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15 November 2005

eating gluten-free in Los Angeles


sweet corn salad, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Today, I realized, with a start, that it has been six months since I stopped eating gluten. Actually, it’s a little over six months, since it was April 30th when I officially started living gluten-free. It’s a marker of just how easily I have adapted to this, how joyfully, that I forgot to mark the occasion. I feel like a pro now.

This doesn’t mean that I stop thinking about it, ever. I have to check the label of everything I eat. I have to be a nuisance in every restaurant I visit. And keeping this site keeps me on my toes. Especially when so many of you who are newly diagnosed write to me for advice, or celiacs from the around the world write to share recipes with me. I’m daily grateful for these connections. And I feel a responsibility to research the latest details, cook more fabulous food, and take the most luscious photographs I can to remind everyone of this: living gluten-free is not a punishment. In fact, it’s a path to freedom.

On yesterday’s post, cookiecrumb left a comment that set me thinking: "It's so brilliant, reading your blog, to learn of the things you can eat that are gluten-free, yet carby and delish. Corn. Beans. Fruit. Bet you aren't really missing much with your new diet." Well, exactly. Thank you, cookiecrumb, for putting it into the words I had forgotten to find. I’m not deprived at all on this diet. I’m just alive.

So, in the spirit of sharing the joy, I’d like to show you a few of the meals and treats I ate in Los Angeles this weekend with my dear friend, Sharon.

SWEET CORN SALAD AT THE CASBAH CAFE

Sharon lives in Silverlake, just off Sunset. The hipster capital of the world, seemingly. Everywhere slouched tremendously slender young men and women, dressed in thigh-hugging pants, holey shirts that probably cost a hundred dollars, gigantic sunglasses, soft-soled shoes, and fabulously dissheveled hair. Oh my. And of course, everyone looked tremendously bored, suffering for perpetual ennui. All the while they furtively worked on screenplays, or talked to their agents on their cell phone. Ah, LA.

But one of the best parts about Silverlake is the Casbah Cafe. A small corner store on Sunset, this place is cool without trying too hard to be so. The back half of the shop is filled to the brim with Moroccan shirts, yerba mate cups, and glittery pink slippers. Filled with light and slow moving, the Casbah feels like an oasis of sanity in the midst of the throngs pressing against the inevitablity of aging and not being famous, just outside.

And their coffee is pretty great. That’s saying something for a Seattle girl in Los Angeles.

Since Sharon and I woke up late enough Friday morning (after talking and laughing well into the night on Thursday) that breakfast had blurred into lunch, we walked straight to Casbah. And even though the menu, written on the glass cases filled with dates and olive breads, was mostly off limits to me, I found what I wanted pretty quickly. A sweet corn salad, with black, wrinkled olives, fresh tomatoes, and tuna. It arrived in an enormous bowl, mounded with vegetables and a light vinaigrette that danced on my tongue. With the sunlight filtering through the bamboo blinds, and Sharon across from me, this was a deeply satisfying meal.

THE CHEESE STORE OF SILVERLAKE

The Cheese Store of Silverlake

Later, after strolling through small stores with hip clothes, intriguing antiques, and startling window displays, Sharon and I felt a bit peckish again. And she was eager to share her favorite food store with me. The Cheese Store of Silverlake is stocked from floor to ceiling with gorgeous gourmet foods from around the world. Vosges chocolates. Arborio rice from Italy. Apricot toffee. A local candy maker called The Little Flower Candy Company that makes sea salt caramels, vanilla caramels, and (my favorite) cinnamon-sugar marshmallows. Ah. Barrels of olive oils. Persimmons. And then, the cheeses. Sharon and I bought two small slices of two cheeses, each. I found some Drunken Goat, from Spain, which I simply adore, and Sharon had never tasted it before. She wanted me to try the Bar Durro, a hard cheese with a nutty quality. We stocked up on little gifts of food for ourselves, and we nibbled on them all weekend.

Have you ever tried the Vosges fire-red chocolate? If not, then you should. Rich, deeply textured chocolate, layers of taste, with a little zing of spice at the last. Heaven.

