Review: Zest Gluten-free Bakery and Deli in San Carlos, Ca

June 27th, 2011 yum Posted in Bay Area, Ca, California, Gluten Free bakery, Gluten-free Deli 6 Comments »

Zest Gluten-free Bakery and Deli
1224 Arroyo Ave
San Carlos, CA 94070
phone: 650-241-ZEST (650-241-9378)

This weekend the DH and I went on an excursion to San Carlos, California in the hopes of buying the dear Toddler Yum a play kitchen that we found on Craig’s List. There are so many little towns here in the Bay Area that I can’t keep them all straight, and I’d never had any particular reason to go to San Carlos, which is near Redwood City. We acquired our little play kitchen and stuffed it in the trunk of our car, at which point I decided I was STARVING. I did a random search on the DH’s Iphone for “gluten-free San Carlos, Ca” and I found myself coming up against all these references to a gluten-free bakery called “Zest”. What? A gluten-free bakery in my neck of the woods that I had not visited? You’ve got to be kidding. I’d dragged the DH to Oakland, California, which is a heck of a drive from Sunnyvale for countless nutmeal cookie and pizza runs- but there was one half as far getting great reviews on Yelp? How did I miss this one?

The DH and I parked in the little downtown in San Carlos, which is absolutely adorable and full of excellent shopping opportunities. I only wish Toddler Yum had been with us, although then I couldn’t have scampered down the street as quickly in my quest for gluten free goodies.

We went down the side street to Zest Bakery and I found myself facing a bright, modern and cozy deli that would put any gluten establishments to shame. The sunny yellow walls and bright logo welcomed me, and the server was smilingly patient when I, completely overwhelmed by the variety on the entirely gluten-free and cross contamination free menu, waffled when placing my order. I think they get that a lot.

To my delight, rather than just offering sweet baked goods, they function as a deli and offer a wide variety of gluten-free sandwiches on their sandwich rolls. I felt like such a rock star, being able to choose from so many sandwich options and even customize my vegetarian roasted vegetable sandwich with a slice of cheese and house made pesto spread. They also make their own pickles and mayonnaise, in case you weren’t jealous enough already. The only mild bummer was that they don’t have pizza… yet. Patrick, the super-nice and welcoming gluten-free owner tells me that they’ve started producing pizza crusts that they are selling faster than they can make them, and he has plans to shop at local farmer’s markets to make local, seasonal hot pizza slices for the deli soon. Be still my heart! But being able to watch the server get out my bread and whip together the sandwich right before my eyes just like at (completely inferior) Subways made my day, and I’m happy to wait for pizza. The sandwich is pictured above with their pesto, pickles, and delish grilled veggies. I don’t always like grilled squash, but they did it right, and the grilled carrot was unconventional and completely delicious. Arugula topped off one of the best simple veggie sandwiches I’ve had in a restaurant, and made my taste buds sing.

Because I am a greedy girl, we tried a bunch of things. The DH got a wonderful peach-mint lemonade that reminded him of international trips and that I absolutely loved! He also insisted on trying a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting and a blueberry garnish. It was a fine chocolate cupcake. If only I liked chocolate cake! I know, I’m a freak. However, in the interest of fairness I got their chocolate chip cookie-based ice cream sandwich. It was lovely! I didn’t try the chocolate chip cookie by itself, but it seemed quite tasty. I think more taste-testing is warranted. I’ll get right on that.

I asked the server what her favorite treats were, and she recommended the triple berry muffin. I don’t usually get that excited about muffins, but this muffin was wrapped in fancy paper, sparkled on top in that “sprinkled with turbinado sugar” way, and had a gorgeous assortment of berries peeking through a golden muffin exterior. I was digging this muffin before I even tried it. And when I did… well, I haven’t often found a muffin that I thought was worth an artisan’s bakery price tag (in this case $3) but this muffin was worth every penny. Gorgeous, delicious and fun. Baby Yum approved as well. I carefully fed her a bite sans red-berry in case they had strawberries, and she gobbled it up. The DH also gave it a thumbs up, although I only gave him a bite because I am stingy with my yummies like that.

