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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Gluten Free Palo Alto California Asian Box Restaurant Review

March 11th, 2012 yum Posted in Bay Area, Palo Alto, Restaurant Review, Vietnamese 2 Comments »

Asian Box
Town and Country Shopping Center
855 El Camino Real #21 Palo Alto, Ca.

The Celiac Bay Area Yahoo support group has been hopping lately with the news of a new restaurant in Palo Alto with a completely gluten-free menu. Not only is everything in the restaurant naturally gluten-free, but it is a vietnamese-influenced asian menu that is often off limits to gluten-free diners due to wheat based soy sauce. They use gluten-free wheat-free soy sauce at the Asian Box, and seem to be very dedicated to creating a safe and delicious dining experience for their gluten-free patrons. Their menu is the creation of “Executive Chef Grace Nguyen, formerly of Charles Phan’s famous Slanted Door and Out The Door’s Bush Street location.” (Asian Box Web Site)

They just opened recently, and the restaurant is not completely finished yet, with inside tables missing their counters at present. Do you see the big gluten-free sign on the wall? Small details like that really make me feel comfortable eating at a restaurant. Besides that, the staff is young, helpful and cheerful and the food is fast and absolutely delicious. Speaking of the food, the menu isn’t on their web site, which is currently as sparse as the inside of the restaurant seating area. However, I found a photo on twitter that shared the menu, so here it is for you to enjoy:
Asian Box Menu:
Pick a base :
Short Grain Brown Rice
Long grain Jasmine Rice
Asian Vegetable Salad
Rice Noodles
Pick a protein:
Chicken (6 spice)
Pork (lemongrass)
Beef (garlic and soy sauce)
Tofu (coconut curry)
Shrimp (Lime Basil)

Finally, Top with Vegetables (steamed or spiced), and pick as many garnishes as you like (jalapeno, bean sprout, fried shallots, scallion oil, chopped peanuts, fresh herbs, pickled veggies, fresh lime, and caramel egg).
Then pick a sauce from tamarind, sriracha, fish sauce, Asian street dust, hot box sauce, and peanut sauce.

A few of the toppings (caramel egg, peanut sauce) cost extra, but otherwise your meal price is based on the protein you select.

I picked the coconut curry tofu and paired it with brown rice, peanut sauce, and all the garnishes except jalapeno and caramel egg. I also had them add the “Asian Street Dust”, a spice blend.

This was the finished dish. When it arrived, I dove in enthusiastically and was not at all disappointed. As the DH said, this dish had some of my favorite flavors and could have been something I made at home, but with a little more variety added by the pickled vegetables and bean sprouts. The fried tofu was perfect, and I loved the combination of flavors. I have always been jealous of the DH when he goes to vietnamese sandwich shops here, not so much because of the sandwich but because of the yummy and interesting pickles that he gets to add on to his order. I was making “nom nom nom” noises just like the Youtube cat, and ended up having a friendly conversation with another diner who said she had heard from Vietnamese friends to “watch for Asian Box” because it will have really authentic and tasty food. She loved it too! You can also order slushee machine type vietnamese coffee (that some reviewers on Yelp said had a chickory taste), iced tea, and lemonade. We just stuck with water, though. I will definitely be back. One thing I would say is that I don’t know if the other dishes will be as perfect for me as this one was. However, I’m eager to try the different bases like the rice noodles, and can’t wait to try the side spring rolls, although I may be harder to impress with those because they are so easy to make at home. Although it isn’t my thing, other people on the Celiac Bay Area boards also raved about the (non veg) jerky.

Town and Country is turning into quite the gluten-free destination with Calafia and its gluten-free menu, Trader Joe’s, and now Asian Box. The latter is bound to turn into my go-to place to eat in Palo Alto. I will note that it isn’t the most filling portion ever, but actually, given the tendency of fast food restaurants to overload their customers with empty calories, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Wouldn’t you like to have some?

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