Gluten-free Vegetarian Dining in Disneyland 2013

February 4th, 2013 yum Posted in Ca, California, Disneyland, Gluten Free Dining 7 Comments »

Five years ago I went to Disneyland and ate gluten-free there for the first time. I had been when I was a kid, but back then we had to bring a cooler with food and rough it. These days things are considerably easier with Disney supplying a list of gluten-free offerings at City Hall and chefs that generally have cross-contamination procedures in place to bring safe food to their gluten-free patrons.

Last time around I had a flawless time and was extremely impressed by the professionalism of the Disney “cast members”.

I ate and reviewed our experiences at Redd Rockett Pizza Port,the Tiki Juice Bar, Storyteller Cafe and Blue Bayou on our 6th anniversary trip to Disneyland.

This time I tried a batch of new restaurants and had a variety of experiences, some great and some less great. I would still recommend Disneyland as a gluten-free destination but there were a few tiny little hiccups this time around.

First of all, our first stop was at Town Hall to pick up the much touted dining gluten-free dining guide. I was more than a little surprised when the cast member there told me that they “didn’t have the new one for the new year,” especially since it was half-way through January already. I asked for one from last month and he said that they weren’t allowed to give an outdated one out. He suggested I talk to each chef at each restaurant to figure out what I could eat. So first off there was a bit of a weird feeling to the day. Luckily, but somewhat bizarrely, I was able to find a perfectly current dining guide online using my cell phone at that covered Disneyland, California Adventure AND the resorts, so I wasn’t completely in the dark. I would have far preferred getting a sheet of paper to easily refer to. Needless to say, having to blindly search out gluten-free options in the park did not sound like fun.

We started our first day with a meal at the Carnation Cafe, a restaurant on the main downtown part of Disneyland in the midst of the shops. The waitress brought out a chef to speak with me and he told me which menu items I could order. I ended up choosing Oscar’s Choice, but then it was a little confusing because the order had to go through the waitress and not the chef, apparently. Anyway, the food was fine when it came out- but when I was almost finished eating I noticed a clump of granola on my food. The menu clearly states that the granola isn’t gluten-free, and no one at our table ordered the dish with granola, so I’m not sure how it got there. I’m glad that I didn’t eat it accidentally! Actually, if you look really closely at the meal you can see the clump of granola. When I finally noticed it on my plate I squinted at it and picked it up with my spoon. You could clearly see the shape of an oat in the middle of the thing. I showed it to the DH and asked, “does that look like granola to you?” It looked like granola to him, too. Also, to be honest, since it didn’t come with gluten-free bread or anything, I thought they were a little stingy with the potato serving. We had a big day ahead and I was hoping to start off with a nice, filling meal. Overall, I was less impressed with the service than at other Disney Venues, and the granola thing freaked me out a bit.

After this inauspicious beginning, things improved.

For lunch time we went to Redd Rocket Pizza and I had the pizza and Planetary Pizza Salad. I was impressed with the pizza base. I think they changed it from the very white crust they used before and now it is much more tasty and has a good texture. As before, they cooked it properly and it was quite appetizing. Actually, it ended up being way too much food, and the salad was enormous. I think the latter was made larger since last time I came. But I was happy to have some veggies with my pizza. When we came in, there was a huge line snaking through the cafeteria. I told a cast member near the door that I needed to order gluten-free, and they had me go to the middle station where the chef was, and I put my order directly in with him. They have really improved wait times since last time! I think it only took about 7 minutes for him to get my order made in the back and bring it out. I was impressed with their improved efficiency.

That night we noshed on leftover goodies from Trader Joe’s including a fresh mozarella salad, Udi’s bagel and cream cheese, fruit and a treat from the divine Babycakes NYC (LA division, of course).