The other recommended treat was an almond cake. Not only did the server recommend it, but a visiting family with a toddler ordered them and said their daughter enjoyed them. I thought that they were perfectly delicious. They were light with a faintly crunchy exterior and had a gorgeous almond-infused flavor without being too strong or too sweet. Perfect! I would buy these again, anytime.

I didn’t need any urging to snap up their gorgeous french apple cakes in an individual serving size. Just one look at that apple cake dusted with powdered sugar had me at hello. I bought two and the DH and I fought over them. Another winner that I would buy again.

When we went out on that sunny Saturday morning I had no idea that I was going to stumble onto a wonderful gluten-free bakery. Finding it truly made my afternoon! I was also delighted to meet the husband-and-wife owners Patrick and master baker Charissa and chat with them about their vision for the future of the bakery. I really appreciated Patrick’s interest in local, farmer’s market fresh ingredients and Charissa’s clear passion and talent evident in their wonderful baked goods. Charissa runs their lovely blog, which caught my eye during the recent Ratio Rally when she contributed the internationally-inspired Koshi An Filled Cream Puffs. Not only that, but they are genuine, friendly and nice people that I would love to hang out with sometime with a gluten-free beer or Chardonnay! How often can you say that about people you have just met? I wish them the very best and I think their bakery has great things ahead.

Business seemed to be booming and it reminded me of the early days of Mariposa when the buzz was still catching on. I can’t wait to see how things develop. If they get in a toaster oven or other heating device, I would just about swoon over the option to get hot, toasted, or grilled bread for a sandwich. I’m big on hot food from a deli. And I’ll be first in line for a slice of their hot pizza! They also have high quality locally-sourced gourmet coffee and espresso beverages if you need a little pick-me-up, so you might skip picking up a cup of joe on the way to the bakery until you see their offerings.

If you find yourself anywhere near San Carlos, which is between San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont and Redwood City, you owe it to yourself to check this place out. It is on your way from the San Francisco International Airport to the South Bay (Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Jose). You can’t get more convenient than that!

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*The AntiCupcake Company also makes and sells delicious gluten-free mini-cheesecakes through Zest Bakery. I have to try one next time!

Other Reviews:
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*I didn’t bring my camera, so the sandwich and interior photo were taken on the DH’s Iphone. Handy, but not so great for photos. I’ll have to bring my camera next time to really do the place justice. I took the almond cake, berry muffin photos at home with my regular camera.

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Gluten-free at Dharma’s Vegetarian Restaurant in Capitola, Ca

May 26th, 2011 yum Posted in Bay Area, Ca, Capitola, Gluten Free Dining, Gluten Free On the Road No Comments »

Dharma Restaurant: Natural Organic Vegetarian Food
4250 Capitola Rd
Capitola, CA 95010
(831) 462-1717

I love finding a new, local restaurant with a well-developed gluten-free menu, and I love finding vegetarian restaurants that have food that I can eat. Finding them both in one place is a rare and exciting event. When I discovered Dharma’s gluten-free friendly, vegetarian restaurant in Capitola, California through an online search, I was thrilled. Dharma’s Vegetarian Restaurant is a very large, almost cafeteria style restaurant with a warm and cozy family dining atmosphere. You place your order at the counter, since it isn’t a traditional sit down and place your order type of place. To tell the truth, this kind of ordering situation always makes me twitchy because I find it hard to make a decision standing staring at a menu above me. It is even harder with a toddler in tow. Baby Yum got a little hyper so the DH carted her off to a table with some of the resident dinosaur toys and left me to pick food for all of us.

As soon as I saw it on their online gluten-free menu, I knew that I wanted the Indian curry, which you can get with gluten-free bread if you order it specially. But I didn’t think Baby Yum would be too thrilled with all the “spice, spice” as she refers to anything with seasoning. So. when I saw the daily special was a dish with quinoa, sweet potato and soup, I had to order it… for the DH to share with Baby Yum. Then I felt bad later, because it really wasn’t the kind of thing he would order for himself. What can I say, I don’t order well under pressure.

