Be Sure To Ask For Luigi

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. It’s been a challenging year.

Sorry this is not about Los Angeles. Really, really sorry because I’d eat here all the time.

My wife and I are in Vancouver to go on an Alaskan cruise, and a quick internet search turned up this review of Ask For Luigi on the Gluten Free Vancouver blog.

Thank you, Andrea and Robyn, for the post.

PASTA

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Pizza Rev Responds

Yesterday I was craving pizza at lunch and my go-to place was closed. A trip into the new Pizza Rev restaurant scared me a bit seeing the opportunity for cross-contamination. Despite the assurances on the web site.

They have a contact form on their web site so I asked if there was something I didn’t see. Within a couple hours I had a response!

Hi Theron,

Yes, we use a totally different process.  When you order
gluten-free crust at PizzaRev, we ask you whether you are
ordering for "Preference or Allergy".  When you respond
allergies, we have all of our sauces in bottles and never
use the ladles.  Our staff will walk your pizza down our
line using fresh gloves, then it goes into our oven on a
special pie-tin to avoid contamination from the oven.

We take our guests safety very seriously, but of course,
we can't make any guarantees despite all these extra safety
measures.  Next time you're there, maybe you can ask a
manager to explain the process and we will show you how we
do it so you can decide for yourself.

Thanks for your email, Theron!

Best,

Jeff Zuckerman
PizzaRev - Guest Relations
www.pizzarev.com

Well, that certainly sounds promising. So I decided to wander in after the lunch rush today.

Everything went the way Jeff described. It is very refreshing to see a restaurant differentiate between people wanting to reduce the amount of wheat they are eating for personal preference and those who have medical reasons to avoid it (allergies or Celiac).

Pizza!

Pizza!

After I said I had an allergy, the server immediately changed her gloves (without being asked!), went down to the end of the line and grabbed a clean pizza tray and put my pizza crust on it. The sauce came from a squeeze bottle, and they had a stack of clean ladles to use for spreading (one use only!). Very nice.

The pizza was pretty good. The rice-based crust is actually very similar to ZPizza – thin and crispy, with a slight spongy texture. I had a red sauce pizza with mozzarella and pepperoni (I always have a ribeye the first time at a steak restaurant just to compare the basics). The sauce was a tad sweet for my taste, and the cheese is a bit plasticy (low moisture mozzarella can get that way). But it was pizza and it was yummy.

I will be going back and trying some of the many choices they offer. It’s good to have a lunchtime pizza option.

The Pizza Situation In Burbank Is Getting Worse

I have been working in Burbank since before I was diagnosed with my wheat/rye/barley allergies. Lunchtime pizza options have always been limited. Unfortunately, they have gotten worse. But there may be a silver lining here.

There was a Garlic Jim’s Pizza over on Glenoaks, and they have an OK pizza crust and they took care to avoid cross contamination. But they were a franchise and they became an independent pizza place called Gourmet Crust Pizza.

I probably ate there once a week, but then I started having bad experiences. Food poisoning, feeling generally icky, etc. So I have stopped eating there.

There was a ZPizza in the media district, and I like their crust – it’s not a fluffy traditional crust, but for a thin and crispy crust it’s not bad. I used to go there when I was working on Flower Street, right across the freeway overpass.

Today I was craving pizza, and since Gourmet Crust was out of the picture, I headed for ZPizza. Only to find them closed. Le sigh.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to that area, so I have no idea when they closed. It was recently enough that the sign is still up and there was still paper up in the windows. But long ago enough that there were hard hats inside installing a new restaurant.

Then I saw a couple kids with pizza boxes. And almost across the walkway (this is Palm Ave, which used to be a street that ran in front of the old AMC theater, but is now a pedestrian mall, with the new AMC theater across the way) is a Pizza Rev.

A quick bit of google-foo on my phone tells me they have a gluten-free crust. Okay, let’s go check them out.

They build the pizza in front of you, like Subway or Chipotle. And what I saw freaked me out a bit – they have vats of their sauce options on the line, and they use the ladle to spread out the sauce on the crust. And then they stick it back in the vat.

From their website:

*PizzaRev makes a concerted effort to avoid
gluten-contamination but we are unable to
guarantee against cross contamination.
Guests with gluten sensitivities should
carefully consider dining choices.