ANGELINA OSTERIA

warm octopus salad

Since I had been so richly treated to this glorious weekend by Sharon’s dear boyfriend, Matt, I wanted to give Sharon my own birthday present. What else could I give her but food? I decided, spontaneously, to treat her out to a lavish dinner at one of the best places in Los Angeles. (Well, the best within our price range.) But which restaurant? She likes one called Blair’s, in Silverlake, but it didn’t open for dinner until 6. And we had to be eating at 5:30, in order to make it on time to Matt’s sketch-comedy show at the Friars’ Club in Beverly Hills. (Yes, I do have a strange life.) Well, we consulted a charming guide book called Eat. Shop. LA, written by a charming woman from Portland, who writes a series of Eat. Shop guides for major cities on the West Coast. I love the Seattle book, so when I saw a copy of the LA guide at the Casbah, I convinced Sharon to grab it. After much consultation, and staring at the photographs of the food, we chose Angelina Osteria, ostensibly because the writer explained that her pickiest food friend in LA liked only one restaurant, and this was the one. How could we resist?

When I called in the early afternoon to make a reservation, the woman on the phone announced cheerfully, “I’ve got nothing open tonight.” Nothing? Not even at 5:30? Maybe she heard the disappointment in my voice and took pity, because after a beat, she said, “Okay, if you arrive exactly at 5:30, we’ll fit you in.” Hurrah!

And hurrah it was, because this was an extraordinary meal. Angelina Osteria is a warm, Tuscan place, with exquisite food based on what is fresh and in season. So many choices, including gluten-free choices. I told our ridiculously handsome Italian waiter that I couldn’t eat anything with gluten in it, and he looked a little confused, but we made our way through it. How to choose? Luckily, Sharon and I are sharers. Our entire time of knowing each other, 23 years now, we innately decide to order two separate meals and split them down the middle. So that night, we ordered two appetizers:

warm octopus salad on a bed of arugula, with baby cherry tomatoes (pictured above)

braised artichoke hearts with garlic, olive oil, and parsley

By the time these had arrived, Sharon and I were already wonderfully happy. To be in such a place, together, unexpectedly. And then we tasted our food.

“Oh god,” Sharon moaned. “This is really good. You have to try it now.”

She was right. The artichokes were deeply flavored, perfectly tender. And the octopus was better than I had ever eaten before, not a touch of rubber eraser texture to it. We ate a few bites each, then traded plates, back and forth, until we had cleaned our plates entirely. I would have licked up the artichoke marinade if I could have.

Sharon at Angelina Osteria

And the entrees? Well, you can see them on the table between Sharon and me on this table:

warm duck breast with balsamic vinegar, with a side of perfectly sauteed spinach

seared ahi tuna drizzled with parsley pesto, with a side of eggplant and wild mushrooms

Everything tasted wonderfully fresh, the textures outrageously dense and light at the same time, in season, just picked, made for us. We couldn’t stop cooing over our food.

And dessert? Ah, dessert. Well, Sharon had a simple panna cotta, topped with a raspberry. The best one she’s ever eaten outside of Italy, she said. And I had three small scoops of vanilla gelato, with a perfectly pulled espreso poured on top. We didn’t talk for awhile. We even stopped sharing. We just leaned over our food and ate intently. My god.

We walked out onto Beverly Boulevard, happy and humming.

MADAME MATISSE

spinach omelette at Madame Matisse

The next morning, Sharon and Matt and I went to one of their favorite breakfast places, Madame Matisse. A tiny sliver of a restaurant on a corner of Sunset, this French bistro-style place had a red and white awning and little tables outside. Since this was November in Los Angeles, the air was about 74 degrees. Of course we’d sit outside. In the middle of the menu, I found what I wanted, immediately. An omelette, with spinach, mushrooms, goat cheese, and salmon. Sharon had one too, but with asparagus instead of spinach. Matt ordered the meat and cheese extravaganza. We sat and chattered happily, watching the hipsters go by, discussing the previous night’s show, sipping our coffee eagerly. The food arrived, and we all dug in. Not extraordinary. Just damned good. Everything fresh, again. And by this time, we were so hungry that I almost forgot to take a picture of it. I managed to save a small corner for the shot above.

scene in a coffee cup

And play with the reflections in my coffee cup.

SILVERLAKE FARMERS’ MARKET

Vietnamese soy cafe

I can’t visit a city without visiting a farmers’ market. Just down from Madame Matisse was the block-long Silverlake Farmers’ Market. Small in comparison to my local stomping grounds (Ballard or the University Farmers’ Market), this one was still sweet. Even sweeter for being in the middle of LA, somehow. Sharon stocked up on fresh corn and flowers. And I stopped to sample fresh bean curd at the Vietnamese Soy Cafe stall. Wow. I’d never tasted such supple, subtle bean curd, lightly flavored with ginger. I thought about ordering a glass of pennywort juice, since the woman running the stall told me it would clear out every toxin. But in the end, I chose more toxins: Vietnamese coffee, with sweet condensed milk. Ah, a small slathering of heaven.

