Dining Chicago

Hat Tip to Gluten-Free Menus for National Celiac Awareness Month

We hear a lot about gluten-free dining these days, due to the uptick in diagnosed Americans with celiac disease and the response from restaurants offering gluten-free dishes and menus. Did you know 1 in 141 Americans have celiac disease, yet 83% are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed? Oof. Tough pill to swallow. But swallow we must, and the dining industry recognizes the changing tides by adapting and paying more mind to gluten-free cookery. May is National Celiac Awareness Month, an apt time to take a look at some of the restaurants around town serving standout gluten-free items or menus (and in one case, an entire restaurant).

Arugula salad with three-hour roasted grapes, apples, spicy walnuts, Parmesan, and walnut vinaigrette. Photo: La Madia)
(Arugula salad with three-hour roasted grapes, apples, spicy walnuts, Parmesan, and walnut vinaigrette. Photo: La Madia)

When you think of gluten-free dining, the first thing that pops into your head probably is not a pizzeria. Well, La Madia is here to show the versatility of gluten-free pizzeria fare, thanks to adept chef Jonathan Fox. By omitting the glutenous proteins in grains, he is able to curate an entire gluten-free menu, proving that La Madia is much more than pizza. For starters, there's crostini-less steamed PEI mussels with melted leeks, fresh fennel, garlic, and white wine brodo, or some oven-roasted globe artichokes with mignonette and mustard sauces. Numerous salads are on deck, such as a chopped Italian lettuce salad with Gorgonzola, spicy walnuts, shaved pear, and balsamic vinaigrette; organic arugula with three-hour roasted grapes (because anything less than three hours is just drivel), local apples, spicy walnuts, shaved Parmesan, and walnut vinaigrette; and heirloom beet salad with watercress, almonds, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. Risotto Carnaroli with fire-roasted kabocha squash and ricotta, Chianti-braised short ribs, and seared diver scallops with sweet potato puree and black truffles are among the "specialty" entrees. And let's not forget dessert. I'm loving the idea of La Madia's chocolate polenta cake. Plus, they've got blood orange ice and a "gelato of the moment." They even offer a gluten-free beer from Two Brothers, and a ton of wines. So cheers to that.

(Harvest Tables at ZED451. Photo: Edible Ink PR)
(Harvest Tables at ZED451. Photo: Edible Ink PR)

The seasonal Harvest Tables at ZED451 are kind of a big deal. I consider myself a salad bar pro, having studied at the school of Ruby Tuesday, but ZED really blows the concept out of the water with a jaw-dropping array of composed salads and sides. For the month of May, the restaurant's Harvest Tables are entirely gluten-free, featuring over a dozen options for guests to augment their heinous meat intake. New items include shaved asparagus salad, strawberry and arugula salad, sugar snap peas, red wine-poached pears, Moroccan chicken salad, salmon ceviche, and roasted pineapples. Selections are unlimited, so you can return to the tables and stock up as much as you'd like, sort of like an all-inclusive cruise ship that happens to wield steak like Zorro.

Chicago's breakfast queen, Ina Pinkney, takes gluten-free cooking very seriously at her namesake restaurant Ina's. She affirms it is not enough to simply offer gluten-free items, but a kitchen must designate special equipment and areas for preparing gluten-free foods, so as to prevent any possibility of glutenous crossover. Throughout her menus, she denotes gluten-free items, and attracts a lot of customers with gluten intolerance as a result. Ina's is a place where they can come to relax, reassured that they can enjoy a safe, delicious meal. Try her famous scrapple, a tasty medley of meat, cornmeal, corn, black beans, and cheddar. All her omelettes and egg dishes are naturally gluten-free. She serves a mean vegetable hash that is supremely hearty and comforting, and there's an impressive roster of sausages you won't want to miss, like her veal-chive sausage and chorizo.

Edamame is always a solid choice at Sunda. Photo: Sunda)
(Edamame is always a solid choice at Sunda. Photo: Sunda)

For gluten-free dining with a side of intimidatingly high fashion, head to Sunda. The Rockit Ranch spot known for sushi and celebrity-spotting pays a lot of care to gluten-free dining, offering entirely gluten-free lunch and dinner menus. As with everything served at Sunda, dishes are glamorous and pricey, especially when compared to more authentic, no-frills Asian restaurants. Sunda has all the frills and the prices to match. However, interesting options like duck congee, miso-bronzed black cod, and a rainbow-esque "Bang! Bang!" salad with green papaya, carrots, zucchini, chayote and jicama help the medicine (prices) go down. Plus, gluten-free food just tastes better in high heels and tight dresses.

senzStellar scallops at Senza. Photo: Senza)
(Stellar scallops at Senza. Photo: Senza)

I can't talk about gluten-free dining without giving a hefty nod to Senza, a recent Lakeview addition that is entirely gluten-free. Prior to dining at Senza, I would have said asking me to eat at a gluten-free restaurant would be like asking an astronaut to remove his helmet mid-orbit. I love my gluten, and I have a crippling affinity for doughnuts, cookies, pasta, and anything else that would make Dr. Atkins roll over in his grave. But Senza was an enlightening experience for me. Rather than stuff their menu with gluten-free renditions of typically glutenous dishes, the restaurant simply prepares elegant dishes that happen to not have gluten. Had I not known this was a gluten-free establishment beforehand, I probably wouldn't realize. It's essentially fine dining, with a couple tasting menu options for dinner, and even one for brunch. Dishes are gorgeous, seasonal, and meticulous, like scallops with ramps and blueberries; lobster- and caviar-bedecked parsnip soup; pork belly with strawberries and carrots; and milk chocolate with blackberries and bacon. Dining here does not feel like eating diet food, which is the stigma unfortunately asigned to gluten-free eating. It just feels like a finely tuned restaurant serving up exemplary contemporary American cuisine.



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