Thursday, January 8, 2015

Gluten Free Florida - West Palm Beach and Miami

Holiday season.  This year was our year to visit my parents.  It is always fun traveling during the busiest travel season of the year - isn't it?

We finished up Hannukah and Christmas at home and took the red-eye on Christmas night.  Our destination - Southern Florida.  There is never a good time of the day to fly cross country (especially with kids) - either you burn a whole day traveling or you try to sleep sitting upright with your knees propped against the seat in front of you.  We choose the red-eye.

Traveling is always an issue for us gluten free folks so I packed the usual snacks - kind bars, Glutino breakfast bars, a banana, GF oatmeal, nuts, GF crackers and tunafish packets, and chocolate.  Luckily we were heading to my parents house so my mom (got to love mom's) went shopping ahead of time and filled up a cabinet with GF snacks, crackers, treats, pasta, salsa and other condiments.  She pulled out the GF toaster oven she keeps in the garage for me, and she picked up a new frying pan that I could use for the visit.

After landing in Miami at the crack of dawn, we grabbed the bags, found our rental car and headed north to West Palm Beach.  My wife had done some research and found us a breakfast stop in Fort Laurderdale.  Fresh first is a 100% GF, peanut free, corn free and self proclaimed "safe haven for celiacs."

First things first - COFFEE.  Fresh ground, organic coffee served in a french press - perfect.  I ordered a eggs benedict which they serve on a GF homemade waffle.  It was a neat twist and very good.  The kids devoured some turkey bacon, lemonade and waffles.  My wife had the breakfast sandwich.  We had planned to stop back for lunch one day but it did not work out.  The food is delicious, safe and GF.  If you are in the Fort Lauderdale area you have to put one of their locations on you list.  We found it on Find Me Glutenfree.

Next we were off, with full bellies, to see mom-mom and pop-pop.  As I said she had filled a cabinet with plenty of stuff for me to eat.  The kids had a blast - swimming, golf, more swimming, tennis, more swimming and playing with Misty, the dog.

The bistro at their complex had a GF menu due to the fact that a handful of residents have celiac or gluten sensitivities.   We visited the bistro one afternoon for lunch.  The manager and waitress were accommodating and I had a nice lunch.

We ate one night at The Capital Grille in Palm Beach Gardens.  I have mixed emotions about whether or not to recommend them - I would lean on the side of not going back in the future.  We had called in advance and was told they could accommodate me and when we checked in they noted that there was one GF guest in the party (yes, me).  They sat us and gave us all menus - it was not until I started asking our waiter about what would be safe for me that he left and returned with their GF menu.  I am not sure why I was not given one in the first place since I let them know I had celiac and that I was the GF diner in our party.

For an appetizer I was going to have the shrimp cocktail.  It was on both menus.  I questioned the waiter about the cocktail sauce and whether or not the worcestershire sauce was GF.  He was not sure but went to the kitchen to check.  He returned and said no, it was not GF (but, it was on the GF menu - strange).  Then I started questioning the ingredients and preparation of the seared tuna.  At this point he said he would get the chef.

I give a lot of credit to the chef, he was helpful.  He told me that their worcestershire was GF but they have had some guests complain of symptoms so he did not recommend it, instead they would mix some ketchup and horseradish.  As for the fish he said that everyone was safe except the white soy dipping sauce.

I had the shrimp cocktail and it was good.  I'll have to talk Lea & Perrins into making worcestershire travel packets to carry with me.  When the runner brought my entree I wanted to verify if it was GF - he was not sure.  I waited for the waiter, he informed me that the dipping sauce was the white soy and he took it back to the kitchen and came back with a plate without the soy sauce.  All in all a bit of a fiasco.  Although I give them credit for trying, they still need some work.

Mom and day needed a bit of R&R so we had planned a trip to Miami and my parents were going to keep the kids.  We met up with friends of my wife and stayed at Epic Hotel in Miami.  The hotel was nice but very busy with the holidays.  The only time we ate at the hotel was for brunch on Monday.  They only have a buffet and some "GF" options at the buffet next to the muffins and bagels and other gluten containing items.  I ordered a coffee and hot water and ate my GF oatmeal that I had with me.  I would recommend going out for breakfast.

The greatest find was Chef Kris Wessel's Oolite Restaurant.  If you are in Miami you have to eat here.  Hell, if you are in Florida you have to eat here.  We found it on Find me Gluten Free and it was so good we ate there on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  The entire restaurant in GF (aside from a few beers) so you are safe eating anything and it is all delicious.  The brunch offers a GF pastry bar with muffins, coffee cake, pastries and more.