BAJA FRESH

Sharon thought we were going to be making dinner together Saturday night. After all, she reads this site too, and feels jealous of all the other people coming over to eat. But Matt had told me there would be a surprise party, and I assumed that meant dinner. But we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Still only 4:30 or so, too early for restaurants to open, where were we going to go? Matt insisted that he wanted to find us a snack, to tide us over for dinner. Sharon and I were both a bit confused——why a snack when we were going to eat a big dinner——but we trusted him. Of course, it turns out that he wanted to sneak out to fetch the Paul McCartney concert tickets he had bought for us, and slip into Sharon’s car to leave us further presents in the glove compartment. And he needed something fast. So he picked us up some food at Baja Fresh.

Now, it’s hard to imagine eating gluten-free, and eating well, at a fast food restaurant. All that batter and breading and dipping and oil. But this chain, which I really didn’t know well, specializes in fresh Mexican food. No preservatives or months-ago boxes of ingredients. Sharon suggested I try the bare burrito, all the ingredients of a burrito——spicy chicken, black beans, rice, pico de gallo, and cheese——without the tortilla. As we sat in the living room of their apartment, eating from the bags Matt had brought us, I was impressed. Fast food never tastes like this.

And then we shrieked when we realized the surprise.

So now, the taste of Baja Fresh will always be associated with the joy of knowing we were going to see Paul McCartney in concert, and Matt had given this to us.


You see? There’s no deprivation in living gluten-free.

[If you'd like to see more of my photographs of my trip to LA, click here.]


Casbah Cafe
3900 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029-2242
(323) 664-7000

The Cheese Store of Silverlake
3926-28 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
323.664.7511

Angelina Osteria
7313 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
323.297.0070

Madame Matisse
3536 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.
323-662-4862

23 Comments:

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Nic said...

Despite the fact that I actually live in LA, Shauna, you still make me want to go out and eat.
I think that you really are in inspiration to people who have to eat gluten free. Not to mention to those of use who can still have it in our diets.

 
At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Beth said...

I can't believe you're going to see Paul McCartney! I am so jealous! I am going to do everything in my power to see him, too but I don't have tickets yet.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger tara said...

What a lovely few days! I could surely spend many happy an hour in the The Cheese Store of Silverlake. It truly looks like my idea of heaven! And that Vosges chocolate ... yum!

 
At 10:48 AM, Anonymous lisaSD said...

Hi, Shauna--

Just passing along a gluten-free recipe I found in my web travels...

http://somethinginseason.blogspot.com/2005/11/yum-chocolate-cherry-dump-cake.html#links

 
At 12:43 PM, Blogger Rachael said...

ACK! You were in LA and didnt email me! For shame! (Im teasing of course, it sounds like you had a very full schedule)

Excellent dining choices, it sounds like Sharon has good taste...

:-)

Rachael

 
At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi:

Thanks for the heads-up about Baja Fresh. Chain restaurants are such a minefield for celiacs that I usually skip them.

A friend actually suggested Baja Fresh earlier this afternoon for a weekend group outing and I hadn't yet replied with my chain restaurant autoreject when I read this entry.

Did Baja Fresh have a glutenfree menu available? Outback Steakhouse does and it's wonderfully convenient.

Lisa in Baltimore

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger Dawn said...

Shauna, I enjoyed reading more about your meals on your trip. The food choices sounded perfect for you. I'll have to mention those restaurants to my sister, since she'd be closer to them. I love cheese and that store sounded fabulous! I think I'm going to have to go out of my way to check one out soon!

 
At 7:04 PM, Anonymous kyra said...

i'm so happy for your new found health! and so happy to have found your blog! my 4 year old son's been gluten-free since january. his father and i follow along during hie waking hours, but we do cheat when he's asleep since we are doing this as part of his overall 'treatment' for asperger's syndrome. i'll be spending much more time on your site now that i know about it, finding inpiration yummy gluten-free living!

 
At 5:17 PM, Blogger Catherine said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:19 PM, Blogger Catherine said...

Hi Gluten-free Girl!

Found your site while I looked for an image of Madame Matisse online for my own blog. That first image in your entry is a great pic! What kind of camera do you have that allows for such a sharp up-close shot??

 
At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Erica said...

I'm an L.A. girl (by way of Texas, the land of deep-fried foods covered in gravy) that just discovered I have to live gluten-free. I'm a bit devastated. My first thought? How will I ever eat out on a date again!?!

I'm thrilled to have found your blog. I can't wait to try some of your restaurant suggestions.

