a sans-gluten feast

last night schedules changed, the stars aligned, the moon was full (was it?) and i was able to attend the allergy-friendly dinner series at bistro 110.  the fare was a gluterini's delight, and my fiance (who has learned to enjoy the occasional GF meal) actually made his way home from work early just so he could tag along.

i was initially taken off-guard at the sight of all of those gluterinis congregated together, waiting for the event to begin and the dining area to be opened.  also in attendance were vast numbers of the gluterini support squad, otherwise known as wheat-eating friends and family.  there was an air of excitement in the room.  while in line people were bending at the waist to peak at the menu which was set on an easel by the entryway.  they were antsy, chatting amongst themselves and greeting late arrivals as they pressed their way through the revolving door.  me... well i came hungry and something smelled good.

the second thing that surprised me were the 1,000-watt smiles of the living without team that made you blink a few times as you made your way into the dining room.  then a surprise came when we saw the set-up -- sit any place you like, at a round table set for 10.  dan and i snagged a spot by the kitchen in hopes that we could catch a glimpse over the shiny metal and into chef tougne's allergen-sensitive master plan.  the room filled quickly.  wine was poured and jen, our server, made a joke and introduced herself.  

it was sudden when the amuse buche appeared, yolk-yellow and sunny in tall shot glasses all lined across a serving tray.  the trays whirled about the room and somehow one landed right in front of me.  it was a carrot soup, supposedly, but i would have never known it.  it tasted of squashes and cream, buttery and melting and only to be taken one sparing sip at a time so you could feel it run smooth over your tongue.  i think the room became quiet for a few moments as the guests took in their first drops of the liquid.  it was warm in your mouth but not hot to the touch.  ooh.  this dinner was gonna be good.

at this point people began to talk.  not to the person they came with but to each other at the round table.  glasses of wine were half empty and stories were told of gluten-sensitivity discoveries and families, genetics and recipes.  a woman and her daughter were at my table, and the elder swore she was an octogenarian but i'm sure it wasn't true.  her flawless skin and deep black eyeliner.  her zebra-striped wrap and attitude and experience.  she was a brilliant chef her daughter declared, all gluten-free.  she had discovered her sensitivity after a battle with colon cancer, from which she emerged victorious and savagely against the grain.  she believes all ailments are gluten-related, her daughter said.  i guess the aging process is wheat-related as well because this grandma had found the fountain of youth. 

the appetizers appeared and flittered about the room.  it was a crustless quiche lorraine sitting upon ever so thinly sliced and deeply purple beets -- a half-dome of the most delicate egg with just enough bacon to give it the flavor without losing the yolk.  sitting so neatly on top were a couple green sprouts (i wish i knew what kind) and the whole thing looked like a wee elf's home if that particular elf was blessed with an eye for color and texture.  nice decorating skills.  his home was tasty and plates were cleaned and cleared.

the rest of the wine glass was emptied, and a round of refills made its way about the table.  a woman to my right was in attendance for her son who suffers from more allergies than i could scribble in my notebook, but of them i recall gluten, dairy, food coloring and soy.  and to really drive it home the poor 2-year old loves cheese and can't even have the non-dairy soy-cheese variety.  oh man.  cheese is a staple in my home.  well, this mother had driven 2 hours with her support crew (a friend and fellow mom) and together they analyzed the meal and mentally prepared menus for the family of 4 which had gone gluten-free as a group.  that's a challenge, a financial burden, and something you only do if you can muster the dedication and drive to make it all happen.  she makes it happen every day.  that's one lucky little boy.

shock and awe when dinner made its grand entrance.  muscles and clams in the shell, shrimp, lobster, vegetables and tagliatelle, sizzling in a muscle au jous with a touch of butter.  i don't like lobster.  i don't like muscles and i don't like clams.  muscle au jous didn't appeal but the smell was so enticing.  of course i had to take a bite.  


while i did not eat the shelled guys (dan did and loved each and every one of them) i did consume all of the shrimp and lobster, and i must say that this is the first time ever in my life that i have eaten and truly enjoyed lobster.  the pasta was cooked so wonderfully and the fish was just so delicious.  the vegetables were crunchy and while i am always pouring salt on my meals i did not find myself reaching for the shaker once.  there were echoes around the room of people announcing their surprise that this meal did not taste a smidgen like a gluten-free dinner... and that's pretty darn hard to do when it comes to pasta.  people ate up because they didn't know when the next time would be that they could eat so good.  it was so good.

desert was a flourless chocolate cake with raspberries, raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream.  this did not taste like the ice cream that can be bought, and if it is i need to know who makes it and get some immediately.  the cake to my amazement was not dense.  it was not sickeningly sweet.  it was not like eating a stick of butter.  so many GF goodies are.  and so many of them sandpaper your mouth and this just fluffed and melted and tarted with the raspberries.  it was a fabulous ending to the meal and i wish now that i could have eaten the whole serving but i just couldn't.  dinner had been too tasty.

i didn't mention the bread!  now THAT was a surprise!  i have no idea what the mix of flours or the crazy secret ingredient was, but it was like... well... it was like bread!  it had little air bubbles and it gave when i broke off a piece and refused to fall to pieces when i bit down.  there were no crumbs (that's unheard of so i had to emphasize that) and it had cooked through and there was a golden crust on top.  a woman at my table asked for butter but the server said that the butter sits next to the gluten-full bread cutting station, and so to be safe they kept that off the table.  the server didn't have to go ask about the butter.  she knew this information already.  that was very much appreciated.

so the meal was fabulous, but that was no surprise.  not really.  i had heard wonderful things about this chef, and we all knew that when an allergy-friendly dinner series was planned that bistro 110 would pull out all the stops.  so, it was utterly delicious and i was thrilled, but i was not surprised.

what caught me off-guard, really and truly, was the community.  it was the set-up for the event.  it was getting all these people at tables and having them share their stories and send their support across the linens and table settings to the person that needed it most.  it was about coming together and actually seeing these people, and knowing that every single one of them had to go through a myriad of health problems and misdiagnoses before they discovered their disease in themselves or a loved-one.  it was about product reviews and recipes from an 80-year old gourmet chef in zebra print.  and it was about all those people that had come in support of those that are figuring this whole gluten-free thing out.  chef tougne, you are talented indeed at what you do, but the sheer brilliance in the evening was making us all take a good look at one another and feel, and taste, what we have in common.  it was delicious.


1 comment:

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