Being a growing boy and one who enjoys to eat I ordered enough to fill my belly.  Our first lunch we started withe snapper crudo.  It was light, refreshing, with just the right amount of acid.  A great way to start.

Next we split the conch chowder.  This was more hearty with nice bites of conch.  It would be great on a cold winter day.  For my main I had the ropa vieja with a side of roti bread.  I was already full from the crudo and soup but I still polished off the plate of ropa vieja - it was that good.

I finished with an espresso and pistachio biscotti.  This had to be one of the best biscotti I have ever had.  I ordered it each of the next two times we ate at Oolite and my plan is to try to duplicate the recipe at home.

We returned to Oolite for brunch the next day and I enjoyed a GF breakfast buffet of pastries.  There were muffins, coffee cake that was out of this world (it was so good I had to ask and double check that it was GF), and more biscotti.  I had the huevos rancheros in a tortilla cup and it was delicious - the eggs were perfectly poached.

Our last visit was for lunch on the way home on Monday.  We started with the tostones with avocado and lime.  For my entree I had the Lechon Pork with sour orange and onion - this was out of this world.  The pork was fork tender but the sour and sweet with the sauce, onions and orange was firing my taste buds on all cylinders.  Before I left, you guessed it - biscotti.

I asked our waiter to thank the chef for me for preparing such delicious food but also in a 100% GF restaurant.  Chef Wessel stopped out to say hello and it was a pleasure talking to someone who was passionate about food and went the extra mile to create not only a great menu but one completely free of gluten.

Gluten free or not you should eat here when you are in Miami.  Can't decide what to order?  Start with the tostones and the crudo.  Next split the BBQ shrimp.  Order the Lechon Pork and don't forget to get the biscotti for dessert.

Where else did we eat?

We ate at La Mar at the Mandarin Hotel in Miami.  They let us know that they could accommodate me and as soon as we checked in the noted the GF guest and the manager told me he would relay the information to the chef.  The waiter was aware of the items on the menu and what would be safe for me.  I had two of the peruvian cebiches, both of which were delicious.  I can not remember exactly which two, as some of them contained gluten ingredients, but I believe it was the clasico with fluke, cilantro and red onions and the mixto with yellowtail.  Both were delicious and served in a bowl in a citrus broth - a Peruvian variation of a crudo or ceviche.

For dinner I had the Paiche Corillana.  This a fish from the amazon that can be massive and it was served with mashed yucca.  The only speed bump of the night was the dish was garnished with a crispy, fried  leafy vegetable.  It took a while to get someone to come back the table so I could ask what it was and if it was GF.  The manager promptly took the dish back to the kitchen.  He let me know that the chef said it was GF but since I was waiting for a while the dish was cold he was making a fresh plate and would omit the garnish to set my mind at ease.  It was worth the wait because it was delicious and the smokey bacon (yes, it was GF - I checked) mixed with the mashed yucca was amazing.

Our last stop in Miami was dinner at Ola located at the Sanctuary Hotel in Miami.  I ate here on my last trip to Miami and could not wait to come back.  My wife and her friend really enjoyed the food.
Their ceviches are amazing and the fire and ice has been featured on Food Networks best thing I ever ate (unfortunately it is not GF).  I had the Hamachi Nikkei and the Wahoo both are amazingly delicious but if I had to pick a winner the Wahoo is out of this world.

For my entree I had the Cuban Pork which melts in your mouth.  I asked for no chicharron garnish as it is fried in the fryer which is not GF.  Your meal at Ola would not be complete without their GF Brazilian cheese bread made in house.  It is made with tapioca flour and it is addictive - you will ask for seconds.

After driving back to my parents house we went out for dinner with the whole gang.  The Melting Pot was the choice of the kids.  We eat at our local Melting Pot in San Diego and they have always been great with the GF stuff.  The Melting Pot in Palm Beach Gardens was just as good.  The staff is aware of gluten, they have GF bread for the cheese fondue,  GF brownies and cake for dessert and they have GF beer for the fondues that require beer.  Not only is it safe but a fondue dinner is just plain fun.

After that we relaxed at my parents house for few days.  New Years was fun but relaxing.  We steamed some lobsters, grilled some steaks and I made chocolate souffl├ęs for dessert.  The day after it was back to the airport for the flight home.

Happy New Year,

The Un-Gluten Guy

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