Gluten-free Vegetarian Restaurant in Seattle, Wa Flora review

September 9th, 2011 yum Posted in Gluten Free Dining, Gluten Free On the Road, Seattle 7 Comments »

Cafe Flora
2901 E. Madison St
Seattle, WA 98112
hours: vary according to season
*Look carefully at the picture and you can see me in yellow and Toddler Yum reflected in the window. Fun, huh?*

In another lifetime as an intrepid young vegetarian college student, I came to this vegetarian cafe restaurant with my significant other. I didn’t have a food blog at the time, needless to say, so I didn’t document the experience and had forgotten entirely about the place until I found myself standing in a parking lot and then an atrium that was eerily familiar. At that time, I don’t think they had a gluten-free menu, so I had to navigate the place for myself with the help of the waitress. This time, I went specifically because of two phrases that turned up in a google search; “Gluten-free menu” and “Vegetarian.” Those two little phrases don’t come up much together, with a few exceptions. After spending the morning with my Dad at the Pike Place Market, gluten-free vegetarian fare sounded pretty good.

But as usual, when confronted with too many options I waffled. Everything sounded good.

I was going to be sharing with Toddler Yum, so I wanted to find two things to order. I was excited by the prospect of gluten-free sweet potato fries, until I found out that they were fried in a shared vat of oil with gluten stuff. Oops. The waitress helped by suggesting their seasonal pizza, which had heirloom tomatoes, corn, macadamia nuts and cheese. Their description sounded better than mine, but I can’t find it on their current menu, so you will just have to trust my possibly faulty memory and eyeball the pizza to see what I might have left out. There was something green and herbal, I do believe. Cilantro? Basil Pesto? Who knows. The important thing was, when the pizza arrived, it WAS good, and beautiful too. Those tomatoes looked and tasted like they could have come straight out of my prized heirloom tomato garden.

The second menu item was a no-brainer. I was so smitten by the description of their Pesto Potato Quiche that I couldn’t help but order it.

“Caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese baked in the traditional custard with a thin crispy potato crust and topped with fresh basil pesto; served with wild greens dressed in balsamic vinaigrette.”

Um, yes please. We got the order in right in time, too, before they took the breakfast items off the table.

Just as I expected from that luscious description, the quiche was divine. Actually, I would have to say that it is probably the best darned quiche that I’ve ever had. That thin potato crust was perfect, and had me questioning if it was really gluten-free. (It was, but I had to reassure myself by neurotically questioning the waitress.) The filling was truly what took the quiche over into the realm of the heavenly, though. The sophisticated flavor of the cheese… the onions… the pesto… all the flavors melded together and showed me just how amateur the other quiches I’d had (and made myself at home) truly were. Oh, it was so good, and even Toddler Yum agreed. However, once she saw my Dad’s portabella mushroom “burger” and fries, she was too busy stealing his fries* to eat much of my good food. *Toddler Yum is not eating fully gluten-free right now. In fact, we’re trying to feed her gluten regularly so she can have the Celiac bloodwork done. I even had her try some of his gluten bread, although she did not like it.*

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Cafe Flora. The food and the ambiance is equally lovely. We started out in the atrium with waterfall, but moved because they have a kids play area that Toddler Yum became obsessed with on sight. Once she had seen it and gasped in rapture “Oh. My. Goooodness!” I knew keeping her out of it was going to be impossible. We moved closer to the play space. Nice play area and awesome food that didn’t hurt my tummy, even 3 1/2 hours afterwards. Even my hardcore carnivore Dad seemed to enjoy it, and kept the “where’s the beef” comments to a minimum. For him, this is big, so I was happy.

I would definitely recommend Cafe Flora and their sophisticated vegetarian menu for gluten-free folks in the area looking for a tasty meal. I just wish there was a similar place closer to me that I could go to regularly! They even have a cookbook which I assume you can purchase on Amazon for those who can’t make it to Seattle or want to recreate their favorite dishes at home. Sounds good to me!

