Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Paris gluten free - patisserie edition

I confess that for some time, I had been reluctant to plan a trip to Paris (or France) because of concerns that it would be too difficult to eat gluten free fulfillingly there.  Unlike some other destinations, where meals aren't the main attraction, dining had always seemed to be a key element of a French vacation experience, and when Emily was diagnosed  7 years ago, reports from gluten free travelers were not that positive.  However, over the past few years, I started reading reports that things were changing for the better, so when we had the opportunity to attend a family wedding in Strasbourg this summer, we added on a week in Paris.  And, I'm so glad we did, we had a wonderful time in all respects.

I'm breaking this report into several posts, as there are a lot of great places to recommend.  This one focuses on more informal places and patisserie


As with previous trips, I did a lot of research in advance, scouring blogs, websites, and Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews for places that could accommodate gluten free.  However, unlike Italy, London or many cities in the United States, I soon learned that there were very few places with official gluten free menus. Instead, we needed to figure out which restaurants had "naturally" gluten free options -- and were aware of cross contamination.  We did find some suggestions of these types of restaurants from my research, but one of our favorite places turned out to be a local brasserie.  So, I'd suggest having a basic list in advance, but also being open to stopping in at places that look interesting, and seeing if they can accommodate.

We also confronted an additional wrinkle -- we were planning to be in Paris in August, and many places do close for vacation for at least a few weeks during that time.  I emailed/ face book messaged places I was particularly interested in in advance (using Google Translate) to find out whether they would be open during the time of our visit, so we didn't make expeditions to locations only to be disappointed by a "closed for vacation" sign.

Gluten free cafes -- and patisserie

I know of two places (Helmut Newcake and BioSphere Cafe) that serve classic gluten free patisserie (eclairs, cream puffs, tortes, etc.) in Paris -- and luckily for us, both were open! Both also are good places for lunch or a cafe break, or spots to pick up treats for another day.

Helmut Newcake is a charming small gluten free cafe near the trendy Canal St. Martin in the 10th.  We actually stayed at an apartment in this area, so went there twice, once  in the late afternoon to pick up patisserie, and once for lunch (and dessert of course).  To be honest, it is a little out of the way if you aren't staying in the area, although I would definitely recommend the neighborhood as a fun place for a meal or a stroll by the canal, it is a very lively area, particularly at night.  Lunch options were limited  but tasty-- the day we were there there was a choice of two pizzas and one cooked meal (a fish dish).  The select of patisserie differed on both occasions, and I think there is a little bit of luck involved as to what you will find at the time of day you arrive -- but on both visits, we were able to purchase some delicious French gluten free pastries.    I can also assure you that even those who do not need to eat gluten free will enjoy the pastries -- I know that I did. (The photo is of a caramel/ salted butter cream filled delicacy, yum.)
They also have a well regarded brunch on the weekends. As with all restaurants in Paris, make sure to check the hours/ days before you go, they were closed on Mondays and Tuesdays when we were there.

Biosphere Cafe is a little bit larger, and has a more extensive menu, including pizza, sandwiches, quiches, buckwheat crepes, and a few daily specials.
They started as a cafe that also served lunch, but now I see that they are open Friday and Saturday nights as well.  There meals are primarily gluten free (or maybe exclusively at this point, their web site suggests this, but double check if this is a concern for you.)  They also bake gluten free patisserie - they have a very tempting display case - as well as gluten free baguettes. We didn't try the baguettes, but I glimpsed them as they were coming out of the oven and they looked good!  It is located in the 8th, more of a business district, but it is not far from some of the main shopping areas, and only took us about 20 minutes to walk to the Place Concorde from there.  We arrived at the stroke of noon after having made a reservation that morning to find an empty restaurant, but within 20 minutes, the place was filled to capacity, so definitely call in advance if you can.

Thank You My Deer is a relatively new cosy and cheerful gluten free cafe in the 11th, again, not on the main tourist beat if you are only in Paris for a short time, but a good place to try if you are exploring the up and coming Oberkampf neighborhood (and I think there is a well known flea market in the area, although I didn't go there myself).  There menu changes daily, with a small selection of soups, muffins, gluten free sandwiches (served on homemade gluten free bread) and salads.  On some days, they serve waffles.  They also serve brunch on Sundays.  Of course, no cafe would be complete without desserts, and although theirs don't seem to be in the classic French patisserie tradition, they have cookies, pies, cakes, etc.

We also wanted to try Cafe Pinson, in the North Marais, which apparently has some gluten free options, but it was closed for vacation.  Next time!

Finally, we had a great lunch at the Cojean in the lower level of the main Printemps Department Store.  Cojean is a chain that serves healthy, self-serve options such as salads, soups, sandwiches, desserts, etc.  Gluten free options are clearly marked right on the items, and they label for other allergens as well.  Their salad options went far beyond a simple green salad, they included options with quinoa, olives, artichokes, etc.  It is a good place for a lunch stop, or pick up some items for a picnic later.