This seems like an obvious source of cross-contamination. It’s the reason to ask for spread on the side at In-N-Out – they put the spatula back into the spread after putting it on the buns. I have contacted them to ask about this, but have not heard back yet.

###

The silver lining here is the restaurant that will be replacing ZPizza – AsianBox. Their poster says “Gluten Free”:

The Revolution Will Be Eaten

The Revolution Will Be Eaten

Aharn Dtam Sang is Thai street food, I think. It looks like they have a wide variety of rice/rice noodle dishes made to order.

Asian Box

Asian Box

This looks promising. I look forward to trying it when they open.

Sous Vide

Nomiku

I got a sous vide immersion heater/circulator just before Thanksgiving, and I’m loving it.

Sous vide is a method of cooking that involves putting food in vacuum sealed bags, and using heated circulated water to cook it, usually at relatively low temperatures for relatively long periods of time. It used to be the sole domain of restaurants, and sous vide cookers are usually large and expensive. But there are now a few home units that are affordable. I picked up a Nomiku when it was a Kickstarter campaign but they can be ordered now for about $300.

That’s a lot of money for a kitchen gadget, but this one is going to get a lot of use in my kitchen, and it’s a bargain compared to the $1000+ commercial units. I was going to build one using an immersion heater, an aquarium pump, a thermocouple, and a PID controller. The parts would have been less than $100, but I was going to have to build an enclosure for it and find a suitable container for the water bath. And I’d have to tune the PID controller to keep it accurate.

The Nomiku was more expensive, but it was more convenient. It clips on to the side of a stock pot, so it packs away nice and easy. It’s easy to use – plug it in and turn the knob to set the temperature. It circulates the water in the pot, heating it up to and keeping it within 0.2 degrees of the target temperature.

So why is this useful? Because it lets you bring the temperature of your food to precisely the temperature you want, which gives you better control over how the food turns out.

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Gourmand’s Grater

Here’s another crowdfunding campaign – the Gourmand’s Grater on Indiegogo.

The best way to keep unnwanted ingredients out of your diet is to make your own food at home from whole, fresh ingredients. Which is easier said than done, of course.

The Gourmand’s Grater looks like a rotary cheese grater – the kind they use in Italian restaurants to put Parmesan cheese on your pizza. But it’s also a grinder and a mill. Which keeps it from being one of Alton Brown’s dreaded unitaskers.

I generally hate rotary graters. They’re usually made out of thin sheet metal or cheap plastic. And they’re a pain in the butt to clean. And, frankly, they’re unnecessary – you almost certainly have a regular grater in the kitchen somewhere that can do the work just as well – and do plenty more as well.

I’ve been wanting a food mill to make sauces, soup, and purees. But a lot of them are cheap, and the nice ones are expensive. So I’ve never gotten one.

The Gourmand’s Grater looks interesting because it switches from a grater (cheese chocolate) to a grinder (nutmeg, herbs, spices, grains) to a mill. From the pictures on Indiegogo, it looks to be well built. And comes in different colors.

The designer of the Gourmand’s Grater, Annie Kersch, runs a food blog, Gambas And Grits, which has some yummy-looking recipes. It’s not a gluten-free blog, but there are plenty of options there.

The campaign is looking for $40,000, and has 25 days left to go. Reward options for graters start at $65, which is steep for a grater by itself, but not for all three tools. Go check it out.

No No’s

This isn’t the first gluten-free Kickstarter project, but it sure looks yummy: No-No’s M&M’s-like candies. They’re vegan and allergy-friendly (mostly – they do use soy, if that’s an issue for you).

They’re on track to just barely make their goal. It would be nice to see them make it.  You can help support them and get your candy on their Kickstarter page.

GF Tax Free Pei Wei Diner

Pei Wei Asian Diner is kind of the fast casual version of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. If they seem kind of similar, it’s because they’re owned by the same investment firm. The menus are different, but have some overlap. And both offer solid gluten free offerings.

Looking at the menu in the restaurant, you probably wouldn’t guess they had gluten free options. Most Americanized Asian food is very wheat heavy. You have to ask for the gluten free menu at the counter, and they will hand you a small laminated menu to order from.

It’s a smallish menu. There are basically two entrees and a salad, each with a choice of proteins, plus a couple of appetizers. (No GF lettuce wraps, unfortunately.)

The best thing is that (unlike P.F. Chang’s) there’s no GF Tax – the gluten free items are the same price as the regular versions.