Other bloggers review Cafe Flora:
Oh Taste N See
Lara Ferroni dot com
Gluten-free review of Cafe Flora:
Gluten-free Travel Site

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Gluten-free Dining Review of Picazzo’s: Flagstaff, Tucson, Scottsdale

June 23rd, 2011 yum Posted in Arizona, Gluten Free Dining, Restaurant Review 5 Comments »

Picazzo’s Organic Italian Kitchen
7850 N. Oracle Road, Oro Valley, AZ 85704
Locations in Flagstaff, *Oro Valley (Tucson), Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Sedona and Tempe in Arizona.
*Oro Valley is the location closest to Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton, and is about a 30 or 40 minute drive.

Four years ago, I heard about a wonderful gourmet pizza parlor in Arizona called Picazzo’s that offered not only gluten-free pizza, but an elaborate full menu to its gluten-free customers. I was suitably impressed and vowed to eat there as soon as I could get myself to Arizona. Happily, on a gluten-free food fest family vacation that took me through Portland, Oregon, I found out that they had opened a branch in Portland. (Sadly, Picazzo’s is no longer found in Portland, but the former Portland Picazzo’s is now called Sellwood’s Pizza Kitchen and still offers gluten-free pizza!) I enjoyed every bite but somehow didn’t manage to blog about my experience. Shame on me! This time around I was determined to blog about my own Picazzo’s experience.

The moment our plane set down in Arizona, I had a mission to find and eat the gluten-free pizza at Picazzo’s. Unfortunately when I found them on a map, the DH shook his head. “Sorry, honey, that is not on our way.” I was disappointed, but comforted myself by sending him on a gluten-free goodie hunting trek across the city. I was also consoled by gobbling down some hot gluten-free In-N-Out french fries and strawberry-vanilla shake. Not exactly healthy, but it took the edge off after a long food-less morning messing about at airports. I was also consoled when I found out that Picazzo’s had branches near Tucson as well as Phoenix, particularly a location in a suburb called Oro Valley that was a 30-40 minute drive from the Ritz Carlton where we would be staying. I was pretty sure I could convince the DH to drive us to a gluten-free dining destination after a few days of overpriced resort meals.

Sure enough, after a few days of buffet breakfasts and dinners we were all ready for a change of pace. We decided to go to the nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and stop at Picazzo’s on the way back. (For a report on the museum, see the end of this post, and fun vacation collage.*) We all know I just went on the excursion to get to Picazzo’s. I’m sorry, that’s just the way my priorities work.

As planned, we went to Picazzo’s for dinner. There is a convenient Trader Joe’s in the shopping complex with the Oro Valley restaurant, so you can get any travel necessities (or gluten-free shopping done if you live in the area). We like to pick up nuts, seeds, cheap wine, sparkling apple juice, and their gluten-free corn-based crackers. Yum. We bought the cheap wine to drink from the balcony of our hotel room while listening to music from the bar below, but actually, the DH was so busy at his conference we never drank the wine. It was just me and Toddler Yum, and we just knocked back a little sparkling (nonalcoholic) apple juice, a salad and ice cream sundae from room service. What can I say. We really know how to party.

I immediately felt welcomed to Picazzo’s by the big “gluten-free” banner on their side gate. We went in out of the blistering heat to a welcoming and modern dark room with air conditioning. Ah, bliss. They had my favorite lavender hand wipes at the door, which was a nice touch. We sat down at a table and opened the menu. It was a bit early so we were just in time for their happy hour of fun, where you could get cheap gluten-free appetizers (!!!) and presumably alcohol at a reduced rate. I was too excited about the food to really pay attention to the alcohol situation. Sorry, guys. Priorities, you know? What really got me was that there was a kids menu- full of gluten-free items like $5 pizza, pasta, and more. At this point we don’t know if Baby/Toddler Yum has issues with gluten, but to err on the side of caution we are feeding her a low-gluten diet. The only gluten she eats is in any non-certified-gluten-free oatmeal. I just about teared up when I saw that we could get her small portions that were naturally gluten-free. Granted, I usually scoff at the fact that restaurants universally assume that all kids eat is tater tots and pizza, with a side of fruit and boring-as-heck steamed veggies (and not the yummy ones) if they are really being “health” conscious. However. The fact is that Toddler Yum does have something of a bland palate, and she loves plain pasta with butter and cheese. Being able to order that for her made my Mommy-heart weep with happiness.

