortunately the choice was limited and you end up with fruit and yoghurt (if you’re lucky). My advice is to buy a box of cereal and take it with you to breakfast and use the hotels milk and fruit. I discovered a gluten free variety called Chex, which I bought from the local supermarket. I had the Rice Chex but it also comes in Corn, Honey Nut, Chocolate and Cinnamon (yum!).

Yummy GF cereal found in a local supermarket.

Lunch options were a little bit easier. After yet another rainy day, we stumbled across a great soup place, which is exactly what the doctor ordered. Hale and Hearty offers soups and salads, and pretty much all their soups are gluten free – just ask for no add ons like pasta or couscous. They have a great variety of soups including Vegetarian, Low Fat and Dairy Free options. It’s not the famous Soup Nazi from Seinfield, but it’s a great quick eat for lunch!

Japanese is also usually a pretty safe bet for lunch or dinner. There are loads around NYC. One in particular that we tried was Tenzan. The waiters were very helpful with gluten free options, and I was even told that some customers bring their own GF soy sauce for the chefs to cook with.

In the West Village you will find Taïm Falafel & Smoothie Bar. Taïm means ‘tasty’ in Hebrew. All their falafels are gluten free and – true to their name – delicious! I admit this was my first falafel experience, but I loved every minute of dipping those cute little flavoursome bites into homemade hummus… What a treat!

During the 'Sex and the City' tour we visited Buddakan restaurant, where Carrie and Big had their rehearsal dinner in the first movie. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go back for dinner as we ran out of time, but I spoke with the Maitre d and she assured me that they can cater for gluten free needs. Buddakan is modern Asian cuisine, and if you’re looking for somewhere special this is a great place to be! 

For more Asian delights, Lilli and Loo on Lexington Avenue is a great Chinese restaurant with a gluten free menu!

If you have a craving for gelato, head to GROM. This gelato originated from Italy so you know it’s going to be good! GROM collaborates with the Italian Celiac Association and all of their gelato is gluten free except for a few which are marked up on their menu. I couldn’t go past my favourite gelato flavour, Coconut. It was creamy and delicious!

For all you sugar lovers, Babycakes is the place to be! It is dessert heaven!

While we are enticing our sweet tooth I need to tell you about my very exciting trip to M&Ms World! For all my Australian readers, you will know that M&Ms are a no go as they contain wheat starch. Well for some reason the Americans have changed the recipe to make them gluten free. Yes you heard me. M&Ms are gluten free in the USA!!! So make sure you stock up!

Look at all the different flavours of GF M&Ms!!!

Here is a list of a few more places that I didn’t get a chance to get to while I was in NYC.

  • Mozarellis – gluten free pizza, pasta and desserts.
  • Pappardella – gluten free appetizers, pizza and pasta.
  • Risotteria – this place sounds amazing and I am so disappointed I missed out! Not only is it a restaurant, but they also have a bakery and frozen food selection to take home. The menu is clearly labeled as gluten free. Starting with GF breadsticks for starters, they offer a range of GF appetizers (including meatballs!), salads, risotto, pasta, panini, pizza, cupcakes, desserts and even beer. So if you’re in the Greenwhich Village, be sure to check it out and let me know what it was like!
  • La Bottega – offers a huge variety of panini and many can now be made on gluten free panini! There are quite a few locations and each have a slightly different menu, however all menus are marked clearly which items are gluten free.
  • PinkBerry – Frozen Yoghurt. All Pinkberry frozen yoghurt flavours and the Pinkberry Fruit Parfait are gluten free.
  • Lula’s Sweet Apothecary – Natural, vegan and dairy free ice cream with lots of gluten free options. Rumours are they even have gluten free ice cream cones!
  • Popbar is a frozen eatery serving high quality gelato, sorbetto, and frozen yogurt on a stick! You can create your own ‘Pop’ combinations with toppings and ‘poppings’. All popbars are Kosher, gluten and preservative free! However add on ‘Poppings’ such as granola and brownies contain traces of gluten. So be wise about your choice and speak to a ‘Popologist’ in store.

5 Avenue, NYC

I hope this helps anyone thinking of going to NYC or has enticed you to travel overseas. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask, that’s what we are here for!