Ah, macarons.  French macarons are nothing like the coconut based macaroon cookies we typically find in America.  Instead, they are dainty, colorful,  almond and egg white confections, with some sort of creamy filling between two delicate cookies. 
Pierre Herme and Laduree are two of the most well known shops selling macarons, and both had many flavors that did not contain gluten.  Both stores have many outlets throughout Paris (and at the airport, for that final fix.)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Italy (Part 2)

My first blog post on our trip to Italy covered general tips, as well as some suggestions of great places to try in Rome. 


Our next stop was Sorrento.  We ate at two places there, which were somewhat similar and both directly on the main square:  Bar Syrenuse and Fauno Bar.  The location of both places was idea for summer dining -- right on the Piazza Tasso with nice outdoor seating.  I personally didn't find the food to be quite as good as the restaurants in Rome, although it was certainly fine and they both had extensive gluten free menus.  They also had huge portions -- around this time, we realized that we weren't required to order multiple courses for each of us, and that sharing appetizers was probably a wiser choice. Of the two, we preferred Bar Syrenuse and ate there twice  I had come across the following possibilities as well during our preparation:  Da Gignio, Villa Rubinaci, Osteria La Stalla, Ristorante Pizzeria La Fenice and Miccio Tratoria Pizzeria:.  If it wasn't the summer, and if the outdoor seating on the square wasn't so pleasant, and if the square wasn't one block from our hotel we might have investigated further, but  . .

Also, we only ate dinners out in Sorrento.  For breakfast and lunch, we got provisions at the local grocery store and Famacia -- the one near the main square had a lot of gluten free food to choose from. 


 After Sorrento, we spent a few nights at an Agriturisimo (Agriturisimo Nobile) in a vineyard right outside the hill town of Montepuliciano.  We rented a small apartment with a kitchen, although we didn't actually cook anything!  However, we eat simple breakfasts and lunches there, relying on food from the markets, the grocery store and the Farmacia.  We found some great places for dinner.  The first night, we had a four course, home cooked meal -- just for us -- prepared by the owners of our Agriturisimo, with Tuscan specialties (and lots of wine).  They bought gluten free pasta for us, and prepared it separately from the regular pasta.  We had alerted the Agriturisimo in advance of our dietary restriction and when we got there made sure that she read the Italian restaurant card o double check that the ingredients were indeed gluten free. 

By the way, on the drive to Tuscanny, we stopped at the standard highway eatery, which was astonishing for us, as Americans used to the typical fast food joints you get on our highways.  The Italian rest stops had 2 course meals, fresh mozzarella cheese and even wine.  We had brought our own food, but I don't think it would have been hard to find something tasty and gluten free.

Another night in Tuscanny we ate at La Locanda de Vino Nobile.  This restaurant was in S.Albino di Montepulciano, the town next to the old town of Montepulciano, but quite close to where we were staying.  Their gluten free menu included home made gluten free pici, a special pasta from that area of Tuscanny, and it was very good.

Our best find in Tuscanny  turned out to be one we hadn't researched in advance -- we found it by using the restaurant listing search on the Italian celiac webiste. ) Ristorante La Taverna Del Barbarossa, is in the town of San Quirico d'orica .  It had an extensive menu, including gluten free pici and lots of other pastas,  and beautiful outside seating overlooking fantastic views.  We liked it so much the first night, we went back again.


We ended our trip with a few nights in Florence.  Unfortunately, our first meal there was the one real culinary disappointment of the trip.  Le Botteghe di Donatello has a gluten free menu and a great location with outdoor seating right next to the Duomo.  However, I thought the food was so-so and the service very indifferent -- quite a contrast from what we had experienced almost every where else. 

Luckily, things improved after the first night.  Our favorite place in Florence was Coquinarious, a small encota near the Duomo -- make reservations, as they do fill up.  They don't have a specific gluten free menu, but do usually keep gluten free pasta on hand and seemed very knowledgeable about what was gluten free.  The staff was also very friendly and accommodating.  We liked it so much we went there twice.

We also had a very enjoyable lunch at Obika Mozzarella Bar, set in a beautiful palazzo.  They don't have a specific gluten free menu either, but they have lots of salad options -- and specialize in serving various varieties of mozzarella.  The restaurant is actually part of a chain (although it certainly didn't look like one!) and has locations elsewhere in Italy, including Rome, and in London and New York.

We stayed at Hotel Perseo, which offered a hearty continental breakfast -- including gluten free cereal, cookies, crackers and breads. 

Florence is known for its gelato, and there were lots of artisinal places, such as Grom, with gluten free options.  I had read about a gluten free bakery, which we never got to:  Il Fresca Senza Glutine.  Other restaurants on our list which we never got to try include:  Hostaria il Desco, Ciro and Sons (known for its gluten free pizza, but this must be ordered a day in advance), i 'Toscano, Risorante Giglio Rosso, Cammillo Trattoria, Florence-, The Clubhouse and Il Portale.  Just make sure to double check hours and closing days -- a lot of restaurants are closed on Sunday and/ or Monday.


A teen and her family's experiences living gluten-free.