The first time we went we got her this delicious gluten-free corn-quinoa pasta with butter and cheese. She gobbled it up. I think my girl was a bit tired of fancy-shmancy resort food.

The second time we went we got her gluten-free pizza. Look at these adorable baby pizzas! And no, this isn’t a veggie pizza. For various reasons, my girl is not fully vegetarian at this point. It was so nice to be able to order a small portion of what she will eat and then be able to order my own veggie fare too without feeling guilty about spending the money! Toddler Yum was feeling peck-ish and didn’t eat that much pizza, but the DH was happy to help her out. Her favorite thing- and the DH’s favorite thing too was a non-veg appetizer. Cover your eyes, my dearest fellow vegetarians. They love the *BBQ Maple Wings*. Ok, you can uncover your eyes now.

MY favorite appetizer was the spinach-cheese topped artichoke hearts, which came with delicious gluten-free bread (left) which just so happens to be on their happy hour menu. SCORE! The first time I ordered it it had a really rich spinach cheese-sauce topping and the second time they were more skimpy with the cheese, but it was good both times. I love the idea of using a full artichoke heart as the delivery system for cheesy goodness. I also enjoyed the cheesy pesto bread appetizer on our second visit.

But of course, I can’t talk about a gluten-free menu at a pizza place without talking about the pizza! How was the pizza? I like most pizzas, and this was no exception. It had a clearly rice-based crust with a crispy texture that was appealing. It doesn’t beat my favorite pizza crust from Boulder’s gluten-free bakery, but it is very good and the price was reasonable. The pizzas seem to be basted in oil for extra browning and crisp, so it is fairly heavy fare. You better not be on a diet! I enjoyed the indulgence, though, and the DH gave it thumbs up. Also notice the cute little flag. I don’t know why my pizza was patriotic, but it was an interesting little touch. Maybe it signified gluten-free pizza? Unclear.

The second time we went I decided to order one of the many gluten-free pasta dishes. I was torn between a vegetarian portobello mushroom bolognese and wild mushroom penne and I finally went with the latter. So many choices! We had to rush back to the resort for the DH’s conference and so I ended up taking the pasta and eating it in the car. Toddler Yum gobbled up the noodles in a cream sauce with green peas and savory mushrooms. Well, she ate the noodles, and not so much the peas or the mushrooms. I liked them, though.

When the time came to order dessert, the wait staff couldn’t decide which dessert was better- their cheesecake or their giant chocolate cookie. The first time we went I had a crust-less gluten-free cheesecake with a chocolate berry sauce. The DH enjoyed it and we didn’t even miss the crust. The second time I was afraid (rightly) that it would be our last time and so I ordered that giant chocolate chip cookie, sans ice cream because I had no way to keep it in our hotel room and I had no room in my stomach to eat it. When I tried the cookie later, I was a little disappointed. It somehow had a flat flavor, as if it was made with shortening instead of butter or margarine. I saved it, though, with the thought that maybe I’d use it and make smores. On the last night at the resort hotel, I ended up ordering a kids ice cream sundae from room service, having a picnic and putting the ice cream on top of the leftover giant cookie. What a treat!

I really enjoyed our visits to Picazzo’s and appreciated the amazing variety on their gluten-free menu. It appears that many dishes only have a gluten-free version, which makes cross contamination and mix-ups all the more unlikely. And further, they seem really competent and well trained at serving their gluten-free clientele, I felt very safe eating there. The one thing I didn’t know until after I ate there is that the gluten-free bread products (including the pizza) are probably not, strictly speaking, vegetarian because they use the Tom Sawyer flour blend that contains gelatin. Their gluten-free salads and pastas (made from prepared box pasta) are likely to be either vegetarian or easily made vegetarian.

I’m not the only person to love the gluten-free options at Pacazzo’s. Here are some other reviews:
Gluten-free Travel Blog Picazzo’s Review
Celiac Chicks Review of Picazzo’s

*The Arizona-Sonora Desert museum was really very cool, except for the fact that it was about 110 degrees out and I felt like my face was melting. Baby Yum particularly enjoyed the prairie dogs and I liked the agave cactus garden (low right photo in collage). I also enjoyed the gift shop at the nearby state park visitor’s center, where you could buy a plethora of chili-themed and other southwestern cookbooks and exotic prickly pear jellies.

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