Okay, we’ve already established my love of food. Have I mentioned how much I love going out to eat? (Probably.) This stems in part from laziness: Each dinner at a restaurant is one less dinner I have to make for myself. Plus, it’s often more cost-effective to dine out, as opposed to spending money on fresh ingredients that I won’t be able to use up before they go bad. (I realize this is a catch-22: If I cooked at home more and went out less, my grocery purchases wouldn’t be left to rot away in the fridge.) But mostly, I just want to eat good food prepared by folks who wouldn’t rather be doing anything else but cooking and who aren’t intimidated by a complicated recipe (like yours truly).
My celiac diagnosis has forced me to become finicky: no more blindly picking up a package without searching for the “gluten-free” label or reading the ingredients list, and definitely no more ordering willy-nilly off a menu. I’ve never felt more lucky to live in New York City—and I say that as someone who spends most of her time feeling lucky to dwell here—because there are so many gluten-free and -friendly dining options. This being said, I’m not thrilled about becoming “that” person when I go out for dinner with my peeps. You know, the one who has to dictate where we eat based on whether I can actually, um, eat anything there. Having this limitation makes it pretty hard to be spontaneous about where I go; research is now required before I set foot in a restaurant I’ve never been to. Kind of a pain in the ass, but two recent experiences give me hope that it won’t be so hard to eat what I want while still playing by the dietary rules.
My sister likes a good meal as much as I do. I didn’t think she’d be unsupportive of my condition, but I was truly taken aback that she was so game for g-free experimentation. On my first full day as a gluten-freer, we had dinner at Pala Pizza on the LES, known for its wide selection of gluten-free pizza and pasta dishes (they have regular versions of these things as well). The g-free pizza? Kind of a revelation. We went in with open minds but no expectations. Well, that’s not entirely true: I suppose we figured that if nothing else, the crust would be an adequate vessel for the droolworthy toppings (eggplant, cherry tomato sauce, mozzarella topped with ricotta salata, basil—oh, god, slobbering right now just typing them). It ended up being a lot more than that. Pala uses a mélange of flours, including garbanzo bean, fava bean, potato and sorghum. Not a mix I could ever have conjured, but it made for a crispy crust that had a nutty, white bean flavor. G-free pizza, I’m totally your bitch now.
A week or so later, I hit Bushwick, my sister’s ‘hood, to try Momo Sushi Shack (no relation to the Momofuku empire), a newish Japanese spot on Bogart. Seating is communal dark-wood tables, which I love. One of the owners came over immediately to reel off the specials, and when I asked about gluten-free options, he went through the menu with me, pointing out what I could and could not eat. Very impressive on-the-spot knowledge. We ended up getting a salmon and herb roll—it tasted like (non-existent) spring!—and splitting the pork chop special, which came with a tangy burdock-and-apple salad and the most delicious mashed potatoes I think I’ve ever scarfed down. My sister also got a pork belly appetizer (yes, we do enjoy the other white meat in my family) that I sadly couldn’t touch because it contained soy sauce. But the rest of the meal was so good, my despair was short-lived. Afterward, full but not stuffed, we walked around the corner to Arancini Bros. for rice balls, which they’ll make gluten-free on request (huzzah!). We ordered up a couple of Nutella balls, fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar. I could have had five.