The next morning we decided to take Kid Yum to a character breakfast with Minnie at Plaza Inn. Some years ago when we came for our anniversary, we were tempted to try it but decided to wait until we came with kids. Fast-forward five years later, and we had Kid Yum in tow and the timing seemed perfect, especially after I read all the glowing reviews of their gluten-free training.When I arrived at the buffet I was a little intimidated but the host told me to go ask the omelet chef about gluten-free options. He seemed a little busy, but would have had some food brought for me from the back. Luckily though, someone brought a chef from the back and that chef took great care of me and was really nice and friendly. He asked me what I would like and told me he would get it together in the back and then bring it out to me at our table. Kid Yum and the DH got food and sat to eat it, but before long the chef came out with a huge plate with fresh fruit, hash browns and even the famed mickey mouse waffles. He also brought me a freshly made small omelet and later, a sample of the mexican casserole hot out of the oven.
It was lot of food and my DH laughed at me with my three dishes, but considering the price, I was happy to be so spoiled. I had no cross-contamination concerns at all and felt great. Not to mention that the second Kid Yum lit eyes on Eyore, her eyes lit up and she got a grin on her face that I have never seen before or since. There were tons of characters and they all were very sweet to my daughter and she had a great time. A few of the characters even put up with her trying to play a crazy balloon game with them. I would do it again in a heartbeat not only for the food but for the character experience. Kid Yum didn’t like seeing Captain Hook in the flesh and right and front of her at the breakfast table, despite loving him in the parade the night before. That was the only time she jumped into my arms to hide from a character. She was also deeply suspicious of the fairy godmother, but then moved from that to practically jumping into Tigger’s arms. Silly girl. Anyway, two thumbs up for the Breakfast with Minnie at Plaza Inn.

For lunch I was determined to try the mexican restaurant in frontierland that I had not made it to last time, Rancho Del Zocalo. The outside looked nice, and when you go inside it is a very cafeteria-like atmosphere. However, one of the servers got a chef for me and he was very helpful, although it seemed to confuse him that I was trying to order 2 full meals to share with my daughter (which the DH was also going to share). I ended up ordering the veggie taco meal, resembling a veggie fajita on a corn tortilla, and the veggie enchiladas.

I don’t have a good gluten-free friendly mexican food option in our area (although there is the awesome Oaxacan Kitchen for Oaxacan food) and so the idea of getting safe enchiladas sounded pretty good. In the end, I actually preferred the veggie tacos, because I found the enchiladas a tad bland, but both were nice options.

Kid Yum loved the beans and refried beans, and chomped some of the tortillas too. *Note: I didn’t think to check on the refried beans. Hopefully they were actually fully vegetarian. They were not “meaty” but ask if you are concerned.* As for dessert, it didn’t seem like we had any exciting options. I asked about the flan, but disappointingly the chef said that it was not gluten-free, either due to the ingredients or the preparation environment. Honestly, the meal was so hearty, even with sharing with the DH and Kid Yum that I wouldn’t have had room for dessert anyway. I enjoyed the charming environment in the courtyard once we left the cafeteria-type ordering area, and we had a very pleasant and relaxing lunch.

We completed our gluten-free culinary journey through Disneyland with a chocolate coated mickey ice cream. They contain no gluten-ingredients, and although they are manufactured in a shared facility, it was worth the minor risk to realize my second Mickey food dream. That morning I had enjoyed the famed Mickey Waffles, and in the afternoon Kid Yum and I said cheers (ok Kanpai, the Japanese version) over a mickey ice cream. It had been a memorable and delicious trip, and once again, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to Disneyland and enjoy the gluten-free feast! (Next time I’d probably skip the Carnation Cafe, though.)

We stayed at a hotel in walking distance from Disneyland, and went on a few emergency Target runs. I was interested to see two restaurants with gluten-free menus across the street from Target, Outback Steakhouse and Red Robin. However, we never made it over there because we ended up spending all of our time at the park and it was just more convenient to eat on the park or in our hotel room. I did find a hotel refrigerator to be very convenient for late night snacks and a snack in the morning.

*Edited to add: I almost forgot, but I was also impressed by the fresh fruit and veggie options at Disneyland. I was especially intrigued by a pack of fresh strawberries with a little chocolate sauce cup that looked naturally gluten-free. If anyone knows where those are sold, let me know and I’ll add that info to the post. I think they MIGHT have been near the treehouse, but I don’t trust my memory.,,

Just for fun, some family pics from Disneyland!

Many gluten-free bloggers have written great reviews of Disneyland restaurants on a Gluten-free diet. Their posts are great resources and help you know what to expect from your gluten-free trip. Please check them out… and enjoy your trip!

Disneyland Dining with Gluten-free Frenzy
A honest rundown of one gluten-free experience at Disneyland
Gluten-free Highlights at Disneyland
disboards forum discussion of Disneyland
Gluten-free, Dairy free on a Disney CRUISE from adventures of a gluten-free mom
Debi shares her experience at Blue Bayou

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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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