Gluten-free Dining in San Francisco Part 1: The Plant

It has been a long time since I could eat anything interesting in a restaurant on my allergen/everything-free diet undertaken for love of Baby Yum. You might have noticed that restaurant reviews dropped dramatically here at the Book of Yum. Instead of “what epicurean delight can I experience today” it became “what the heck can I eat today?” as I struggled to find breads and other starchy staples to keep myself going. I guess it just shows that a mother’s love is one of the strongest forces out there- and the force behind many a gluten-free blog! Fortuitously for me, shortly before the Blogher Food 2010 conference, it became clear that Baby Yum had outgrown her protein intolerance issues, and I could start partaking in some of those long-forbidden top-eight allergens. Oh how I had missed them! But, most importantly, I missed the freedom of eating out. It is hard enough to eat out gluten-free, but tack on “dairy, nut, soy, corn, rice” free – and preferably vegetarian- and the choice becomes lettuce, lettuce, or lettuce. Granted, I was a bit hardcore about it and didn’t even eat soy lecithin or soybean oil, both of which generally do not provoke an allergic response. That took out a lot of restaurant dishes. I remember a particularly bleak meal at Claim Jumper where they couldn’t decide if the potato was gluten-free and the roasted veggies were basted in soybean oil. I can’t remember what I ate, but it certainly wasn’t blog-post inspiring. (They seem to have figured out some things since then- here is their gluten-free menu listing both potato and sweet potato as gluten-free.

Anyway. On to happier times. Fast forward to Blogher Food 2010, where I impulsively got a ticket and then found myself surrounded by my gluten-free people. It is nice when you are used to being the only weird “special diet” person to suddenly find yourself surrounded by others with your same concerns. To make it even better, our intrepid Gluten-free scout Mother, Diane of the W.H.O.L.E. Gang, had made special plans for us gluten-free folks both before and after the event.


Left (front to back): Wendy, Shirley, Nancy, Diane, Alisa*, Tia
Center: Lael of The Educated Palate*
Right (front to back):Ali, Me, Amber of Blue Bonnets and Brownies*, Lauren, Kim
*Not gluten-free bloggers
Thursday Night Out with the Gluten-free Girls
The Plant
Pier 3, The Embarcadero
415-984-1973
www.theplantcafe.com
Diane made reservations at a very special organic restaurant in the Ferry Building called The Plant. This place has gorgeous food, warm, welcoming and courteous staff, and clearly labeled gluten-free food on their menu. The DH dropped me off early, so I had some time to kill. My policy as a transplanted Seattlite; When in doubt, drink coffee. The Plant has two sides. One, a chill cafe with a small bakery case full of both gluten and gluten-free desserts. Many of the desserts were raw desserts and so naturally gluten-free and vegan but not nut-free. The (non-raw) Mocha roulade made me weak at the knees just from reading the dessert title. I ordered a simple but lovely organic soy latte and sat in front of the window to wait for my party to arrive.

