Vacation is usually a time when you can leave your worries behind and embrace new experiences that will fill your empty tank with enough gallons of refreshment to carry you through until the next vacation. But traveling with gluten-intolerance can be worrisome and downright exhausting. Fears about being hungry, accidental gluten-ingestion, offending well-meaning hosts, and wondering about the availability of safe food creates anxiety. Did I pack enough snack foods? What if I run out? What will I eat when I get there? Will we find restaurants that understand gluten? What if I get sick and miss out on the fun that we have planned?
When we go to New York City, I don’t have to worry about any of those things. In the City, I feel safe. I feel provided for. I feel loved.
Of course, I pack plenty of gluten-free foods for the plane and snacks that will take me through the weekend. Gluten-free crackers, Think Thin Bars, cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and carrot sticks all fit in a little insulated bag. TSA doesn’t seem to have any problem with a quart-sized baggie filled with ice cubes as my allotted “liquid” at the airport. Since breakfast can be the trickiest meal of the day when traveling, I also pack baggies of Quinoa on the Go. Every hotel has hot water to instantly transform my dry mix into a delicious, creamy breakfast.
I was as prepared as possible, but I knew that I had nothing to fear on a weekend trip to the City of Love.
We arrived in New York City at 9:00pm, well-snacked, but hungry for a real meal, and ready for some gluten-free love. Gluten Free Mike, an expert on eating gluten-free in NYC, had sent me a list of recommendations, and one restaurant in particular caught my eye.
Pala Pizza on the Lower East Side.
After a long evening of sitting in cars, planes, and taxis, we enjoyed the 2-mile walk, the energy of the city, live entertainment in Union Square, and the jostling between more people than I’ve seen in the last month.
And this gorgeous cathedral.
Now, we’ve had many good gluten-free pizzas at various restaurants, so it’s always a challenge to find a pizza that meets our high standards. I’m beyond the newbie stage where any flatbread with sauce, cheese, and toppings is not just acceptable, but thrilling. When I can make a pizza pie at home that I’d be proud to serve at any restaurant, eating a shrink-wrapped frozen substitute that’s been heated up for the poor gluten-intolerant customer just isn’t going to do it. Of course, I’d never expect that in the City of Love.
As soon as we walked in the door of Pala’s open-air dining room, I felt the love. Seated at a tiny cafe table, candlelight danced over the menu as Davide, fabulous Davide, welcomed us and asked if either of us had a gluten allergy. That was the VERY first thing he wanted to address! I knew this was going to be a lovely experience. I would not have to explain that, yes, croutons did have wheat, and that I needed to see the label on the salad dressing to be sure that it was safe for me to eat. I wouldn’t have to worry about cross-contamination either, because Davide explained that they had a dedicated gluten-free fryer and oven. I could sit back feeling the warmth of love. With Davide, it was love at first sight. (The Husband was there too.)
The menu had colored symbols that very clearly marked the foods that were gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian. I was amazed that there were only a handful of items that could not be made gluten-free. I’m used to choosing between two or three safe options, so it felt freeing to have practically the entire menu from which to choose.
Starving at 10:00pm, I chose Arancini as an appetizer, risotto balls filled with spinach and mozzarella cheese. When Davide brought them to our table, I freaked out as I didn’t believe that they were gluten-free.
Well, look at these! Don’t they look like they’re coated in glutenous breadcrumbs?
Davide insisted that he ate them all the time, and that they were indeed gluten-free. I still had an uneasy feeling inside. Taking a my first bite didn’t feel right, but the incredible taste quickly replaced my worries. If I was going to get smacked with a gluten attack, maybe something that tasted like an Italian sunset was worth it. The things you do for love. Oh, yes. Sweet love.
Thankfully, Davide guided us safely through the entire meal, and my only suffering was that love-sick feeling that stirs up between two soul-mates who know that they will be separated for a very long time. Wistful love.
We ordered the Romana Pizza which was topped with sweet pecorino cheese, field mushrooms, tomato sauce, and fresh parsley.
Beautiful, pizza perfection that was completely safe. If the dedicated oven doesn’t make a Celiac feel comfortable enough, the handle of the wooden pizza peel was even labeled “gluten-free”.
And I think it’s hilarious that there’s a Domino’s Pizza just across the street. I almost cropped it’s offensive neon sign out of the picture, but the contrast between the two restaurants is just too vast to ignore.
And if that wasn’t enough love for one evening, there was dessert.
Tortino al cioccolato, a flourless chocolate cake with almonds and English cream.
The delicate chocolate flavor floated softly through my senses like a warm evening breeze and was slightly cooled by a sweet cream rain. I could have danced in that dessert all evening, arms wide, smiling at the cloud-covered moon.
The cream could have been a dessert by itself.
And to think that this was just my first evening in the City of Love.
Thankfully, we had a 2-mile walk back to the hotel that night, a 6.5 mile training run along the Hudson River to look forward to, and miles and miles of hunting down little love letters left for me in secret nooks of the city. With my True Love on my arm. Gluten-free love is a grand thing.