Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gluten-free Pizza Review at Portobello Restaurant, SE Portland

I have heard good things about Portobello, and their gluten-free pizza has been suggested to me on more than one occasion. The other night, I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I stopped by to check out this famous pizza I'd been hearing so much about. For those of you who have never heard of Portobello, it's a small vegan restaurant in southeast Portland (located at 12th and Division) with a cool, energetic vibe.

I have been a part of the restaurant industry for twenty years, as a server, bartender, prep cook, chef's wife, and food writer. I am regularly spoiled by the amazing cuisine of talented chefs, such as Jason French of Ned Ludd, David Padberg of Park Kitchen, Troy MacLarty of Bollywood Theater, Aaron Woo of Natural Selection (also vegan/vegetarian with gluten-free options), and the list goes on and on. I say this because I am about to give a very lukewarm review. My friends, however, have recommended Portobello to me on more than one occasion, so it's obvious they have enjoyed the food. Maybe you will too.

That being said, the down-side to Portobello for gluten-free diners is that the kitchen uses a lot of portobello mushrooms in its gluten-free entrees, and even though the name of the restaurant is Portobello, I am concerned about the overuse of mushrooms in the gluten-free options, especially in dishes I can cook at home. For example, there are mushrooms in the gluten-free pizza, shown above. The gluten-free, vegan burger is a roasted portobello mushroom. And the mushroom steak and olive oil mashed potatoes is also gluten-free. The menu lists one gluten-free entree that does not name mushrooms in the recipe, the Artichoke Arancini. The next time I eat there, I plan to get that dish.

I like variety. And for those of you who are gluten-free, who also like variety, I think you should know that you are likely to choose between mushroom dishes on the menu. If you can eat gluten, it seems you have a lot more choices.

The thing is, I think Portobello has a lot of potential, but its pizza? Well, I was not impressed. My main issue is that it didn't taste remotely like a pizza. The filling was made of a sweet, chunky tomato sauce, which was nice, but it had no seasoning. I tasted no oregano, and other than the few slivers of fresh basil on top as a garnish, I tasted no basil either. The cashew cheese was sweet, and it tasted like it was spiced with nutmeg, which means it tastes nothing like cheese. The outer ring of the crust was crisp and chewy, which was rather nice, but the bottom layer was really thin and soggy. In my opinion, the pizza was more like a hybrid polenta cake and lasagna than an actual pizza.

Don't get me wrong, the gluten-free pizza has a lot of potential. It just needs more herbs and spices in the sauce in order to be reminiscent of pizza. And it would be nice if the cashew cheese were savory instead of sweet. I couldn't help but think that cumin would be a better choice over nutmeg. If they intend to keep the gluten-free pizza as is, they might want to consider calling it something else to keep from disappointing gluten-free guests who are actually expecting pizza.

Aside from my disappointment in the pizza, I thought the arugula salad was really great. The leaves were tender and crunchy, and they were lightly dressed in olive oil and salt, and maybe a touch of lemon juice. The light dress on the salad was perfect, as the leaves themselves were so lovely that they didn't need anything else.

Here's a plus: Portobello offers very cheap pours of Badger Mountain's red and a white sulfite-free wines by the glass or carafe. The red wasn't very impressive for me, but I can tell that other people will like it. I thought it was thin, dry, and a little harsh.

To my surprise, the white was refreshing, slightly viscous with hints of pear, grapefruit, and apricot. The finish kind of reminded me of fruit cocktail. I decided to forego the glass of red and order a second glass of white instead.

If sulfite-free wine doesn't do it for you, Portobello has a nice wine list, a house cocktail menu, and a full bar.

Well, that's all for now, folks. Next week I am heading down to the Saturday Portland Farmer's Market to hunt for allergy friendly goodies. Can't wait to tell you all about them!

As always, my friends. Be well, and enjoy Eating Friendly.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Enlightened Creme: Product Review

Enlightened Cremes: chocolate and vanilla. Ingredients: coconut milk, brown rice syrup, vanilla, vanilla bean--all organic.

Is there anything more delectable than a rich, delicious, creamy dessert that boasts of health-giving benefits? Nope. Not really. How would you feel about a mousse, a frosting, a filling, a butter, a coffee enhancer that is so delicious you actually find yourself fantasizing about the mouthwatering spoonful you're soon going to savor as soon as you get home?

Meet Enlightened Creme, a vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free, diabetic friendly dairy substitute that is so damn good you would never know it was good for you. A smooth, creamy, coconutty confection so adaptable it's hard to pick one way to enjoy it. I have a hard time not eating it out of the jar by the spoonful, myself, but its versatility is truly remarkable. Enlightened Creme can be used in a base for cookie doughs, cake batters, pancakes, muffins, and more. It can be used as a frosting on cakes or cupcakes, or as a filling between two cookies, or spread over tart crusts. It can substitute whipped cream in strawberries and shortcake, and it can flavor your coffee. The best part is that the oil from the condensed coconut milk makes everything taste buttery, even though there is no butter in the recipe.

One day I hope to see Enlightened Creme-filled chocolate truffles, and Enlightened Creme-based panna cottas smothered with fresh berry compotes. Mmmm.

Rich, chewy chocolate cookies (gluten-free & vegan) from Enlighten Your Palate made into a sandwich with the chocolate mousse.

Why am I so excited about this product? Have you ever had a tofu-based dairy substitute make your eyes close with ecstasy? Cashew? Me neither. Case closed.

Enlightened Cremes: chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry mousses. Later I realized that I needed to stir the vanilla, which turned out to be more like the consistency of the raspberry mousse.