(Yeah, I know that P.F. Chang’s and Pei Wei aren’t “real” Asian food. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat there. But I sometimes get a craving for sweet and sour chicken, so I’m happy to have the Pei Wei option.)

Thanks For The Honest Answer, Blaze Pizza

People don’t believe me when I tell them that I don’t remember what bread tastes like, but it’s true. It’s just not something I miss; I don’t even eat any of the many GF breads that are available. But pizza is a craving that I don’t think will ever go away.

I can’t be alone, since pizza restaurants offering gluten free crusts have become commonplace.

Unfortunately, “gluten free” is now a marketing buzzphrase, particularly in places like Los Angeles where people subject themselves to weird dietary restrictions for no good reason. On one hand, this means there are more places to eat for those of us who actually need to avoid wheat, rye, and barley for actual health reasons. But it also means you have to figure out how committed a restaurant is to keeping your meal gluten free.

The newly-opened Culver Crossroads Shopping Center in Culver City is a haven for fast food GF diners. There’s a Chipotle, a Pei Wei, and a Jersey Mike’s. All of which good GF options for diners.

There’s also a Blaze Pizza, which has a gluten free crust option. Awesome! They even have an allergen information page on their web site showing common allergens (soy, wheat, dairy, nuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, pork).

Just be sure to read the small print. At the bottom of the allergen information page, there’s a footnote: “*We work with wheat based dough and share equipment with our gluten-free dough. Some cross contact may occur.”

Never mind that there’s no asterisk on the page above referring you to the footnote. Or that it reads like boilerplate CYA legal. You have to look at the FAQ page to get the real information:

How gluten-free is it?
If you are simply looking to reduce the amount of gluten
in your diet and don’t want to give up on pizza, we offer
a delicious gluten free crust option, made in-house daily
from European non-GMO gluten-free ingredients. Please be
aware that our folks work with wheat-based flour and pizza
dough all day long, and we use the same oven and dough
press for both gluten-free and standard dough, so there
is a good chance of some cross-contact in our restaurants.
If you would like us to change our gloves or use a separate
pizza cutter, we would be happy to do that at your
request. If you are celiac or highly sensitive to gluten,
we encourage you to carefully consider your dining choices.

In other words: we don’t try to reduce – let alone eliminate – cross-contamination at all, so if you really don’t want to eat any wheat, don’t eat here.

It’s actually refreshing to see this much relevant information on a restaurant’s website. Normally, I would need to go into the restaurant and talk to an employee about what precautions they take. My decision to eat there or not depends on the answers I get and how informed and concerned the random employee seems to be. Which may not be an entirely fair method. But I can be as cautious or reckless as I want to be.

So thanks, Blaze Pizza. I won’t be eating your pizza, but I’m glad I don’t have to find out the hard way that your “gluten free” pizza really isn’t.

Flower Pot Chicken

The easiest way to avoid gluten or other foodstuffs you can’t eat is to avoid prepared/processed foods by cooking it yourself from whole, raw foods. If you buy a whole chicken in the store, it’s a safe bet it’s 100% chicken. The trick is having a variety of preparation techniques, including super easy ones for when you don’t have a ton of prep time or energy.

Alton Brown of Good Eats likes using unusual materials for cooking, such as terra cotta flower pots.  This turns out to be a great way to cook a chicken.

The pot has to be unglazed (you have no idea what’s in the glaze and you don’t want unknown chemicals touching your food).  You’ll want a pot and a saucer, with the saucer being a couple sizes bigger than the pot.

The saucer is base, and the pot (upside down) becomes the lid. There should be a drain hole in the pot that becomes a vent in the top.

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Nature’s Hilights Brown Rice Pizza Crust

Traditional pizza crust requires gluten to have the right texture. There are plenty of GF pizza crust recipes that attempt to get it right, but without our least favorite protein, the bread-y chew is impossible.

You can try to approximate the effects, but if you are doomed to end up in the uncanny valley of texture, why bother?

No one eats pizza for the crust. The crust is but a carrier for the good stuff – sauce, cheese, toppings – all of which can be inherently gluten free. So one simply needs the crust to be structurally sound, not be distracting, and taste good.

Nature’s Hilights Brown Rice pizza crust is a nice choice – it’s *not* traditional pizza crust, but it holds up well with toppings, it’s yummy, and  it’s got a nice nutty chewiness to it.

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