The Indian Curry, though, that was right up my alley and exactly what I would order if I could choose anything in the world. When I saw that curry I just about swooned. Lots of fresh veggies married to a creamy, coconut-rich sauce and sprinkled with cashews- yum! The brown rice was fine, the yogurt sauce was tangy, the chutney was sweet, but the curry, now that was a real treat. I would give it a 4 out of 4 stars. It was served with a bit of what I think was Kinnikinnick bread. I don’t know how they manage their toasters, so I still didn’t eat it. I didn’t need it, even with giving Baby Yum some of my plain rice.

Because it was Mother’s Day weekend I ordered the raw foods strawberry cheesecake, too. I have decided that cheesecake is my favorite raw foods dessert. How can you not love that creamy, nut-based goodness that seems so naughty but is full of good things? This was a lovely, silky smooth and delicate raw foods cheesecake with a tangy hint of lime. Even the DH approved.

The quinoa sweet-potato special really got my attention because the specials menu mentioned a tahini sauce. I don’t care what you drizzle it on, tahini makes everything yummy. Between thinking of my quinoa-loving Baby Yum and drooling over the tahini, I couldn’t resist. I selected a potato leek soup that was recommended by the guy at the counter, and it was a nice soup but looked so very plain when it came out of the kitchen that I felt quite bad about having ordered it for the DH. On the up side, Baby Yum gobbled down the rice and quinoa we gave her from our two plates. On the down side, this meal just didn’t look sexy or very hard to make at home. Teach me to order the bargain lunch special!

I can’t tell you how exciting it was for me to find a gluten-free friendly vegetarian restaurant on our little road trip. The first restaurant I ever really enjoyed was a little place called the Creative Vegetarian Cafe in Boulder, which closed a few years later. I loved the international take on vegetarian dining, and I’ve missed having the experience of eating good, thoughtful vegetarian recipes out. Here in Silicon Valley it seems the only vegetarian restaurants are based on Chinese/ Taiwanese Vegetarian cuisine, which is so full of wheat-based soy sauce, wheat flour and wheat gluten that it is completely off limits. Or, they are based in Indian cuisine, which I love but often has mystery spice mixes or cross contamination issues. Finding a place that gives me the international dishes I crave but has gone to the effort to have a gluten-free menu was the best Mother’s Day present ever! If you happen to find yourself in Santa Cruz and take an excursion towards Capitola, definitely check out Dharma’s Vegetarian Restaurant and their fantastic gluten-free menu!

*Please note, they do prepare gluten dishes in their kitchen, so you may want to ask questions about preparation and cross-contamination issues.

How we found the restaurant:

I have a crush on Santa Cruz. I’ll admit it. Santa Cruz is the home of New Leaf Health Food Stores, my favorite REAL natural food store in California, and also the home of Love Apple Farm, an organic farm that produces gorgeous produce for a local gourmet restaurant while also cultivating and selling amazing heirloom tomatoes. Love Apple Farm has become increasingly involved in education, providing classes on topics from backyard chicken-keeping to preserving to summer or winter organic gardening. Ever since we bought our first house with a yard, the DH and I have been burning to start a garden. And, shortly before Mother’s Day, we attended a class at Love Apple Farm to get an education on organic gardening. At that class, we learned about the Mother’s Day Plant Sale at the Cabrillo College Horticulture Center where you can buy beautiful organic heirloom plants the likes of which would never be found at Lowe’s or Home Depot. This is how I found myself in Capitola, California on Mother’s Day Weekend with a car full of gorgeous plants including purple tomatillos, quinoa, and a rainbow of lettuce. I had all this potential food in the car, and yet- I was hungry! Luckily the DH has an Iphone, and so we did a search and I found a vegetarian restaurant in the area with a gluten-free menu. Yippee! I knew I liked the Santa Cruz area.

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