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Awaken your senses at Red Lantern

In the heart of Surry Hills you will come across a little terrace with red walls. The aromas of Vietnamese cooking will pull you in to this cosy, yet buzzing and upmarket atmosphere. Luke Nguyen, his sister Pauline and Pauline’s partner, Mark Jensen, own this fabulous little restaurant – Red Lantern. The décor is authentic yet modern with it’s polished wooden floorboards and yes – you guessed it – red lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

After 3 months of waiting for the first available Friday night my friends and I were very excited. Red Lantern was awarded the winner for the 2010 I love FOOD awards Favourite Vietnamese Restaurant in Australia. They were also in the top ten ‘Most Environmentally Sustainable Restaurants’ in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2010. It’s no wonder this place has such a long waiting list!

With a group of 7 people we were required to choose from one of the two tasting menus. We chose the $75 per person option, as this included dessert! The staff and chefs were very friendly, knowledgeable and accommodating regarding gluten free options. I was assured that the banquet could be modified to suit my dietary requirements. The menu itemises what dishes are gluten free so I had complete trust that they knew what they were talking about.

We started off with Goi Cuon – soft rice paper rolled with prawns, pork, vermicelli, perilla leaves and garlic chives. I was brought out my own plate with a special gluten free dipping sauce.

Entrée two was a dream and one of Red Lantern’s signature dishes. Muc Rang Muoi – lightly battered chilli salted squid with fresh lemon and white pepper dipping sauce. Pre coeliac salt and pepper squid was one of my favourite dishes to eat when out. However in the past two years it has been hard to find gluten free varieties.

As the next dish was not gluten free I was ready to sit out a course. However I soon learnt that I was going home with a full stomach just like everybody else at my table. My own dish was brought out as a gluten free alternative. Goi Ngo Sen Voi Nam – Asian mushrooms, pickled lotus root and Vietnamese herbs. I felt very special that the chefs were so accommodating. I was even more impressed when Luke Nguyen himself – host of the SBS series Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam – brought the dish to the table. Each dish was described to me and he made sure to inform me of what dishes I could and could not eat for the rest of the night. Luke was very down to earth and it was great to see him on the floor mingling with the guests.

Next we were served two salads. Goi Du Du – tiger prawns, dried whitebait and green papaya, with perilla and mint. The second was again my own dish as a gluten free alternative. This was a dish of eggplant, tofu, bean sprouts and juicy, sweet tomatoes.

Throughout the night the service was immaculate. Glasses of water (and wine) were kept full and tables were wiped down between courses. There was even an incident of too much chilli being consumed by one of my friends, Krystal. Luke was very kind to bring out a rescue remedy of tomatoes. Apparently the acidity of the tomatoes counteracts with the spiciness of the chilli – and it worked!

Just when we thought it had to be near the end of the meal – mains started coming out! We had a selection of Ca Xao Sot Cai Xanh – panfried Morwong fillets with Asian celery, tomato and chilli, Bo Luc Lac – cubed pasture fed Black Angus sirloin wok tossed with garlic, sesame and black pepper, Cai Xanh Xao – mixed organic Asian greens wok tossed in preserved bean curd sauce, and as my own special dish, Ga Nuong - char grilled Burrawong pasture fed chicken skewers marinated in preserved bean curd paste, lime and garlic. I was impressed that something as simple as Asian greens could be so tasty! The beef was tender and delicious, and the chicken skewers were another stand out dish for me.

When our stomachs were so full and couldn’t possibly fit even another grain of rice, the waitress said some magical words, “I hope you have space for dessert?” I don’t know how but I instantly did not feel so full anymore. I go by the theory that we have a separate stomach for dessert. Out comes the Red Lantern dessert platter – a trio of three desserts. I was instantly disappointed. Having sussed out the menu previously I had my eyes on the Kem Flan – coconut Crème Caramel made with biodynamic eggs and organic coconut milk. This was nowhere in sight. I was informed that only one of the desserts on the platter was gluten free. And it was also a banana dish. To put it nicely I’m not the biggest fan of banana – I hate it. So the chef was nice enough to bring me out my own plate of coconut crème caramel. And can I just say I was in heaven! It was smooth, full of coconut flavour and not sickly sweet. I was kind enough to share the plate around the table but I could of easily finished it myself. It was divine.

Red Lantern I will definitely be back. The flavours were amazing, the presentation of food brilliant, the staff were very friendly and most importantly gluten free options were not an issue. I was treated like royalty and by the end of it my friends wished that they too were coeliac! Thank you for an amazing and tasty night out.