 
At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gluten free girl - What are your suggestions for bakeries in Los Angeles? I want to get my sister something for a celebration. Thanks!

 
At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Lisa said...

I live in Silver Lake so you're talking about some of my favorite places! The Casbah Cafe was one of the first Silver Lake establishments I ever visited, and I swear I moved there just so I could walk to the Casbah to sit and sip coffee and read. (And I have, many times.) Madame Matisse is our favorite local breakfast spot as well. And the Silver Lake Cheese Store is simply overwhelming with it's array of exotic offerings.

Next time you visit, though, I'd recommend the Hollywood Farmer's Market. It's much bigger and has a huge selection of just about any produce you can imagine, along with dozens of food stalls.

 
At 4:20 PM, Blogger jdc said...

I'm in Los Angeles (Silver Lake in fact) and think you did very well by your choices here! My little gluten-free dairy-free nut-free neice is visiting this summer and I was looking for a tortillaria that just made corn tortillas (she is incredibly sensitive and can not handle any type of cross contamination). I've been reading your blog since I found out about her condition and thought you might have heard of something. Thanks, Jennie

 
At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found out that PF Changs has a gluten free menu. It's great if you like PF Changs... they have gluten free chicken lettuce wraps, changs spicy chicken, and a lot of other dishes... they even have gluten free flourless chocolate cake. Everything tastes just the same, too! If not - better! :)

 
At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi
My son has recently been diagnosed with Celiac. We are getting there slowly but surely, although we are encountering some bumps in the road since he has just started university.
My question is, he will be traveling to California with The Burlington Teen Tour Band this December to participate in the Tournament of Roses Parade. I need to find a listing of restaurants where he can find gluten free meals. They will be staying in Woodland Hills but of course will be traveling daily to different events/performances. I know, packed lunches/suppers may be what we have to deal with on occasion especially when they go to Disney Land. Some of their time will be spent in Pasadena as well as L.A. with some stops in between. My rule of thumb for him is, if in doubt, do without. If I can just get my hands on some kind of listing/guide it would make life a lot simpler for this tour.
Jackie

 
At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My sister's fiance has a gluten allergy and they are both coming to visit me in LA for the holiday. So I've been searching for gluten free food options in LA.
So far I've found a great gluten free bakery in Culver City called The Sensitive Baker and another place in Woodland Hills called Your Dinner Secret (they actually prepare and package whole meals!).

 
At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a list of Gluten-Free Friendly restaurants in LA that I found on the Celiac Disease Foundation website

http://www.celiac.org/lifestyle/gluten-free-restaurants/los-angeles.php

 
At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you recommend a restaurant that is gluten-free "friendly" in the Claremont area. Our daughter is graduating from college and she is gluten intolerant. We would like to take her out to celebrate

Harvey and Sylvie

 
At 10:55 PM, Blogger Roni said...

Please check out my gluten-free store at www.gfMeals.com. Also read about us in the Los Angeles Daily News at http://www.dailynews.com/business/ci_8743073.

Next time your in LA, please stop by. Would love to meet you.

Thanks.

Roni
Owner of Your Dinner Secret
Woodland Hills, CA
www.gfMeals.com

 
At 4:48 PM, Blogger Aella said...

Hi Gluten-Free Girl and others,
I have lived in LA for 7 months now, and counting, and still have trouble eating gluten free. The key is asking lots of questions when eating out. Be wary about soy sauce and worchestershire sauce that could be used in Thai food, as well as wheat flour in Mexican sauces (like mole). I like El Chavo (Los Feliz neighborhood) for the cheese enchiladas, Celiac's should avoid the mole and corn chips are fried in shared oil. I also love Don Antonio's on Pico Blvd near Santa Monica, I asked questions and decided to have the cheese enchiladas (a fail-safe for Celiac's), beans, and rice. The waiter we had knew wheat flour (also call it white flour) was in the mole sauce. I got no sauce to be on the safe side. Both are cool traditional Mexican restaurants. It's a learning process when eating out in LA but I'm slowly getting there. Keep up the great blog!

 
At 4:33 PM, Blogger Stephen said...

Love your blog! I am just beginning a blog dedicated to eating gluten free in L.A. and thought it might help people out, I would love to link to you!
Thanks,
Stephen

glutenfreewayla.blogspot.com
glutenfreewayla@gmail.com

 
At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Honor said...

For those who don't live in LA but nearby, there is a meetup group at meetup.com called Gluten Free Long Beach. Join the group to find places to eat in LB and surrounding communities. Join at
www.meetup.com/Long-Beach-Gluten-Free-Dining/
. Free to join

 

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