Thursday, September 11, 2014

Barrio Star Review

Jason here. While we were visiting family in San Diego, our second food destination was Barrio Star. Part of the Isabel Cantina chain of restaurants, Barrio Star is a Mexican Restaurant located in San Diego. It happened to have been July 4th and I was very thirsty from walking around in the sunny weather, so when we discovered a restaurant that was not only open with available parking but had a menu with gluten free options labeled, I was pretty happy.

For starters, I drank about 2 glasses of water, and then half a pomegranate margarita. Kayleigh and I decided to split the margarita, but she ordered a non-gluten free dish. Thus, in order to avoid cross contamination I opted to drink my half up front. The pomegranate added a nice fruity flavor, but the tequila definitely came through strong.

For an appetizer, the table ordered some tortilla chips with guacamole. While they are labeled gluten free on the menu, they let me know they have been cooked in the same fryer as other items. However, our waiter went out of his way and offered to bring out some gluten free corn tortillas so I could have some of the guacamole.

Now what’s interesting is that I can’t really find any other fried items on the menu that would have contaminated the nachos. This is convenient, as without thinking things through I ordered a bowl of tortilla soup which was also labeled gluten free on the menu. Whether it was luck, or they really do have a safe gluten free fryer, I can say I felt fine afterwards. While it was an exceptionally hot day, the restaurant was air conditioned and my glasses of water (along with the ice I consumed) had cooled me down considerably. I enjoyed my nice hot bowl of soup, downing the entire thing in short order. The tortilla chips were not exactly “crunchy” as advertised, but I wasn’t expecting that from tortilla chips soaked in soup. The roasted red chile guajillo added only a small amount of heat, which was good considering the weather.

Kayleigh here. Out of all the food I tried there, the highlight by far was the freshly baked corn tortillas. They were incredibly soft and very slightly chewy, unlike any I have had before. What was I doing buying prepackaged corn tortillas all my life? That's it- we are going to buy a tortilla press, then use them instead of bread for everything from now on.

If you’re looking for a chance to escape this heat this summer, are in San Diego, and in the mood for some good Mexican food, then give Barrio Star a try. The price was right, and although they warned me about the tortilla chips, they still had plenty of gluten free options available.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Safe Travels in Japan - Yatagarasu and unnamed cafe

Unnamed cafe

Jason here. My second favorite restaurant we visited in Japan was café that we unfortunately could not find the name of. We did take some pictures of the sign for anyone that can read Japanese.

Hidden away in off a road in Harujuku, is this tiny little café located by walking down some stairs to basement. When you walk through the door, it’s like walking back in time with classical music playing and décor reminiscent of that era. Everything was just so relaxing and inviting, the atmosphere brings you in.

After sitting down I ordered a coffee, and Kayleigh ordered a Matcha Parfait. Depending on the coffee, I like it either black or with lots of chocolate, cream, and sugar. If it is really good flavorful coffee, with a good bit of bitterness to it I like it straight. Otherwise if it is lacking flavor, overly bitter, or already two sweet I just go crazy with additives.

Coming in a tiny little teacup, I drank my coffee plain. It was bitter, but still packing a strong coffee flavor.

If you are every walking around Harujuku, perhaps sightseeing the latest fashions, definitely find this little hidden gem and stop by for a nice relaxing cup of coffee.

Kayleigh here. It was quite a surprising find, to duck into this quiet European-style restaurant after walking through the crowded Harajuku main thoroughfare. The waiters were all crisply dressed in black and white, and the bartender was grinding the coffee beans in a wooden hand-cranked box. As if to juxtapose this, the coffee percolator itself was a series of glass globes and metal strips- looking more at home in a chemistry laboratory than a quaint painting-lined getaway.


Jason here. After taking a day trip out to Nara and walking around the park, we stopped at a restaurant called Yatagarasu to grab dinner. Nara is famous for a particular breed of chicken, and that was this restaurants specialty. 

