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30 July 2005

how to eat GF in a good restaurant

caprese salad, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Earlier this week, I drove up to Port Townsend, a Victorian town perched on the hill, overlooking blue water and the Olympic mountains. I've been there before, nearly every year. And every year, the food astounds me. But of course, this year, I had other food concerns besides the proximity and price.

Luckily, eating gluten-free in PT is blissfully easy. My friend Kristin and I ate at T's restaurant this year, a swanky Tuscan place with an open kitchen and impressive wine list. To be honest, we went because she had a 50% off coupon. But I would go without the bargain.

Here's what I have learned about trying to eat gluten-free in restaurants:

Go at an earlier hour than the typical dinner rush, or a later one. If you see bustling activity within the restaurant, go back a little later.

Be solicitous and slightly apologetic about your dilemma. ("I'm really sorry to be a bother, but...") You're going to have far more success this way than if you are demanding or anxious. It sets the tone of reciprocity right away.

At the same time, don't hesitate to be meticulous about this. Know what you need to avoid, and what they need to do to make you feel good, and ask for it in a clear, specific tone. This communicates to the waitress that you know what you are doing and you are trying to help them.

Thank them if they are kind. Extra gratitude if they already know what gluten is. A few kind words about the service makes them feel good about their work.

Tip them well, if they were helpful and the food left you feeling strong.

Let them know, immediately, if they did something wrong. (A lot of mediocre places bring a hunk of bread on top of your salad, even if you have explained.) Leave a small tip and a clear explanation. Then, don't go back. Let them know that too.

Feel happy if you found a place with great food and understanding waiters.

Here's another tip for you: go to restaurants that truly, truly care about the food. So many gluten-free people I read about online refuse to eat out at all, or only go to enormous chain restaurants that have a few entrees marked with gluten free. All power to those chains for doing that, but I never would have eaten at a chain restaurant before this diagnosis, and I'm not going to now. I much prefer small, intimate places with gourmet sensibilities. Places where the waiters feel like partners in the process, rather than people simply run off their feet. Restaurants with arugula and great olive oil always in the kitchen. These places know what gluten is. They know how to avoid it. And they would never cook with anything pre-packaged in the first place.

T's is such a place. The woman at the front desk was immediately kind. When I started to explain about the gluten, she already knew all about it. She pointed out the entrees that were already gluten free, then went back to the kitchen to ask about the specials. Kristin and I shared the caprese salad with balsamic/port reduction you see here. I smiled through my entire chicken saltimbocca. And the blueberry panna cotta, with local blueberries for the gelee, left us happily moaning.

And I didn't get sick at all.

Every time I eat out and leave with a contented tummy, I'm a happy, gluten-free girl.

So don't be afraid to eat out. If you have more questions about the specifics you need to know, consult this excellent source. Or email me. I'll be happy to help. No one should go without good food.


At 5:11 AM, Blogger Tomas L Incredulo said...


Well done with this blog! I had a look, and your blog's contents will certainly help those who have CD or are allergic to gluten.

I'll see if I can post a few GF recipes in my site for people like you.

Jeff, The Skinny Chef

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hey, thanks for visiting our wonderful town! I love T's restaurant. They are one of the few restaurants in PT that have good service so you picked a winner.

I have some fun videos mostly in PT at

Also, my bus partner and I have a blog at visualizepossibilitiesdotcom. Come see. PT is fertile ground for many alternative life issues. ;)

At 9:24 PM, Blogger Amanda on Maui said...

I'd like to know what you say to people in restaurants. Do you have a pretty set dialog you run through, especially for the wait staff who aren't familiar with the term "gluten"? Do you ramble off a long list of what you can't have? Because it is so much more than wheat. They may try to serve you orzo or couscous.
I'm also lactose intolerant, so it's easy for me to say "NO Dairy", but gluten is so much harder. I get confused about what to say.

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


This is such an old post! I'm amazed you found it.

I have an entire chapter in my book on how to deal with gluten and restaurants, holidays, friends, etc. Take a look!


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