Before long, they arrived and we filed into the crowded but chic restaurant to find a long table waiting for us. The menu inspired. There was an extensive wine list and clever fresh non-alcoholic drinks. I couldn’t resist the napa cabbage salad with sesame lime dressing (sans peanuts). I found it very flavorful, refreshing and delicately balanced. Hungry after her plane ride, Ali of Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen got some coconut yams as a side dish and I was in serious side-envy. They looked so creamy and sweet! And then it came time for the main dishes. I was torn between the Spicy Green Curry or the Ginger Miso Quinoa. I loved the fact that they had main dishes with quinoa instead of the typical rice as the side starch. Green Curry is one of my favorites, but the helpful waiter said that it is not actually very spicy, and the lemongrass is somewhat fibrous. He recommended the Ginger Miso Quinoa. I was relieved to have such a difficult decision made, and tucked into my meal with gusto. It was full of umami, with a lovely blend of vegetables and (optional) fried tofu. This all was nicely contrasted by the crunchy sprouts. I was enjoying my meal when it came out that Ali hadn’t thought that dish was gluten-free, and so hadn’t ordered it for that reason. Have you had this happen? My heart dropped into my shoes. After all this time being so careful, had I poisoned myself with gluten and possibly set myself up to “poison” my breastfeeding baby with sick Celiac mama milk? Of course the menu was gone at that point, so I couldn’t easily verify. I asked the waiter, and he reassured me that it was ok, but that little worrywart voice in my head just wouldn’t be quiet. So, I sidled over to the reception desk to peruse the menu for myself. And, there it was, in discreet lowercase letters, my favorite abbreviation of all. (gf). The waiter noticed my sidled dance with my own neurosis and came over. Not as I thought in my paranoid little brain, to mock me, but to kindly reassure me once more that the dish was ok. It is amazingly nice when waiters take the time to provide peace of mind as well as a plate of food, and in that moment the Plant scored big with me. I could only eat part of my meal, perhaps due to that filling coffee beverage I started with, so I had to take the rest to go. I think it was Nancy who ordered some decadent looking eggplant with mushrooms that gave me plate envy. I love a restaurant that has so many gluten-free options I can’t order everything I want to try! Many of the others ordered yummy desserts, but I abstained. I could not refrain from taking a tiny taste of Shirley’s mocha roulade. One bite had me wishing I’d ordered my own, but that heavenly dip made up for quite a few months of restraint, let me tell you. To conclude, the Plant is a great hip restaurant in a beautiful location (step out the door and have a great view of the bay) with an amazing vegetarian-friendly, gluten-free menu. I wasn’t ordering especially allergen-free (I did skip the peanuts) but they were very flexible about that modification, and many at our table had additional restrictions and seemed very happy. Health aficionados, vegans, and gluten-free diners (or even those who are all three) are well served by The Plant. I’d go there again in a heartbeat. In fact, I just suggested it to the DH as our next “special-celebratory-night-out” restaurant choice. If you have eaten there, share your experience in the comments! If you haven’t, why not try it, and tell me about it!

Definitely last but not least, won’t you meet my gluten-free friends? I’d like to introduce you to the people that made this meal such a pleasure.

The warm and lovely Shirley of the site Gluten-free Easily brightened the day with her gracious Southern charm.

The vibrant and beautiful Kim of Cook it Allergy Free has a lot to offer the gluten-free community, not the least of which is her charming personality.

The striking and dynamic Tia of Glugle Gluten-free has burst upon the gluten-free blogging scene recently with a witty and attractive blog.

I felt that thoughtful and passionate published cookbook author Alisa of the wonderfully informative Go Dairy Free site and personal cooking blog, One Frugal Foodie (*not gluten-free but useful for anyone on a restricted, especially dairy-free diet) was a kindred spirit, and am thrilled to find she’s practically local!

I enjoyed getting to know the radiantly healthy and down-to-earth Ali of The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen blog and author of The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook better, and felt that we had a lot in common. Her husband was also a charming lunch companion the next day!

Intelligent, genuine and thought-provoking blogger mom Wendy of Celiacs in the House has been a faithful participant in Adopt a Gluten-free Blogger and a good online friend.

The extremely nice and friendly Nancy of The Sensitive Pantry was a lovely dinner companion.

Diane Eblin is great fun and pure dynamite; a force to be reckoned with both in person and in her blog the WHOLE Gang, and she has brought all of the gluten-free participants together time and again at conferences. Thank you, Diane!

I first noticed the very impressive Lauren, the Celiac Teen, through her valiant participation in Daring Bakers. This very genuine, sweet, and remarkable teen is a delight both online and in person. I can’t wait to see what great things the future has in store for her!

This is the end of this first post on my BlogHer Gluten-free Dining Experience. Stay Tuned for a review of Pica Pica!


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Leave a Reply