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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Bay Area Dining: Tony and Alba’s Gluten-free Pizza in San Jose

January 31st, 2011 yum Posted in Bay Area, California, Gluten Free Dining, Gluten Free On the Road, Pizza 6 Comments »

Tony and Alba’s
3137 Stevens Creek Blvd.
(Stevens Creek & Winchester)
Phone: 408-246-4605
Hours of Operation:
Sunday- Thursday 11am to 9pm
Friday and Saturday: 11am to 10pm

It never would have occurred to me to check out Tony and Alba’s for Gluten-free Pizza if it hadn’t been for the recommendation of a pizza-enthusiast friend of mine who wrote a lovely post on her favorite pizza joints in the Bay area. It is a great article, and you should check it out. This afternoon as the DH and Baby Yum and I were on our way to Santana Row, we passed Tony and Alba’s in a strip mall on our left. I had never given it a second thought before, but thanks to my friend, I knew they had a gluten-free pizza available. So, after we browsed the mall and let Baby Yum run wild in the children’s play area, we went out for pizza together. Yay!

They use the French Meadow gluten-free pizza which comes in its own baking tin. Don’t freak out when you walk in the door and the gluten-free pizza isn’t listed on their menu. I have to admit, I like it when a company offering gluten-free food plasters notices all over the restaurant. However, when you say gluten-free pizza to the staff, they are completely aware of what you are talking about and it is printed in nice, clear letters on your receipt. And, when they bring you your pizza, the waiters announce “Here is your gluten-free pizza.” These things make me feel better. I get a little twitchy in a pizza joint, and I was reassured by their gestures. I didn’t order the pizza any special way and it was nice and crispy, so perhaps they’ve made it standard to pre-bake the pizza a little before adding toppings.

What did we order? Well, we started with a MARGHERITA, and were glad that we did. The nice, thin crust had a lovely amount of tomato sauce (or very well baked tomatoes?) and cheese, and then was sprinkled with julienned basil. Now, it isn’t quite like how I do a margherita, which is without tomato sauce, whole slice tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and tons of basil, but isn’t the reason you go out to have things a little differently than you would make them at home?

An unexpected bonus was that Baby Yum was delighted by the thin crust and ate almost a whole piece single-handedly, with a little help from her mama. Prior to this, she’s always been a little unsure about layers of flavor on her food. I think getting her used to quesadillas and the recent ravioli fest have gone a long way to warming her up to pizza. Whatever, the reason, she liked it!

After we all devoured our margherita pizza, we decided to order a vegetarian. The vegetarian has Mushroom, Zucchini, Tomato, Black Olive, Artichoke, Garlic, Bells, and Onion. All the toppings seem to be put on raw, and there are a lot of them. There is especially a lot of garlic. I won’t be having trouble keeping vampires at bay after a slice of that pizza, that is for sure! I am fairly picky about my pizza toppings and like a lesser volume. I also like to grill veggies before putting them on pizzas, so I was a little overwhelmed. The DH also grumbled about the veggies he didn’t like (zucchini etc) and Baby Yum wouldn’t eat it, but I think her petite toddler tummy was full. Next time I’d design my own pizza with fewer toppings, and/or try the Bianca (No Sauce, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Provolone, Feta, Sun-dried Tomato, and without the usual garlic). I hear that it is possible to order gluten-free pasta and polenta at Tony and Alba’s too, so that might be fun another time.

I think meat lovers and fans of cozy, family-style restaurants will be very happy with the gluten-free pizza and other offerings at Tony and Alba’s. There are many options for vegetarians, but their house special is very non-veg, and gets rave reviews. The price is also fantastic, with a typical pizza costing around $12 for a medium-size pizza. For our family of two and a nibble-prone toddler, one pizza would be a light meal, and more than (two) is a nice meal with maybe some leftover slices to take home. If you’ve been missing feeling “normal”- this place is for you. We were surrounded by families and pizza fans at this cozy neighborhood pizza joint, with a television playing lightly in the background as we watched the rain outside. It felt pretty good. The owners seem really sensitive to gluten-free issues. They began preparing gluten-free pizza because a very good family friend’s daughter had Celiac and the owner’s wife wanted her to be able to come to their restaurant. Also, their daughter was dating a guy with a wheat allergy. When they researched it, they saw the need for a down-home family style option for gluten-free folks, and so a menu was born! Both the gluten-free pizza and pasta is made in a dedicated area, with a separate cutter and pan, spoons, etc.), and the pasta is made in a dedicated gluten-free pasta. They purposefully bought rotelli-spiral gluten-free pasta so it would never get confused for the gluten pasta. Gluten-free polenta and beer are also available. To my knowledge, they don’t have a dairy-free or soy-free cheese, so if you have sensitivities you might call ahead and see about the pizza crust ingredients as well as topping options.

They do prepare a lot of gluten-containing foods, and the kitchen is open to the seating area so you might want to eat outside if it is a nice day. Overall, I was pleased with my experience at Tony and Alba’s. I am delighted that there are so many gluten-free pizza options for us in the Bay Area and I can’t wait to try them all!

Coming soon: a very positive review of BJ’s Brewhouse, their gluten-free menu and amazingly crisp pizza.

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