The menu was in Japanese, and our waiter spoke only a very little bit of English so we were adventurous and ordered effectively a few random things off of the menu. We had pictures we pointed to, but there was definitely some uncertainty of what we would be getting. Luckily we had our allergy card on us, and the waiter was extremely friendly and made sure nothing contained any gluten.

We ended up ordering chicken heart (or liver?) sashimi for the both of us, grilled chicken offal rice bowl, and breast and egg soup. I had the offal rice bowl, and the soup was Kayleigh’s (we don't think that was gluten free).

We aren’t certain if we ordered sashimi chicken heart, or if it was liver. Either way it was tastier then I expected. The texture is similar to that of salmon sashimi, with a bit of an initial chewiness to it that quickly gives way. The taste itself was plain, with little to no hint of chicken. The closest flavor I can think of would be an extremely lightly flavored water. Something like rose water.

The chicken offal rice bowl was delicious. The offal was well cooked, and just tasted like chicken with a bit more flavor and richness than one would usually find. 

Kayleigh here. I would also like to vouch for the atmosphere of this place- it seemed like the sort of cozy local spot that you could easily become a regular at. Since izakayas (the tiny bars you see peppering downtown streets) were out of the picture for us, this was the one time that I really felt like we had found something unique. They had something on the menu for every part of the chicken, showcasing the unusual bits and really making them shine instead of trying to hide them in a sausage or smothering them in a overpowering sauce.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Antica Trattoria Review

Jason here. Kayleigh and I took a trip down to San Diego to visit some family. While we were there, we had the fortune of visiting some wonderful gluten friendly restaurants. The last place we visited was a restaurant by the name of Antica Trattoria.

Antica Trattoria is an upscale Italian restaurant which also has a selection of fine wines. Not being a big wine connoisseur myself, I opted out of drinking this night, so will let Kayleigh speak to the drinks. I did however, order some capellini made from gluten free pasta. The price point was about where I would expect it for a nice Italian restaurant, even after the additional charge to substitute gluten free pasta.

While you can by gluten free pasta from the store, it always seems to just taste better somehow at a restaurant. Our waiter was friendly, and confirmed the dish was entirely gluten free once I made the substitution. Italian restaurants are traditionally hard for me to eat at, as few offer gluten free options. It was nice to finally sit down and enjoy some pasta again. Back when I could enjoy it, I was a big fan of angel hair pasta, so I was a little disappointed when I found the pasta substitution was only penne. While it makes perfect sense, it is something to be aware of when you make your order.

The capellini dish tasted great. It caught my attention as it contained what I would have added if I was making my own pasta dish from scratch. Primarily the mushrooms and shrimp. Something I could never have pulled off was the garlic and chardonnay lobster broth sauce. Along with the fresh tomato, it gave the dish something in the middle of a traditional red pasta sauce, and a creamy white sauce.

As an aside, I am getting slightly better at de-shelling shrimp using only a fork and knife, but I still feel quite clumsy at it. I’m sure I can’t be the only one that finds that awkward. Also, I’m still not sure where to place the shell after I peeled it. I still haven't managed to deshell a shrimp with chopsticks, though...

Kayleigh here. I admit, I rarely order the same alcohol twice- not because I have yet to find one that I like, but because I just love trying new ones and expanding my knowledge and palate. The wine list here focused mostly on Reds, but encompassed a wide variety of Italian and Californian vineyards (and even a couple in Washington) that made choosing very hard. The food, I found, was an equally difficult choice despite the menu being only one page long. All the entrees just seemed so...good! Others at the table highly recommended ordering one of the dishes with the short ribs, but I went with something more on the veggie side of things. Either way, there are plenty of choices for even picky eaters, and they were extremely accommodating with the few substitutions we ended up making.

As the food was delicious, the menu and staff gluten friendly I would recommend you give Antica Trattoria a visit if you are in town.