Gluten-free Palo Alto: Oren’s Hummus on Stanford’s University Avenue

April 15th, 2012 yum Posted in Ca, California, Gluten Free Dining, Palo Alto 11 Comments »

Oren’s Hummus Shop
261 University Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 752-6492
Mon-Sun 11 am – 11 pm

When I traveled in Israel, I fell in love with the food. Unfortunately, it didn’t always love me back. No matter how hard I tried, eating out as often as I had to meant that it was impossible to avoid accidental glutenings from cross contamination here and there and by the end of the trip I had a seriously rumbly tummy. Fastforward six months. I hear from Israeli friends about this amazing hummus cafe that was started in Palo Alto by a successful Israeli business man out of the love in his heart for true, authentic hummus. Apparently he imported all the traditional equipment and best ingredients to make hummus and created this restaurant in the heart of Palo Alto on University Avenue. I was very, very tempted, but very, very leery. I kept thinking of all that flatbread and tabbouleh and just the thought of it made me nervous. One day I was browsing around yelp and decided to check out the reviews, in case a gluten-free person had reviewed the place. Imagine my surprise when I found out by doing a search for “gluten-free” that the place actually had a gluten-free menu! What?!! An authentic Israeli hummus place that actually “got” gluten-free? How cool! So, I finally got up the courage to go with the DH and go on a hummus adventure.

The first time we went, I was nervous, so I didn’t dare go straight for the (gf labeled falafel.) Instead I thought I’d start slow with the classic hummus, and the gluten-free labeled shakshouka, a traditional Israeli breakfast dish I eyed longingly many mornings, but didn’t dare try because I couldn’t confirm its gluten-free status at most hotels. The hummus made me swoon. I hadn’t had such amazing hummus since we had some in Akko, drizzled with lovely olive oil and pine nuts. Oren’s classic hummus is silky smooth, with a rich drizzle of tahini in the center of it. The DH likes it topped with a hard-boiled egg, and ordered it that way. For me it is all about the yummy tahini, and I was completely satisfied on that count. The Shakshouka was all that I thought it would be- homey, warm and savory goodness. The best thing of all, though, was the service. When I told the waitress that I couldn’t have gluten, she was really careful to keep the gluten-bread that the DH ordered far away from me. I got the GF dipping basket of raw veggies instead ($2.50), which consisted of raw cabbage leaves, raw sliced carrots, and sliced cucumbers and it was wonderful with the divine hummus. But our waitress really earned points with me when she considerately brought the green harissa sauce and the red sauce freshly served from the back rather than the cross contaminated red and green sauce servers.

Best of all? After eating all this delicious, authentic Israeli food, I didn’t feel even a twinge of gluten-poisoning that night or the next morning. Finding a great, truly safe gluten-free friendly restaurant with international cuisine is pretty much like winning the lottery, and this place is exactly that.

The next time, I brought my dear friend JM along with me. JM has to follow a gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free diet, and that makes eating out quite a challenge. But I told her that I thought that Oren of Oren’s Hummus would probably as soon burn the place down as put soybean oil in his gourmet hummus, and we bravely stormed the place for a gluten-free ladies Friday Night Out.

If we hadn’t both been delirious from grueling study schedules, we might have indulged in wine, but since we were both deliriously tired and starving, we just dug into some incredible food. For those who avoid soybean oil, you can take heart. They use rice bran oil at Oren’s Hummus to fry the falafel as well as the fries. The fries are not actually gluten-free, but since according to our waiter they are fried in separate vats, we were happy to order two servings of the naturally gluten-free falafels. The falafels are small but perfect, and interestingly enough they reminded me more of my favorite fried Southern indian dal fritters than of the falafels I’d had previously, but they were delicately seasoned and drizzled in tahini with fresh green parsley garnish.

I couldn’t decide between the chickpea hummus or the fava bean hummus when our waiter drew my attention to the so-called “triangle hummus” which is the classic hummus topped with a fava bean mixture, tahini, and chickpeas too. Somehow my eyes had just drifted past that thinking of all the gluten-based triangles that are off limits, like samosas. The fava bean topping was delicious and savory, and the chickpea topping was very fresh and homemade tasting, but for me, I think I like the classic hummus all by itself. All by itself topped with delicious, delicious tahini that is.

JM also ordered the baba ghanoush and kindly shared some with me. To my delight, it was an amazingly smoky, delightfully creamy dish that was definitely on par with some I’d had in Israel, where I had loved pretty much every eggplant dish I tried. It didn’t just taste roasted, but tasted smoky, like wood chips and grills. It was immediately one of my favorites. She had the classic hummus, and loved it.

After our highly successful girl’s night out, I went home to a sleepy little Toddler Yum and a hungry DH, who was bummed when he discovered I hadn’t brought him back any of the hummus that you can take home from Oren’s in a little to-go container. *Note: We both felt no ill effects from gluten OR soy afterwards, so it was a smashing success.

The positive side to the DH’s hummus envy is that not two days later when I “casually” suggested we go for hummus for dinner, the DH was only to happy to drive all the way to Palo Alto from Sunnyvale. This time we finally ordered the sampler with six of their favorite side dishes, including labane (the thick yogurt sauce) with spices, seasoned cooked carrots*, lightly seasoned beet cubes, (my favorite) baba ghanoush, another roasted eggplant dish with red peppers, and some of the same red tomato sauce they use as a base for the shakshouka.
We ordered my new two favorite dishes- the classic hummus and the falafels. This is the third time I’ve eaten at Oren’s and so far so good! The last two waiters were not as aware of potential cross contamination issues and didn’t bring special harissa or red sauce (Even though JM requested it), but luckily we, being two experienced and mildly paranoid gluten-free ladies, knew to avoid it. By the way, I don’t usually like cooked carrots, but these had almost Indian-type spices and it was my favorite surprise of the sampler. The DH was a big fan off the beets and labane.

To conclude, everyone I’ve brought to Oren’s, gluten-free, special allergies, and not, has been thrilled with the food and the experience. Well, actually, Toddler Yum has fallen asleep in the car on the way there both times and slept through most of the experience, but all of the adults I’ve brought have loved it. And, plenty of kids in the restaurant look like they are loving the food, so I feel confident recommending it for kids too. Best of all, my hyper-sensitive gluten-free tummy and internationally hungry taste buds love this place too.

*It is easy to eat on almost any diet here. Gluten-free is a piece of cake, with more selection than I’m used to. Add dairy-free, and it takes the labane off the menu, but not too much more, as far as I can tell. There are tons of vegetarian options, and the tabbouleh is made from quinoa so gluten-free and grain-free too! I think once the gluten-free community discovers this place, we just might have ourselves the Israeli “Risotteria” of the West Coast!

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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:
Get Allergy Wise Reviews Zest

*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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