If I'm not in Cleveland, I'm probably traveling to Ann Arbor to visit the boyfriend, or if I'm really lucky, I'm in or around my real love, New York City (...and won't the boyfriend be thrilled to read that! hah!) I know these two cities well. I rarely get lost, I know what's fun to do, and I know what to eat. I'm comfortable in these places, but as far as going somewhere new? Well, that always brings about some trouble.
I wasn't just going somewhere new, I was going to Albany, New York - not exactly a strong hold of alternative eating. And as we tried to coordinate with my family there on finding a gluten free restaurant, I remembered why I so like having my own kitchen and my own familiar places to eat. (Not to say my family was anything less than stellar in trying to find a place, it's just, you know hard to be the new gluten-free kid in town.)
But it was worth the frustration. Why? Because this man, my Grandpa Norman, was celebrating his 85th birthday, and I was determined to be there. Norman is fairly particular about food himself - in a good way. Few people his age are as educated about what they put in their bodies and I for one think it's pretty cool that he shops at health food stores and makes all sorts of health food soups, not to mention the fact that he works out at the YMCA several times a week and has a job, too. My grandpa could totally beat up your grandpa - but he keeps his power in check. A pretty cool guy, right?
Anyhow, while it was tough to find a restaurant that could satisfy all of our needs (my uncle suffers from a major fish allergy, and he and my cousin are also vegetarians...we're a fun bunch for any waitress, I'm sure) we did finally agree on a lovely place called Nicole's. A charming Italian bistro serving Northern and Southern Italian cuisine, Nicole's is the kind of darkly lit, beautifully decorated restaurant that special evenings were made for. And what's more special than an 85th birthday?
While we'd called ahead so they were ready for my gluten-free needs, I was pleased to find that not only could I order directly off the menu, but I had options! They nicely offered to oblige any off menurequest if nothing on the menu really suited me, but really, who could refuse a Grilled Portabella Napoleon with a side of fluffy rice in olive oil? (I picked that over the Grilled Stuffed Mushroom, or any of the meat dishes I could've chosen, were I a meat eater.)
The waitress was knowledgeable about Celiac and I really felt safe eating there. Everything delivered to us - gluten free or not - was absolutely beautiful. Take these pats of butter for example, who knew sat fat could be that darling?
They say we eat with our eyes first, and Nicole's really knew how to make food look delicious. My grilled portabella napoleon came to me as two stacks of perfectly grilled vegetables - eggplant, red peppers, spinach, yellow squash, and of course, portabellas - each topped with a thick slice of buffalo mozzarella cheese and drizzled with the thickest balsamic reduction. Perfect. Simple. And something I hope to be able to recreate at home.
Admittedly, I was jealous while I watched my family enjoy appetizers of hazelnut encrusted brie and fresh tomato topped bruchetta, but once my gorgeous plate arrived, I could hardly remember any of those pesky Ugh, why must I eat gluten free! feelings.
So if you're gluten free in Albany - either by actually living there or if you're there visiting family and friends - remember to stop by Nicole's for a special occasion or just a treat for yourself.