Red Lantern
545 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW
(02) 9698 4355

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Monday, July 11, 2011

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Two Silly Sisters have arrived on Facebook! Click on the 'Find Us' button to the right to follow us. Keep up to date with our gluten free stories and adventures. Leave us a comment to let us know what you think. 

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Viva Las Vegas!

I’m back! My suitcases have been unpacked, I am over the jetlag and my tan has dramatically faded!

I have just returned from 4 fabulous weeks away to the USA and Mexico with two of my best friends, Lisa and Amanda. We travelled to Las Vegas, New York, Miami and Cancun… celebrating Amanda’s 30th birthday in every location! There was plenty of partying, shopping and soaking up the rays while sipping cocktails. We shopped up a storm and together I believe we gave the US economy the boost it needed! I was forced to buy a second suitcase in New York after I accidentally over shopped! We ate plenty of good (and bad) food, and this is what I am most excited to share with you. At first I thought I was going to have to live on salads for the entire trip… but we were lucky enough to stumble across some great places.

The view from our suite in Caesars Palace!

First let me begin with the flight. United Airlines was terrible. You don’t get your own TV screen and the food was disgusting. I highly recommend taking loads of snacks with you. Luckily I packed sandwiches, as I was not provided snacks in between meals, while others got biscuits and pretzels. When I questioned the airhostess, she suggested bringing me a vegetarian sandwich! Moral of the story… be prepared.

During my travels I found that the best way to eat out was to do your research first… otherwise with so many eateries out there it would be like finding a needle in a haystack! There were occasions when we were out and about and I would have to risk walking into a place and trying to find something on the menu. Occasionally I was pleasantly surprised, but in most instances I was given a blank look… “free what?” Again, when you’re headed out I recommend taking loads of snacks with you. This could be your lifesaver!

On our first walk down the strip in Las Vegas we discovered the Sugar Factory. A big fancy lolly shop with loads of lollipops and self serve chocolates. They are mostly famous for their ‘couture pops’. Kim Kardashian opened the ‘Sugar Factory’ with her very own $1 million diamond-studded Couture Pop! I opted for Kim’s slightly cheaper signature series couture pop for $25. Most things in store are gluten free but make sure you check the ingredients before you try.

The delicious Sugar Factory store!

Vegas was a challenge. Majority of the food is deep-fried and people are not aware of coeliac disease or gluten free eating. I survived mainly on salads and nachos. And I don’t want to talk about my mini breakdown when I thought I was going to be the first person to loose weight from a trip to the states!

One of many nachos experiences... with lots of fake cheese mmmm

Nonetheless, I enjoyed a nice steak one day. There are plenty of steakhouses around. I didn’t get the name of the restaurant or a photo, as it was extremely windy. Napkins were flying into the sky and glasses were toppling over! We just wanted to eat and get out of there. Unfortunately we experienced unseasonably chilly weather during our stay in Las Vegas.

However, when in doubt, there is always the Cheesecake Factory. I see some of you cringing. No it is nothing like the ‘Cheesecake Shop’ we have here in Australia. It is a chain of gourmet restaurants located all over the USA serving lunch and dinner. But the most impressive part is 30+ cheesecakes plus other desserts! Okay now there is a down side… as a coeliac we can’t have any of those. I know, I’m sorry! There is one flourless Godiva chocolate cheesecake but my waiter told me they could not guarantee it was gluten free. He suggested he bring me a bowl of fresh strawberries. I suggested he brings me the cocktail list.

Who needs dessert?

On the positive side, previous to my trip, I had been in contact with the Cheesecake Factory regarding gluten free items. Their response was that they offer a number of dishes that are gluten free or that can be modified to be gluten free, and that they are working on having a separate menu in the near future!

The famous Cheesecake Factory!

Our waiter on the night was very helpful, he advised me that majority of the sauces contain gluten in them. So I ordered the herb crusted salmon, served with asparagus and mash, with no sauce. It was delicious and a nice change to the fast food or lack of food we had been eating.

Gluten free herb crusted salmon - modified from the menu.

So there you have it… Las Vegas in a nutshell. It would be impossible to write about all my discoveries in one post, so keep an eye out for my next post on New York!

And for all my American readers, Happy 4th of July!

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