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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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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