We had two great gluten-free dining experiences recently. I only wish I had brought my camera.
Last week, relatives were visiting from out of town, and we met them at Mon Ami Gabi, a French bistro in Chicago. We chose Mon Ami Gabi because it’s not far from our home and, since it’s a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, I felt reasonably confident they could handle a gluten-free request.
Little did I know that Mon Ami Gabi has a full gluten-free menu, with steaks, chicken, salmon and more. The real surprise came when the waiter brought out a gluten-free baguette nestled inside a long paper sleeve. My daughter quickly gobbled up the fresh, warm bread. Though it didn’t have the crispy crust or chewy interior of a real French baguette, my husband declared it the best gluten-free bread he’s ever had.
I love, love, love the thin, crispy pommes frites, or french fries, at Mon Ami Gabi. I asked our waiter if they were gluten-free. He replied, “They can be,” and cooked up a batch in a dedicated fryer just for us. (Background info: Celiacs cannot eat fries that are cooked in the same oil as battered items like onion rings. Always ask if fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer.)
After a warm baguette and hot, crispy fries, what 6-year-old needs an entree? We had to coax our daughter to eat it, but she enjoyed the lemon chicken paillard, skinny french green beans and, of course, the hot fudge sundae (no coaxing there). Chocolate mousse, creme brulee and peach parfait are other gluten-free dessert options.
Mon Ami Gabi also has locations in Oak Brook, Ill.; Las Vegas; Bethesda, Md.; and Reston, Va.
Fattoush, a Lebanese restaurant in Lincoln Park, also surprised us with its wealth of gluten-free options. The clearly marked menu specifies the few items that contain gluten and notes which dishes can easily be made gluten-free. Three years ago, chef/owner Lina Elakhaoui learned the hard way that she suffers from celiac disease when her bones started fracturing from merely standing in her kitchen. Lina came out of the kitchen to introduce herself and chat with my daughter about the diet that they share.
The few dishes that use wheat flour are prepared on a different floor from the kitchen and kept carefully segregated from the gluten-free offerings. Upon request, Lina serves tender gluten-free pitas from Rose’s Wheat-Free Bakery in Evanston, Ill. Instead of couscous (semolina wheat), dishes can be served with millet, which is gluten-free.
My daughter loved the pita and the lentil soup. Lina suggested she order shish tawouk, charbroiled chicken breast. However, the spices were too unusual for my 6-year-old, so she didn’t eat much of it. I, however, liked the chicken and liked eating at a restaurant where the chef truly understands celiac disease.
Update: Fattoush has closed. Lina’s husband, Sam, passed away. They ran the restaurant with a different chef for a while. But they were presented with an opportunity to sell the restaurant, so it closed in December 2011.
My goal is to post a list of gluten-free-friendly Chicago restaurants. Stay tuned for that at a later date.