Enlightened Creme comes in three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and berry (raspberry at the moment), and each flavor stands on its own. The vanilla is light and smooth with a slightly grainy texture from the coconut, and it has a rich, buttery toffee flavor. I noticed that the vanilla likes to separate a little, so I recommend stirring it up before using it. The chocolate is very rich, with the consistency of mousse, almost milk chocolatey in flavor. The taste of coconut is less pronounced in the chocolate than it is in the vanilla. The raspberry is tart, refreshing, and light. The taste of coconut is almost absent in this one compared to the flavor of raspberry in the creme.

A fabulously flakey, "buttery," gluten-free, vegan tart crust from Enlighten Your Palate topped with the raspberry mousse and a dollop of the vanilla.

The ingredients are organic, and each of the three flavors is sweetened with brown rice syrup, agave, and xylitol. For those of you who are not familiar with xylitol, it's a plant extract with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that are good for teeth and deadly to candida and yeasts. It is diabetic safe. Agave is a neutrally flavored, sweet syrup that has been known for its low glycemic levels. If you have diabetes, it's best to be safe and check with your doctor before partaking in any kind of sweetener you're unfamiliar with. Once you've been given the green light, you will likely start buying these little jars by the caseload.

The chewy chocolate cookie with vanilla mousse, my favorite combination. 

The maker of these products, Teresa Estrada, founded an alternative baking and catering company in Portland, Oregon called Enlighten Your Palate in 2007, and she has been making desserts for people like you and me ever since, always with a love of good food and good health in mind. Her goal is to keep Enlighten Your Palate an intimate boutique that nourishes and entertains local connoisseurs of alternative desserts. In other words, you and me. 

Estrada (who is nearly as sweet as her desserts) calls Enlightened Creme a "beautiful accident." As a health conscious, very creative, go-getter of a woman, Estrada began experimenting with different combinations (mainly for personal use) until she perfected her recipe. Enlightened Creme is so good, she's making all three flavors available to you. If you've been looking for a dairy-free substitute like this one, like I have, then I bet you're pretty excited about it by now. And you should be. Just remember, products like these can be a little expensive, but for those of you who know how much it costs to source the ingredients that go into Enlightened Cremes, you know that they are worth it.

Estrada can be seen tabling events around town. You should also check out her website. You can book your own party, or you can order your allergic friend that birthday cake you're too intimidated to make. Wouldn't it be fun to literally taste her work and enjoy Eating Friendly...and be Enlightened?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bollywood Theater: Restaurant Review

With so many restaurants to choose from, the bustling Portland food scene can be overwhelming. But sensitive eaters like myself have to navigate dining out like a mine field, which can shrink our choices down to a handful. Rarely do I find a restaurant that balances the best of all experiences where I can select from a list of mouthwatering dishes that offer a variety of flavors and textures that include grains, legumes, meats, vegetables, and sauces that are both edible and delectable. But now I've found one, and it's time you know about it too.

Bhel Puri: A refreshing dish that is crunchy, sweet, spicy, and light. It's my favorite dish on the menu. Make sure you ask for it gluten-free if you're gluten intolerant. Menu: potatoes, vegetables, onion, cilantro, peanuts, spices, and puffed rice, drizzled with green and tamarind chutneys. 

Bollywood Theater, an eclectic restaurant in the Alberta district, serves straightforward, well-executed Indian street food that not only makes Eating Friendly possible, but easy and enjoyable. Bollywood Theater is a counter service restaurant with upbeat, friendly staff members--a restaurant that blends aspects of casual/fine dining with an unpretentious nosh concept that delivers excellent product at a price that's easy on your wallet.

Aloo Tikki: For a simple dish, the flavors are complex. It's a hearty dish with a mixture of savory elements and refreshing mint that livens and refreshes the dish. Menu: pan-fried spiced potato patties, chickpea cholle, and green chutney.
The menu seems small at first, but it offers a variety of flavorful and intriguing choices that satisfy on many levels. Dishes range from refreshing and sweet, to spicy, to hearty. Complex layers of mint, or cilantro, or aromatic spices antagonize the taste buds, as the flavors are balanced with the above combinations.

Goan-Style Shrimp: Juicy shrimp in a delicate sweet sauce with aromatic spices served over a well-seasoned, fluffy bed of rice. Menu: spicy shrimp with curry leaves, chile, coconut milk, and lime served with saffron rice.
Bollywood Theater was conceived by Chef/owner Troy MacLarty, former chef of Lovely Hulahands and Chez Panisse "alumni," who is known for his love of great local product, and known for applying solid technique to down-to-earth cuisine. By remaining true to the ingredients, MacLarty designs his Indian dishes in respect to the original cuisine he had studied in his monthlong stay in India. Rumor has it that many have said Bollywood Theater's cuisine is reminiscent of mom's home cooking. I'm not Indian, but I can say without hesitation that it's the best Indian restaurant in the city of Portland.

Pork Vindaloo: A must-have for me every time I eat there. Tender, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth pork with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce. It is served with rolls, but you can order it with rice. Menu: Pork braised with red chilies, garlic, and vinegar served with buttered rolls.

If you're gluten-free, and you're not ultra sensitive, you'll appreciate Bollywood Theater as much as I do. Just make sure to let the person taking your order know about your food allergies. The staff seems pretty well educated, and they usually keep an alternative menu behind the counter for sensitive eaters, but you have to ask for it. Bollywood's menu is also easy for vegetarians and people who can't tolerate dairy. In many ways, the menu is able to accommodate many eaters, unless you have an allergy to citrus, spices, or garlic. Just remember to be as accommodating as you are asking your chef to be. Eating Friendly goes both ways.

As always my friends, be well and enjoy Eating Friendly.